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Stories for living on a damaged planet: Environmental education in a preschool classroom

Summary


Children’s encounters with dead and dying bees foster more complex and deeper relationships with more-than-human others

This article examines ways in which bumble bee death emerged as a matter of concern to a group of children and educators in an early childhood classroom located in British Columbia, Canada. The discussion focuses on ways in which encounters with dead and dying bees shifted children’s and educators’ practices away from relating to bees predominantly as objects of scientific knowledge towards a more caring and complex relationship.

The Western bumble bee is one of many species that has become vulnerable in the Anthropocene (that is, the geological period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment). Prior to witnessing an increasing number of dead and dying bumble bees in their outdoor playspace, the teaching and learning about bees was based on a pre-set science curriculum, which included identifying color patterns, counting body parts, distinguishing bees from wasps, and learning about food crop pollination. While bumble bees were present on the playground, learning about the bees did not center on the bees themselves.

While these ways of learning about and relating to bees aren’t necessarily wrong, they fail to address larger issues relating to human/nature connections. These issues include viewing nature as no more than a resource for humans to use and perpetuating human-centric practices that privilege human mastery over “more-than-human others.”

“Worlding” is an alternative way of viewing and relating to the “more-than-human others.” Examples of worlding were evident once the children and the teachers related to the dead and dying bees in attentive and caring ways. The change occurred after one of the teachers noticed that the apple tree in the playground had not flowered that spring and that there were few bees in the playground. The bees that were present were either dead or moving slowly on the ground. The teacher’s and children’s curiosity about this phenomenon lead to some research about bees and pollination. Their real-world knowledge about the decline of the bee population and the collapse of bee colonies inspired a caring way of relating to the bees in the yard.

While science continued to be an important resource for learning about bees, the children’s own encounters with bees established much deeper connections. After learning that Western bumble bees are generally not aggressive unless threatened, the teachers and children became more comfortable being close to the bees. The children learned to practice stillness and slow movement while close to bees still showing signs of life. Some children made “offerings” to the bees in the form of flowers and sugary water. They touched the wings and “soft fur” of dead bees and provided covering for them to keep them from blowing away.

The change in approach to learning about and being with bees represents an important shift “from matters of fact towards matters of concern.” Such a shift may be critical to “learning to live less destructively with others in current times of anthropogenic change.”

Citation

Nxumalo, F., (2017). Stories for living on a damaged planet: Environmental education in a preschool classroom. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 16(2), 148-159.

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