During the summer of 2018, educators and children from two classrooms took weekly walks to the cemetery and began to think deeply about our relation to the place we so often visited. We had been discussing many facets of our visits and wanted to make visible to families and each other the thinking we had been doing about how we relate to the space and it’s more-than-human inhabitants. We wanted to find a way to document our pedagogical conversations about our visits in ways that remain open, something that was visible, but not finished. We wanted our documentation to go beyond ‘representing’ children’s learning and focus on the aspects of the project that had been particularly thought provoking to us as educators and researchers. We wanted to invite families and other educators in the centre into our thinking. We knew our thinking was layered and evolving, and though carefully about how to best represent this. The above photo is an example of our experimentation with documenting our thinking and how it informed our walks, and how our walks informed our thinking.

Visiting Springbank

By John Drew

Today I visited Springbank centre and had the opportunity to join the preschoolers with their walk to the cemetery.  I felt very welcomed by everyone and made to feel very comfortable even though it was my first fully involved visit to the preschool room.  I have been visiting the St. John centre regularly and it was very interesting to observe how the divergent outdoor spatial dynamics of these two sites impact the experiences of both the children and educators.

St. John centre is nestled in a new and quickly developing suburban enclave.  The road traffic is minimal and the school in which it is located backs into a small forest.  At St. John, the forest is the primary destination for outdoor visits and it is easily accessible.  At Springbank, the outdoor destination is of course the cemetery on the other side of the busy main stretch of Springbank Road.

As we began our walk to the cemetery, the contrast between the Springbank’s urban surroundings and St. John’s suburban environment became most apparent.  When we crossed the street and walked along the north side of Springbank Road I experienced the tension of navigating the preschoolers, hand in hand, safely along the street to our destination.  The looming London skyline, visible from our eastbound vantage point, further reinforced the impression of urban clamour.  In contrast, for the children and educators, the walk was a more routine encounter with a familiar environment, one to which alert but not intimidated.

At the cemetery the dynamics changed considerably.  Once we arrived at this fairly contained environment (a large portion of park-like field adjacent to the grave sites) the children were able to run and play throughout this fielded area.  This experience marked another difference from the forest experience at St. John.  The trees and the rough, uneven ground of the St. John forest prevent the preschoolers from doing much running.  We are also concerned with losing sight of children if they venture much beyond the group as you can easily lose sight of them among the trees.  In the cemetery field, there are no such issues with sightlines and the preschoolers are able to venture out so long as they respect the boundaries.  This openness was especially impressed upon me when some of the kids asked me to play tag with them.  As I ran with the preschoolers on the field (and maneuvering around a few of the isolated trees) I realized that the only time I’ve run with the children is on the way back from the forest (when we are safely on school grounds).

 Of course, the cemetery was formally known in the preschool room as the “deer park” because of the many deer sightings and encounters.  I was informed that no deer had been sighted in six weeks and today we were no luckier in spotting deer, but the experience was no less eventful.  Perhaps I will be apart of deer encounters in the future.

A squirrel’s provocation

October 18, 2018 – by Sarah Black and Meagan Montpetit

On this clear, crisp fall day in the Woodland Cemetery the children explore the fallen leaves, bright colors, and cool air. While most of the children have gravitated to a large pile of crunchy leaves at one end of the green space, L pulls my hand toward a familiar stump closer to the road.  In the summer, this stump used to be a tall tree, too wide to wrap your arms around, it is now a flat stump the children continue to return to; climbing, jumping, sliding, exploring the bugs under the bark.

This morning the stump offers L and I a new provocation; there are cracked shells of nuts and acorns left in a small pile.

L sees these shells and begins asking questions as he climbs on top of the stump, sitting beside them.

How did these get here? Did they fall from that tree and break open?”

I answer him saying, “It looks like a squirrel might have sat here and ate a snack”.

“A squirrel did? Where did he get them? Is he coming back?”

L’s mittened hand gently prods the nuts, moving them around, and looking up into the tree beside us. Perhaps looking for the satiated squirrel that ate the nuts and left the shells.

L’s mittened hand gently prods the nuts, moving them around, and looking up into the tree beside us. Perhaps looking for the satiated squirrel that ate the nuts and left the shells.

“There are squirrels at my grandma’s house” he tells me.

“Maybe your grandma is actually at the squirrel’s house” This thought makes L laugh and simply reply “no, its my grandma’s house”.

L’s laugh implies to me what a ridiculous thought it is, that us humans are the ones out of place and are invading the living spaces of the local animals and plants. His confident reply that it is his grandma’s space and not the squirrel’s space makes me wonder about whose space it really is.

How can L and I think about the cemetery space that we are currently in? Are we visitors to this green expanse, pests and annoyances to the resident plants and animals? Or are we the one’s accommodating the presence of these more-than-humans in a space that we have sovereignty over ?

We wonder about our relationship to this place that we have been visiting for so long. We think about ways that we can shift from notions of ours versus theirs. What does it mean to be in relation to the cemetery and its more-than-human inhabitants.