Exploring East Coast Forests and Nature with Children

Month: September 2019

Those “in-between spaces between children, digital languages and the natural world”

If we are to develop new pedagogical approaches that value digital and technological ‘tools’ as capable of expressive and creative potential then we must look to the digital landscape as a range of possible languages rather than ‘tools’.  In this, I mean, how can we view digital languages as poetic and aesthetic, as a means of narrating stories of life and the world and constructing new ways of knowing and knowledge (Keyte-Hartland, 2016).

In my search for different pedagogical perspectives of technology in the classroom, I came across the blog post Technology in Early Childhood Education: Tools and Languages. The post provides a synopsis of a larger research project that the author is involved in, on the blending of modalities, cybernetics (Gregory Bateson, who apparently influenced Loris Malaguzzi’s thinking), and looking at “those connective patterns generated in the in-between spaces between children, digital languages and the natural world (Keyte-Hartland, 2016).

Keyte-Hartland (2016), is interested in the ways apps and digital technologies can be used beyond their intended use, in creative and innovative ways to express ourselves and explore the world around us.

Her encouragement  to think of digital technologies as not just tools for expression but a language (See 100 languages of the child), has shifted my thinking about technology and it’s possibilities in the classroom. Not just as a means for expressing oneself, but as a tool for interacting and reading the world around us.

Other digital modalities such as digital projection and green screen can be as playful in nature as role play and open ended materials and these form a great potential for multi-modal expression with children. Also, the ways in which digital endoscopes and microscopes can enable the re-proposal of the familiar world of nature in unexpected and complex ways that offer curious new worlds and environments to explore to generate new, imaginative ideas and questions (Keyte-Hartland, 2016).

Further in Keyte-Hartland’s (2016) post, an example is given to show how technology can be used to show a different perspective and a means for interacting with a growing bean that would not have otherwise been possible. The growth of a bean is sped up using time lapse, and then projected on the wall of the classroom. As a result the children are able to dance “with” the growing bean, exploring movement and growth (Keyte-Hartland, 2016)

“Dancing with beans that grow. Ashmore Park Nursery, Wolverhampton” (Keyet-Hardland, 2016)

The blog post illustrates ways technologies can allow for the layering of stories, or how stories can be “told” on top of other stories. As is shown in the image, the growth of the bean is separate from the child, yet both stories come together as the dancing child’s shadow is projected on top of the time-lapse projection on the wall.

What new perspectives can be gained by having the opportunity to re-visit photos, videos, and recorded sounds from a recent experience in nature ? How can technologies such as digital endoscopes and microscopes provide opportunities for children to “visit” worlds they have not been to ? I wonder how these technologies and devices if used in the forests where I bring children daily, would change their perspective of the space and meaning making about place? What stories would they tell about the space ? What stories would they tell about themselves in relation to the natural environment ? What new conversations and inquiries would follow ? Would their stories, inquiries, investigations, and reflections become more complex and critical in thought?

What examples exist of storytelling in or with nature ? 

Marsh, Arnseth, and Kumpulainen (2018) report on three makerspaces in Finland, Norway, and the UK, highlighting the ways in which they build multimodal literacies and what they term “maker citizenship,” which they define as “maker practices related to one or more of the three key elements of citizenship: rights, belonging, and/or participation (p.7).”

One of the projects which took place in Finland began as children were engaged in the Whisper of the Spirit literature which includes Finnish stories and myths embedded with local knowledge and teachings about the forest and sustainability. Through the multimodal reading (words and images) of the literature the children were encouraged to develop an inquiry project. The students chose to create totems of forest spirits, the stories of the spirits being captures through audio recordings. The totems and stories were then exhibited at the local library. The audio recordings attached to the totems through QR (quick response) codes. All of the totems represented spirits that were “protecting” aspects of the local forests. Of the stories included in the report, the stories also focused on the sustainability of the forests and on human-nature interactions.

