Circles of Caring

Inspired by Gerlach’s (2008) paper: “Circle of Caring”: A First Nations Worldview of Child Rearing, we shared our personal experiences of raising children as mothers, teachers, and nurses alongside children and their families. We asked questions of who a healthy child might be. We wondered about physical activity, confidence, dreams, and happiness in a child’s life in relation to wellbeing. Reflecting on our lives within circles of caring, expressions of spirituality in a healthy child’s life became a focus of our interest.

Ina helped us think about healthy children before they are born. In Germany, it is common to say, “no matter if it’ll be a boy or a girl, the most important thing is, that the child will be healthy”. We asked questions about children born with physical differences and chronic disease. We wondered about shifting the dominant story of physical health to one of recognition that the most important aspect of health is that the child is a loved child. A child in relationship to those who love them was important in our understanding of raising healthy children.

Mara took us to the setting of palliative care where every patient has a different social network and their own understanding of what family means. Identifying and understanding the needs, wishes and expectations of children in their last days, weeks, or months include asking them what their needs and wishes are. There are many gaps and silences around death and childhood and we wondered about wellbeing at the end of a young life. We talked about being alongside children as they find their own way to say goodbye.

Gerlach (2008) discussed the presence of spiritual objects in the home, such as feathers, rocks, plants, and herbs. We remembered children’s literature that drew upon objects and spirituality, such as, Everybody Needs a Rock, by Byrd Baylor. We talked about how rocks can be important in many children’s lives. Together, we listened to Jacqueline read aloud, If You Find a Rock, by Peggy Christian, and were reminded of memories with rocks from our own childhoods.

Reading Ball’s (2003) paper Identity and Knowledge in Indigenous Young Children’s Experiences in Canada helped us think about children as world travellers. Switching from home into schools where non-indigenous educators guide early educational experiences raised questions of who decides which knowledge is passed on between generations in places of learning. We talked about dominant stories of assessment in schools and how they differ from our experiences of watching for the right time in the lives of children we love. Lorna spoke about two kinds of happiness – relative and absolute -fulfilling dreams of travel  and inner happiness – and related those ideas to the article with Soka Kindergarten and Monash University. We were also reminded of Noddings (2003) writing about an “ethic of care” and Schlink’s (1995) book about the reader and his relationship to a woman who learned from listening to stories read out loud to her. Thinking with stories that were told to us at different times in our lives helped us understand Ball who said, “when the time is right for particular kinds of stories to be told or for children to in included in a traditional activity, then it happens” (p. 289). For some of us, this notion contrasts with the mandated curriculum in school where stories of learning are pre-determined as far as timeline and content are concerned. Watching for the right time to share a story resonated with each of us as we continue to be present within circles of caring alongside the lives of children and their families whom we care for.

Until next time,

Sonia, Jacqueline, Lorna, Eliza, Sarah, Ina, Mara, Theresa, and Lynne



Ball, J. (2012). Identity and Knowledge in Indigenous Young Children’s Experiences in Canada. Childhood Education, 88(5), 286-291. doi: 10.1080/00094056.2012.717866

Baylor, B., & Parnall, P. (1985). Everybody needs a rock. New York: Aladding Paperbacks.

Christian, P. (2008). If You Find a Rock: Harcourt Childrens Books.

Gerlach, A. (2008). “Circle of caring”: A First Nations worldview of child rearing. Canadian      Journal Of Occupational Therapy, 75(1), 18-25.

Noddings, N. (1984). Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. Berkely, California: University of California Press.

Schlink, B. (1995). The Reader: Vintage Books.


Play in Relation with Indigenous Children

The following reflection came from conversation alongside the following article:

Gerlach, A., Browne, A, & Suto, M. (2014). A critical reframing of play in relation with Indigenous children in Canada. Journal of Occupational Science, 21(3), 243-258.


Wondering about children constructing their worlds – play in everyday life

Who are we – teachers and adult family in relation to children playing?


