Field Notes

Welcome to the Early Childhood Creative Collaborations (ECCCo) community and our Field Notes. This blog is a record, a map if you like, that documents the ways that we have gone, leaving clues about where we might go…

Here we will make visible some of the stories, and some of our learning as we engage in creative land-based research with children, families, educators and communities with local ecologies.

Different authors and different perspectives will be hosted here – educators, children, artists, community members, parents and partners. The topics will include big questions and teachings to ponder, stories about our local ecologies, responsive land-based creative research strategies, and tips for introducing art materials into the research mix, as a way to document the questions we have, what we are noticing, and the theories we are exploring. Our work together is interdisciplinary and inter-generational. 

Our goal is to provide you, the reader, with insights into our journey, our questions, and how we connect to our local ecosystems and ecological learning through creativity, all the while hoping these creative engagements invite new relations to each other and to the ecosystems we live within.


Field Research and the Role of the Artist

We are – and we must be convinced of this – inside an ecosystem: our earthly journey is a journey we make together with the environment, with nature, with the cosmos. Our organism, our morality, our culture, our knowledge, our feelings connect with the environment, with the universe, with the world, with the cosmos. And this […] is where the spider’s web of our life lies (Loris Malaguzzi, cited by Reggio Children, personal communication, 2018).

We are inspired by the work of Reggio Emilia infant-toddler/preschools and the role the artist and the arts play in forging new relations and important relationships between children and the world around them. 

For many years we have collaborated with and leaned into the work of environmental artist and geographer, Sophie Anne Edwards. She invites us to develop relational ‘muscle’ through creative, intentional engagements with local ecosystems. While we primarily engage with children, this work works on us too – as educators, artists, parents, community members. We learn alongside and with them. Just as we resist the separation of human from the natural world, we understand educator and child, adult and child as co-learners, within an ever-unfolding process.

Art and creative approaches invite different ways of seeing, interpreting and understanding the world, and therefore expand the possibilities of field research. We understand the ‘play’ of children as research. Just as scientists do, they notice, make theories and test these theories. Children’s methodologies include smelling, touching, comparing, watching, and introducing a change to see what happens – methods not that different from those of formal researchers. Children and adult researchers notice patterns, rhythms, systems, changes, responses in context and over time. 

Informed by Sophie’s work as a geographer and an environmental artist, we engage children in research in the ‘field’ –  outdoors, in the ecosystems surrounding the schools, daycares, and neighbourhoods. We use field books (what Sophie considers to be intentional sketchbooks), and a range of natural materials to learn about these ecosystems, understanding that the field isn’t ‘out there’ somewhere else, but where we are at whatever moment and is also us, our bodies, our minds, our histories and our ways of knowing, seeing and interpreting.

In our process, alongside the artist, we notice what the children are noticing and consider what kinds of invitations (materials or approaches) and provocations (new questions, different points of view) can help them follow their own questions and curiosities. We believe that children are capable, creative and cognizant: they can find answers to their questions and test their theories within a mutually supportive, inquisitive environment. We know that we act on the environment and what we are researching and it acts upon us. 

In our way of engaging with children’s research and learning, we almost never know in advance what art-making will happen, what ‘thing’ we will do, or what learning will unfurl from the work. We are responsive to the children and the ecosystem and present invitations based on the particular child and their shifting questions. Rather than set art activities, we follow the child’s process in relation to the ecosystem. Their questions invite a range of possible responses and invitations to deepen their thinking. We introduce new questions and a range of natural materials (clay, charcoal, graphite, pigments) as tools to learn more about what they are noticing. The children’s artwork is never the same as another child’s and never the same one day to the next. Their work, however, is research and documents their process, what they are learning and noticing.

In ECCCo’s work with Sophie, we listen to ecosystems to interpret and translate what it is teaching us in its ecological, seasonal, and ever-changing processes and responses; and similarly, we listen to the children and others who join us to learn about the systems within which we live and exchange, whether or not we are aware of these exchanges.

A relational ecological approach coupled with an embodied practice connect hand and land, heart and place, mind and the natural world, moving us toward a cultural shift that understands our place in the world as relational and interdependent, rather than dominant and separate: we are in the world, not observing it. sophie anne edwards, The Art of Land-Based Early Learning, p.20

At heart, our work seeks to build new relations with the more-than-human, to realign our place in the world at a critical juncture within the context of climate change.