Relating and learning with other beings, materials, and weather: multispecies assemblages at a Canadian forest school
Boileau, Elizabeth Y. S.
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In Canada, there has been a surge in outdoor and nature-based programming for young children, such as forest schools, with interest heightening over the COVID-19 pandemic. While there are many physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits associated with such outdoor programs, it is important to remember that humans are not alone in these outdoor spaces. Posthumanist, new materialist, and common worlds scholarship suggests broadening research to gain fuller, less anthropocentric, perspectives on child-nature relationships, including in educational settings. This multispecies ethnography of a forest school in Alberta, Canada had two primary research questions: How, if at all, do children empathize with the more-than-human world in a forest school setting? How might the forest school setting and pedagogy facilitate children’s affective and embodied connections with the natural world? Participants in the study included a group of six children and their educator as well as birds, dogs, grass, trees, weather, landscape, snow, and sticks. Using video footage collected through GoPro cameras worn by the children, photography, observations, interviewing, and local natural-cultural information, a variety of multispecies encounters were documented and analyzed. Several themes emerged: 1) Becoming-with animals; 2) Moving, learning, and intra-acting with trees and grass; 4) Experiencing weather, place, and landscape; and 5) Thinking with materials. Four additional research questions also emerged: Which non-human species or individuals presented themselves as research participants and partners in the research process? In what ways did materials, landscapes, and weather invite children’s interactions/intra-actions? How did nonparticipant observation and sit spot observations contribute to decentering the children from the research process and what can be gleaned from this experience as a researcher? How was the use of wearable cameras as a data collection method align with goals to respectfully bring in the children’s perspectives and to gain insight into child-nature relations? [...]