A hide and seek game with a doll

“I know its under the blanket – I saw it in my dream”

dreams – a way of seeing the future – a forward looking story


Missing experiences

Where are the stories of resistance?

With the lens of story – do we see differently?

Comments that teachers make – “she was at Enoch School”


Drawing unicorns

Work and play – interrupting stories

Adults work – play is something children do – What is play?


Questioning assumptions about play

Physical play – Dance

Imaginative and Creative activities – Directing play with centres and Choice

Electronic play

play that assesses readiness?


Hyper-vigilant parenting

A child walking home alone – dawdling

Social services and questions of negligence

Risk – Safety and health


Forest schools

Climbing as high as you can

Playing with the environment you are in


Play – experimenting with experience – temporality, sociality, place

Relationships and Embodied knowledge

Going against the grain into the borderlands –


What happens if…


Until next time,

Sonia Houle, Jacqueline Filipek, Joanne Farmer, Eloise Lynne Robertson, Lorna Sutherland, Cindy Swanson, and Lynne Driedger-Enns


Pardo, M. & Woodrow, C. (2014). Improving the Quality of Early Childhood Education in Chile: Tensions Between Public Policy and Teacher Discourses Over the Schoolarisation of Early Childhood Education.

Prior to conversation, our visiting professor from Chile, Ilich Silva-Pena, provided a brief and very helpful overview of Early Childhood Education (ECE) in Chile after the Pinochet Revolution (1990). This was a time when a wave of neo-liberalism swept the nation as a result of strong connections between the Chilean government and a group of economists from Chicago. What followed was a large-scale privatization of schools, such that today only 36% of schools provide public education. While public policies aim to reduce inequalities between schools, in practice, segregation is well entrenched. The authors point out that Chile is unique in SA because it has a long history of public policies for ECE dating back to the early 20th Century as well as Early Childhood Teacher Education since the 1940s. However, as of the 1990s, ECE was subsumed under the national elementary education system and from then on, was expected to follow a national curriculum framework that no longer valued a holistic play-based approach.


Against this background, the authors invite us to consider emerging tensions resulting from the schoolarisation of early childhood classrooms where ECE teachers are expected to push academics through the teaching of language and math. National academic testing follows to measure performance and accountability, which are then rewarded with subsidies to the school and/or local authority. As a group, we were struck by the resonance between these policies and the No Child Left Behind policy in the US where schools can be fined or closed for inferior test results. One outstanding difference is that teachers in Chile can be awarded monetary incentives for work in increasing student achievement. How can this be allowed to happen we wondered? Are the ECE teachers in Chile not resisting this policy? Adlerstein (2010, 2011) sheds a grim light on the matter of teacher voice, “the discourses of government authorities seem to indicate that early childhood teachers are not knowledgeable enough to inform national public policies for the education of young children”(p109). Shocking statement! (Can silence other discourses).


Apart from the resulting fiscal reward subsidy, one might argue these achievement-based policies in the Chilean ECE context are also becoming reality here in Alberta.

What recourse, we wondered, do teachers have to resist this schoolarisation and protect the play-based curriculum that is so important in Early Childhood? What would happen if ECE teachers and parents got together to resist a principal’s power and say it’s not what we want. Is this kind of interaction possible?


The authors call for the creation of “dialogic spaces” to explore tensions, yet we understand from Ilich that teachers and teacher education programs will not risk criticizing government policies. Yet, if such conversation spaces did or could exist in schools, might they be pushed further to extend beyond the school? Might they include parents’ perspectives? And community perspectives?


Until next time,

Ilich Silva-Pena, Janice Huber, Lorna Sutherland, Eliza Pinnegar, Sonia Houle, Claire Desrosier


Our conversation around Graue, Whyte, and Kresin Delaney’s (2014) Fostering Culturally and Developmentally Responsive Teaching through Improvisational Practice first centered around the idea of ‘improvising’. In their study, the authors invited teacher participants to focus on funds of knowledge (FoK) (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992), Developmentally Appropriate Practices (DAP), and knowledge of early math through professional development courses. They found that unless teachers had the capacity to improvise in their teaching, having knowledge of these three components was not sufficient to impact their practice and begin, “responding to children’s resources and interest in authentic ways” (Graue, et al., 2014, p. 297). Scripted curriculum, such as packaged math, was found to constrain any possibility for improvisation. We appreciated the effort teacher participants made to visit children and families in their homes. We were, however, a bit unclear about how this process unfolded and would have liked more information about this aspect.

