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Access to Nature, Time, and Space—a Basic Human Right in Early Childhood Education

This post was written by Suzanne Major, PhD, Anthropology of Early Childhood Education. This is the last of eight discussions on principles, processes, and strategies involved in early childhood education, including environmental education. 

The previous article, “Habitus, Nature, and Development of Young Children: Feeling the Flapping Wings of a Hundred Geese Taking Flight" focuses on the various social and physical environments young children grow up in, on the “cultural capital”[1] associated with them as well as the “biophilia capital”[2] they can offer. In other words, it examined social and physical information offered by culture, nature, and its environments. Essentially, the idea is to recognize and actively promote the opportunity for young children to develop their humanity (their minds) towards people, environments, and nature. 

Vocab Check

Concrete mind: thinking with the whole body, using human senses and intuition in the learning space between our body and reality

 

Literacy/alphabetization: thinking with our intellect in the learning space between our intellect in that of others

 

Opsistiation: thinking with our affect in the learning space between our affect and that of others using images and sounds on computer screens

To access the three interlocking bodies of (1) knowledge of the concrete mind, (2) literacy/alphabetization, and (3) opsistiation [3] is a human right. 

There was a time before literacy and alphabetization. There was a time before science led by philosophy[4] and there will later be a time led by ecosophy[5], perhaps. Young people are creating a critical generation gap by being “participants,” explorers”, “creators” and “spectators”[6] simultaneously, but as individuals. They live in complexity and diversity, setting into motion the three interlocking bodies of knowledge of the concrete mind, literacy/alphabetization, and opsistiation. Young people use analogies, syllogism, and algorithms. They practice “scanning, selecting, regrouping, collecting, memorizing, exploring trends, experimenting motions and directions”, “perception, assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration”, “exploration and experimenting” as well as “conceptualization and imagination.”[7] They are forcing the emergence of holistic complex understanding—the essence of human thinking—that was repressed by literacy, alphabetization, and the scientific era.

In light of what older children and young adults are experiencing, are young children being pulled into the contemporary movement of the emergence of holistic complex understanding, the essence of human thinking?

Very young children also feel the change, albeit through the agitation of young adults and the anxiety of older ones. Specialists[8] in early childhood education are reporting that young children in daycare settings are difficult, experiencing generalized behavioral problems. However, one must critically consider the tools used to measure “behavioral problems.” In different educational settings, rules—the way they are applied—and the expectations of young children can create confusion. 

This reminds me of Jade.

Jade's Story

Three-year-old Jade visited the daycare for the first time. Until now, Jade had been by her mother’s side all her life. Her mother kept Jade busy, going to the playground every summer afternoon, walking around the neighborhood on nice sunny days, meeting with young friends at the community center playgroup twice a week, going to the library once a week, visiting the community garden with its nice pond, planting vegetables in the family garden, shoveling snow in the winter and sliding down the frozen small hill in the driveway. 

When Jade’s mother committed to a full-time job, she enrolled Jade in daycare. For three weeks, Jade cried after her mother dropped her off. Sitting down, she would toss her head back and scream. Jade’s teacher and the daycare educators tried everything to make her feel better. Even the secretary and cook tried to help, to no avail. 

In the middle of the cafeteria, among the other children and teachers, Jade continued to cry and scream. I approached Jade and she did not budge. 

I sat beside her. Then I bent down and whispered, “What do you want?” 

I repeated myself and waited for a reaction. She slowly looked at me sideways and cried, “I want my mother!” 

Through her frustration, I could hear her urgent need to return to the experiences she had with her mother: to go outside, to go to the park, and play by the pond and by her garden. It was almost as if she was crying, “I want my freedom back.”

It has been my observation that young children in educational settings are “deprived of their human freedom to choose what they measure themselves to and to construct themselves in those relations with things, beings, and nature.”[9] They are given no choice in attending daycare every day for more hours than some of their parents spend working. The group they join is chosen, as is their classroom. Educational activities are also chosen for them. They are expected to cooperate, comply and be happy. Otherwise, they risk being labeled with behavioral or developmental problems. Young children are denied basic human freedom to follow their desires, their interests, and their natural dispositions. 