From what I have gathered the Whisper of the Spirit literature appears to be inquiry activities which can be implemented into a curriculum (focused on Finnish culture, though could be adapted to other cultures), which I am not so much interested in. I am however, interested in the ways in which multimodal literacies and digital story telling can support the development of “maker citizenship” (the term “creative citizenship” is also used in the article). Marsh, Arnseth, and Kumpulainen (2018) discuss the “individual and collective agency (p. )” this particular project provided the children. The children were provided the agency to pursue what was important to them, to be makers of artifacts (digital and non-digital) and active in their community (sharing their artifacts in the library exhibits).

Reflections and connections to my context

The child-created stories in the Finnish project had themes of sustainability and environmentalism that were woven into mythical and imaginative stories of forest spirits (e.g bird spirit or tree spirit; Marsh, Arnseth, & Kumpulainen 2018). Through digital and non-digital multi-modal means the children made meaning of their knowledge and experiences with nature and local forests through storytelling. The digital component of this project allowed the children the opportunity to share their knowledge and perspective with the broader community. The act of sharing with the broader community may also broaden societies perspective on children as knowledge holders, meaning makers, agents of change, and as holding innovative and creative perspectives.

In the context of forest and nature schools, environmental stewardship and sustainability are two (of many) arguments for the importance of these types of programs. Forest School Canada (2014) states “by exposing children to areas rich in biodiversity where they can learn about environmental issues hands on, FNS can help children become well-informed and caring stewards of the natural world (16).”

The use of technologies in forest school and nature programs could be used as a means of exploring the environment, gaining new perspective, and creating stories that bring together imagination, children’s cultural and social knowledge, inquiry, and reflective questioning, in turn leading to creating a sense of place and our (human) entanglement (borrowing this metaphor from syazbeck ) with nature and the natural world.

Returning to Keyet-Hartland’s (2016) view of technologies as languages, as a means of storytelling, and providing new ways of knowing, especially when used in innovative and creative ways. I would argue that within the spaces between children-technology-nature, their are innovative and creative perspectives of nature, environmentalism, and sustainability – stories waiting to be told …



Forest . (2014). Forest And Nature School In Canada: A Head, Heart, Hands Approach to Outdoor Learning. FOREST AND NATURE SCHOOL IN CANADA: A Head, Heart, Hands Approach to Outdoor Learning. Forest School Canada. Retrieved from http://childnature.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/FSC-Guide-1.pdf

Keyet-Hartland, D. (2016, January 31). Retrieved from https://debikeytehartland.me/2016/01/31/technology-in-early-childhood-education-tools-and-languages/

Marsh, J., Arnseth, H., & Kumpulainen, K. (2018). Maker literacies and maker citizenship in the MakEY (makerspaces in the early years) project. Multimodal Technologies and Interaction, 2(3), 50. doi:10.3390/mti2030050

“For what purpose(s) do we educate ?”

I realized after last week that I definitely don’t have a good sense of the current research surrounding children and technology. For myself I knew I had to start broad before I could start narrowing down a topic or topics of inquiry, and possibly finding some answers to the questions posed in my previous post.

In my search I came across the NAEYC – Fred Rodgers Center Position Statement on technology use and children under 8 (2012) followed by a chapter (Researching technologies in children’s worlds and futures) from The SAGE handbook of early childhood research (2016). While the position statement gave a good overview of recommendations based in research, the chapter gave a dense overview of the types of research being done, theories being applied, and insight into what the findings have been.

My main focus here will be to look at a critique of developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) referenced in the SAGE handbook, and a model for looking at how technology can or is applied in the early years classroom using a assimilation/accommodation model (from Piagets Constructivist theory).

Developmentally Appropriate Practice ?

The NAEYC-Fred Rodgers Center Position Statement on technology views technology as another tool for children to express themselves creatively, and use to explore and investigate their worlds, spaces, environments. Further, the statement emphasizes the importance of  educators knowledge of current technologies and research on the topic, in order to be intentional and developmentally appropriate with the use of technology in the classroom.

DAP comes up a lot in the position statement (NAEYC wrote the DAP framework), it also comes up a lot in the field in early childhood education, and I will confess I have never thought to question developmentally appropriate practice, because it is best practice … isn’t it ?

