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Childhoodnature:
binary-making practices are exposed, and troubled

Childhoodnature is a posthuman term that seeks to fracture boundaries between childhood and nature, and in this sense, childhoodnature is a collective. It was coined by contributors to the International Colloquium on Childhoodnature in 2015 (Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, Logan, Osborn & Blom) that inspired the congregation of the pivotal Research Handbook on Childhoodnature edited by Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, Malone, et al. (2020). This emergent field was brought to the fore to “respond effectively to what is regarded as rapidly changing conditions of life on earth for all species and things” (p. 2). Childhoodnature offers “theories which children themselves can use to address the crises which they will inevitably inherit (and already are)” (Malone, Duhn, et al., 2020, p. 2).

 

Childhoodnature theories allow an openness in exploring “what it means to be human, not as outside of the world but deeply entangled with all that makes up the human and more than human world” (Malone, Duhn, et al., 2020, p. 3).  At the core, childhoodnature contests the child/nature binary (which could be considered more broadly through the human/culture or nature/culture divides) in response to the ‘new nature movement’, and provides opportunity in the educational space for practices and pedagogies that disrupt, for example, human exceptionalism and age-discrimination (Malone, Duhn, et al., 2020; Murris, 2020c). Through childhoodnature, “learning is understood in terms of different matter – human and nonhuman – making themselves intelligible to each other” (Somerville, 2020, p. 107).

 

Rautio (2013b) contributes to a childhoodnature onto-epistemology when she attests that children should be appreciated “as whole beings and not just waiting to become something” (p. 396). The ‘waiting-to-become-something’ narrative is proliferated through the notion of the child as becoming that is suggested in many educational paradigms, especially in early childhood, that only look to the development of the body without considering the being within. This idea is not new however, and was brought to attention by the work of Dewey (1916) who reconceptualised childhood as “one that does not measure it according to a teleological narrative about becoming adult, but instead sees it as plenitude of pure potentiality” (Snaza, 2017, p. 28). 

 

Rautio (2013b) elaborates on childhood agency by considering how it is used in understanding childhood such that children are “autonomous and independent in the sense that their material surroundings, human and nonhuman, would not play any part in the kind of beings they are” (p. 396). This materialist approach to understanding children and as such, childhood, is proposed to challenge the epistemic notions of agency so that it allocated “space in between children and their environments, arising in complex encounters rather than located only in the human individuals” (Rautio, 2013b, p. 396).

 

Murris (2020c) advocates for equitable research and practice in education highlighting how posthumanist theories such as childhoodnature support emergent and varied methodologies. Murris (2020c) drew on examples of this, however, the silence of empirical research in the early years of schooling was evident.

 

As suggested by Malone, Duhn, et al. (2020), past ecological and environmental theories have promoted a degree of challenging dominant paradigms in childhood research and practice through acknowledging the nature/culture and more specifically, the child/nature divide. These propositions challenge claims of ‘nature-deficit disorder’ as proposed by Louv (2006) while also acknowledging the significance of the awe, wonder and majesty that nonhuman nature provides (Carson, 1965). Empirical data from Kalvaitis and Monhardt (2015) confirms that “participating children did not see themselves as separate from nature” however, they also describe the significance of nonhuman nature experiences through one of their participants’ responses: “‘I don’t spend every second outside, but when I am outside I almost feel like, like I’m alone with nature, like I become nature’ (fifth-grade child)” (para 41). Human physicality in nonhuman nature spaces provides an attunement, a reminder of human natureness, of childhoodnature. Bai et al. (2010) explore the notion that childhoodnature through the idea of nature being educated out of and away from children, and disputed that education should be founded upon children bringing attention to themselves through “being sense, being bodies, being perceptions, being feelings” (p. 36). Research by Loughland et al. (2002) supports this idea demonstrating that young children are more relational and less object-focused than their older counterparts.