Behavior as Communication

Young children cannot communicate intellectually what they feel, but they can understand it emotionally. Hence, the behavioral problems. Behaviors are reactions to feelings produced by the mind analyzing a situation. Emotions are barometers that indicate the intensity of the children’s feelings. Behavioral problems are indicative of active resistance to being controlled all day and all week long. Young children are notorious for using Michel de Certeau’s “tactics”[10] to bypass or suspend rules, if only temporarily. Joseph Tobin makes it a point to remind us of those children who “pretend to be incapable, pretend to pay attention while thinking of something else, pretend they did not hear instructions while they decided not to follow them or frequently pretend that they have to use the bathroom because they don’t feel like napping.”[11] But, resistance is a healthy sign of natural development. 

One must wonder about young children who are contained in an educational setting for up to ten or eleven hours. 

Do young children feel that they are being deprived of using their human senses and intuition in the learning space between themselves and reality? Surely, they cannot explain it intellectually, but can they feel it? Do they try and express it through different behaviors? Can children feel distressed when they do not have access to their environment and nature? 

Adults can be desperately unaware. Jade wanted nothing to do with our educational toys or activities, colorful center, and play area. Seeing what we had to offer, Jade knew there were other experiences, like the playground and garden visits with her mother. 

Slowly, I whispered again, “You know Mummy has to work. Want to talk to her right now?” She nodded. 

We got up. I offered my hand. She took it and we walked, in silence, towards my office. Later, one teacher asked me, “What did you tell her?”

I said, “Jade and I made a deal that whenever she needed something, anything, she had the right to knock on my door and I would answer.” 

It was the end of the screaming. Three years old. Bright-eyed, knowledgeable, and determined. I have no worries about Jade’s future.

Young people do not want to sit still and silent on school benches anymore. The world is changing; and as we were once, young people today need to be part of it by adapting to the changing planet and the changing cultural worlds.

This discussion is the final one of a series of eight. All discussions are posted here at the NAAEE:

If you would like to have a PDF copy of the chart on the principles, processes, and strategies proper to the three interlocking bodies of knowledge of the concrete mind, literacy/alphabetization and opisistiation, please write to me: Suzanne.major@umontreal.ca

SM/sm blog 16 (8/8) August 2022

 

[1] Bourdieu, P. (2000: 256). Esquisse d’une théorie de la pratique. Trois études d’ethnologie kabyle, Éditions du Seuil, 429 pages.

[2] Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. The Human Bond with Other Species, Harvard University Press, 176 pages.

[3] Major, S. (2014: 176). Mamès, profèsorn oun kinder likth. Éducation en petite enfance en CPE. Le cas des femmes hassidiques Belz en services de garde en milieu familial accrédités, Ph. D. thesis, Université de Montréal, Anthropology, 294 pages.

[4] David, T., Goouch, K. & Powell, S. (2016: 6). The Routhledge International Handbook of Philosophies and Theories of Early Childhood Education and Care, Routhledge, 340 pages.

[5] Henzogenrath, B. (2019:5). Nature/ Geophilosophy/Machinics/ Ecocophy in Deleuze/Guattari, in Deleuze/Guattari & Ecology, Palgrave Macmillan, 289 pages.

[6] Major, S. (2021). Pedagogical Principles in Environmental Education for Young Children. Let them Play! Leave the Thinking to the Adults. NAAEE, blog 10, April 2021.

[7] Major, S. (2022). General and Specific Educational Objectives and Strategies in Baby’s Education to the Environment. How it’s all About Tasting Snowflakes! NAAEE, blog 14, January 2022.

[8] Charach, A. & Agerinioti Bélanger, S. (2017: 485). Screening for disruptive behaviour problems in preschool children in primary health care settings, in Pediatric Child Health (2018. Feb:23 (1): 83, Canadian Pediatric Society.

[9] Idem, Major, S. (2014: 176).

[10] Tobin, J. (2007: 35). Rôle et théories dans le mouvement RECE, in Brougère, G. & Vandenbroeck, M., Repenser l’éducation des jeunes enfants, P.I.E Peter Lang, 288 pages.

[11] Idem Tobin, J. (2007 : 35-36).v

Comments

Hi Suzanne! Thank you for writing this post! This is a helpful reminder to reframe what's considered "behavioral problems." A quote by Dr. Jody Carrington comes to my mind, "Every time you think of calling a kid 'attention-seeking' this year, consider changing it to 'connection-seeking' and see how your perspective changes."