One of my goals for this class was to understand what is DAP technology use and how would I define this within the nature/forest school context. So I was particularly interested in the critique of DAP references in the SAGE handbook chapter. I was interested in how this perspective on DAP would challenge, disrupt, and possibly change how I view DAP and in particular DAP technology use.

In short, O’Brien (2000) does not have issue with DAP but that the focus on “indoctrinating” this pedagogy in pre-service teacher training puts an emphasis on certain theories (e.g Piagetian constructivist theory, 1936) less (if any) focus on theories that encourage critical reflection such as feminist pedagogy, critical theory (Friere, 1970 & Giroux 1988), and “engaged pedagogy (Hooks, 1994). No room is left for questioning “best practices,” and making room for context (social, cultural, environmental) informs these practices and how this may alter what “best practices” look like.

How are educators encouraged to  critically question their education, their own practices, pedagogy and beliefs ? These questions are sometimes  difficult, disruptive or destabilizing, and often call into question power dynamics. How are educators encouraging this same practice among children within their classrooms ?

I am interested in how this critique of the “indoctrination” of DAP and best practice, can be applied to best practices and Developmentally appropriate technology use.

O’Brien (2000) asks us to ask ourselves “For what purpose(s) do we educate (p.287)?” Recognizing that there can never be one answer to this question, she offers “one possible answer is that we ought to educate students to really see the worlds in which they live, and to be willing and able to act to effect change when necessary(p.287)”.

I went into this course with a mindset of finding out the “right answers” of how and when technology should be used, and who should be implementing it, and what devices should be used. I think my feelings of discomfort with technology in the classroom led me to loose sight of some of my core beliefs of my role in the classroom. One of which to learn alongside the children, to be reflective, encourage them to be reflective, and follow the lead of the children. How can we as a class of learners (children and adults) develop a digital pedagogy ? How can we use technology to really see  the world and “effect change?”

This article has also made me reflect on the power dynamics within the classroom around technology. As I mentioned in my previous post, technology is used sometimes in the classroom, however it is generally the adults who use the phones or cameras to document children’s work, or children ask to use a camera/phone to document or research something further (e.g if reading about a sea creature the children may ask to see an image of it). I wonder how having a camera available at the child’s level for them to access at any time would lead to more opportunities to learn alongside the children as well as engage in critical discussions important to them.

Accommodation or Assimilation of technology in the early childhood classroom 

The SAGE chapter also made reference to an article by ReinkingLabbo,  McKenna (2000), which broke down technology use in the classroom using a model of assimilation/accommodation (borrowed from Piagets Constructivist theory). Further, that the implementation of technology into early years classrooms allowed students and teachers to that subvert “traditional” methods of instruction and encourage students and teachers to collaboratively experience, view, and interpret the world differently. I was interested in how this may relate to O’Brien’s (2000) article.

As a little refresher this is a breakdown of assimilation and accommodation taken from the article:

In the familiar Piagetian model of learning, assimilation is the process by which new information is merged with existing knowledge structures without changing those structures. Accommodating new information, on the other hand,requires that existing knowledge be restructured to fit new information, which eventually transforms the way a learner views and understands the world (Reinking, Labbo & McKenna, 2010, p.111).


Reinking et, al. (2000) looked as ways in which technologies such as word processors, the internet, e-mail, online texts (encyclopedias), multimedia presentations, and blogs were used within k-12 classrooms to move from assimilation approaches to accommodation.

Using this model, to reflect on technology use in the spaces I inhabit with children is interesting. How can we (myself, fellow educators, and children) use familiar technology (already assimilated) in innovative, creative, and collaborative ways that encourages us to look at the world differently ? How will children’s use of technology challenge or disrupt my own ideas about learning (not just cognitive learning but social, emotional, and spiritual ) ?

I’d like to end by returning to the NAEYC position statement on technology use in the classroom. I can certainly see how technology can be used as another tool for creative expression, innovation and for exploring and investigating ourselves, the spaces we inhabit, and our greater social, environmental, cultural, and global contexts (though I would like to learn more).