 

In a posthuman theoretical turn, Snaza (2017) describes how Dewey and Bennett were also aware of the humanist ideals of education and that “learning to come to terms with a more-than-human democracy requires re-thinking and re-valuing the “experience” of children before they are educated into humanist anthropocentrism” (p. 28). Here, Snaza (2017) does not suggest abandoning the human, but indeed, accepting the humanness in its animality and relationality with human and nonhuman others. Similarly, Rautio (2013a) argues for an “articulation of interspecies co-existence [which] is the articulation of both our distinctiveness and our interrelations simultaneously” (p. 455). It is noted that the research described so far does lean into the western minority world experiences, research and theories, of which I am a part and co-contribute to quite frequently in a malaise of the current condition of nature juxtapositioned to that of the past. (Malone, 2018) emphasises that “encounters in the new nature movement are often recalled nostalgically with little reference to the diversity of ‘childhoods’ experienced by children throughout the world” (p. 218). Childhoodnature challenges spacetime by offering a space to accommodate the unknown extremities of childhood multiplicities.

 

Childhoodnature adopts spacetime conceptualisations that consider how current practices are informed by the multiplicity of past, present and future activities where linear time is delineated. As such, past ideas of childhood are not retold as childhoodnature but through an entanglement of past, present, future realities, as is the process of the world’s becoming that ideas are (re)turned and (re)turned again: never truly new but never truly the same as spacetime contextualisation matters (Barad, 2014; Malone, 2020). Rousell and Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles (2020) describe this as: “every moment in the life of a child is an uncommon and unrepeatable occasion through which the common world of nature is felt, perceived, and experienced differently” (p. 2), which therefore contributes to “the ongoing reconfigurings of the world” (Barad, 2007, p. 141). Childhoodnature frames possibilities and potentialities, not in preparation or worry about unknown futures, but with the understanding that there is a next moment that matters, and moreover, that this future moment already exists (Barad, 2010; Crinall, 2017b). To this end, this thesis sought to understand early school years teachers’ perceptions of nature and how they inform their pedagogy.

 

Drawing specifically upon the childhoodnature literature, the conceptualisations of childhoodnature that have had emphasis in this study are that: Childhoodnature is about challenging: i) binaries and dualisms, such as mind-body dualisms (Eddy & Moradian, 2018); ii) the child as more knowledgeable than nonhuman other (Vladimirova & Rautio, 2020); and iii) human privileging and human-centred orientations (Blenkinsop et al., 2020; Dyment & Green, 2020). Childhoodnature is about childhood in nature such as time spent in wild nature (Blenkinsop et al., 2020; Charles & Louv, 2020; Dyment & Green, 2020) and nature play opportunities  (Dyment & Green, 2020; Eddy & Moradian, 2018). Childhoodnature is nature as teacher  (Blenkinsop et al., 2020; Charles & Louv, 2020).

 

Childhoodnature is a posthuman concept with tenets that inform the theoretical framework of this study (see figure 3.1). As has been discussed previously, posthuman ways of conceptualising children promote the agency of all matter, that is, the relationality of all material bodies, both human and nonhuman  (Malone, Duhn, et al., 2020; Murris, 2020c; Rautio, 2013b; Somerville, 2020). This notion transcends the idea that there are seen boundaries of individualised bodies and moves to (re)consider the continuity of matter (see Barad, 2007). This further enables a reconceptualisation of childhood from being an isolated event in spacetime to an ongoing intra-action with other bodies experiencing the same processes. As Rousell and Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles (2020) put forward, “everything that a child experiences contributes to the continuity of nature while at the same time irrevocably changing what nature can be” (p. 9). Somerville (2020) adds that “different bodies of matter mutually change and alter in their ongoing intra-actions” (p. 107). These ideas demarcate childhoodnature as being relational and mutually implicated to align with posthumanist thinking where no hierarchical relationship exists between adult/child, parent/child. The agential child is the agential adult as both have equal rights to voice, be heard and respected on the social and political stage. Utilising childhoodnature bequests a reconsideration of how children and childhood are given these opportunities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The childhoodnature model as described through the sections of the Research Handbook of Childhoodnature (Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, Malone, et al., 2020).

Illustration by Kelly @ Kelly Designs for the author.

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