Further, being aware of current technologies and research is also important, however missing from the statement is the need to also critically question our intention and purpose for implementing (or not) certain technologies in our classrooms. Do we need to have all of the answers first ? How much learning could we do along side the children in our programs ?

Questioning, inquiring, investigating, making meaning of and with our interactions with technology, collaboratively – children, educators, and families.

I think it’s important to ask again

“For what purpose(s) do we teach?”

(O’Brien 2000)

National Association for the Education of Young Children, & Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning. (2012). Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8. Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8. National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/sites/default/files/globally-shared/downloads/PDFs/resources/topics/PS_technology_WEB.pdf

Freire, P., & Ramos, M. B. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Seabury Press.

Giroux, H. A. (1988). Teachers as transformative intellectuals: Towards a critical pedagogy of learning. Granby, MA: Bergin & Garvey.

Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to transgress: education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Leigh M. O’Brien (2000) Engaged Pedagogy: One Alternative to “Indoctrination” into DAP, Childhood Education, 76:5, 283-288, DOI:

Marsh, J. (2016). Researching technologies in children’s worlds and futures. In Farrell, A., Kagan, S. L., & Tisdall, E. M. The SAGE handbook of early childhood research (pp. 485-501). London: SAGE Publications Ltd doi: 10.4135/9781473920859

Piaget, J. (1936). The origins of intelligence in children. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Reinking, D., Labbo, L.D. and McKenna, M.C. (2000) From assimilation to accommodation: A developmental framework for integrating digital technologies into literacy research and instruction. Journal of Research in Reading, 23(2): 110–122.

Personal Learning Goals

When people talk about children and technology, especially in the early childhood classroom I automatically start to feel uncomfortable. I have always been very certain about my position – there is no room for it. Over the past year, I have started to question my own firm stance on technology in the ECE classroom.

I began to reflect on the digital world’s children are growing up in. I have heard people tell me stories about their infants/young toddlers picking up their phones or tablets and navigating functions and applications as if they had always known how to use them. We know that children learn a lot through observation, and technology use (for many children) is constantly being modeled within the home and in greater society. Children are coming into my classroom with knowledge and interest in technologies, and they are leaving my classroom and engaging with these devices, or at least will at some point in their lives.

I work primarily outside with children (Little Nest Nature Preschool & Cloudberry Forest School ).

Problem solving, teamwork, time and patience: Finding a way across the muddy water.

Technology use is almost non-existent however they do use camera to document, voice recorders sometimes, and from time to time we use my phone to do some research. I like to think that in such a technology rich society, it’s nice to show children all the adventures that can have in real life and in nature. I like to think they are learning a lot of important skills for life (not just how to build a fire or identify plants but how to problem solve, how to communicate with others, how to regulate etc.). However, I am starting to wonder if by “ignoring” technology if I am missing out on teaching or modeling skills to critically think about technology and digital devices.

I won’t deny it, these devices are a big part of our society, and will most likely continue to be so. Is there a place for them in the early years ? Should I develop a digital pedagogy ? What is developmentally appropriate technology use ? At the very least, I want to learn more so I can share the research with families.

Two other questions I have been thinking a lot about is how can I teach/model technological skills (i.e coding etc.) without using digital devices ? and how can childcare centres integrate technology in the classroom that is environmentally sustainable ?

I have a lot of questions at this point and am going to try and narrow these down to one focus question. The next few blogs will be my journey made up of articles, videos, and other resources I find along the way. To narrow it down, my aim is to begin developing a digital pedagogy. My plan is to:

  • Read about digital pedagogies in the early years
  • Read about developmentally appropriate technology use (primarily with children pre-kindergarten)
  • Look into how supposedly “important” technology skills can be taught/modeled/acquired without digital devices
  • Look into how technology can be integrated into the classroom in a way that is sustainable and mindful of effects on the environment (the longevity of devices, and if and how they are recycled).

If anyone has any articles, videos, blog posts, podcasts etc. that you think would inform my quest for answers or even want to share your own thoughts, please share!