Our conversation highlighted the understanding that improvisation takes place in human interaction between people. From our experiences in classrooms with children and their families – when teacher, learner, subject matter, and milieu were meshed – we felt alive as teachers within relationships. It was from within the midst of these relationships that we understood improvisation. In back and forth conversation we don’t know what the other person is going to say. Improvisation happens in relationship. The question of “who am I as I interact with children and families in their first experiences in school?” arose from our perceptions of being wide-awake to the lives of children and responsivity through living.

We wondered about how to prepare teachers to be improvisers in relational ways, and whether people naturally have the tools to improvise. Can such a skill be developed and if so, how? How do we prepare pre-service teachers to improvise? What previous experiences may help teachers improvise? What do we include in their teacher preparation program? Experiences of camp counselling and volunteering in places unrelated to school were part of many teachers’ responses in the group. We wondered about teacher education that provided opportunity for at least one practicum in relation with another profession, such as nursing, law, social work, environmental studies, and so on. If there were field experiences where teacher education students could experience other professional contexts this may be helpful in expanding their understanding of interacting with families. Nursing clinics and justice related places are examples of these places. We wondered about service opportunities in community contexts beyond schools in the preparation of teachers and teacher educators.

We also wondered about how ‘funds of knowledge’ are understood and taken up. What connections are there between the relationships teachers have with children, youth, and families and their understandings of families’ funds of knowledge?

Until next time,

Sonia Houle, Claire Desrochers, Eliza Pinnegar, Jacqueline Filipek, Janice Huber, Joanne Farmer, Xiaodong Wen, Lorna Sutherland, Nathalie Reid, Cindy Swanson, Elaine Laberge, Ji-Hye Yoon, Jean Clandinin, Myer Horowitz, and Lynne Driedger-Enns

Graue, E., Whyte, K., & Kresdin Delaney, K. (2014). Fostering Culturally and Developmentally Responsive Teaching Through Improvisational Practice Journal of early childhood teacher education, 35, 297-317. doi: 10.1080/10901027.2014.968296



Foregrounding happiness for quality early childhood education

In Ikegami & Agbenyega’s (2014) paper Exploring educators’ perspectives: How does learning through ‘happiness’ promote quality early childhood education?, we read about a Soka school in Japan where happiness was identified as the most important factor in quality education. How, we wondered, are we to understand this concept of happiness? The ultimate goal of Soka schools is “the fostering of global citizens to have a profound awareness of the relationships between nature, society and the individual so that they can perceive the nature of existing problems and devise appropriate methods to resolve them” (Goulah & Ito, 2012; Soka Gakuen Educational Foundation, 2009). The founder of Soka schools, Makiguchi, saw daily experience as the basis for creating positive values, which help the student achieve happiness in life. In this study, participating teachers identified the following inter-related themes of inner happiness in both their personal values and teaching practices:

  • Fostering determination – ‘a sense of strength which leads people to strive to overcome any problem or difficulty’ (p. 49)
  • Fostering hope – ‘a drive or motivation to achieve a desired outcome or a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction’ (p. 50)
  • Fostering appreciation – ‘being appreciative of what you have’ (p. 51)

As private institutions shaped around happiness, Soka schools are significantly different from North-American schools that are focused on competition for academic achievement. We wondered about moments in Canadian classrooms where teachers foreground children’s lives alongside achievement and predetermined standards. Stories from Sonia’s classroom helped us see such a classroom moment. She said:

Singing with my Grade 2 students makes us feel happy. It is also a way to experience a new language with young children. With gestures and facial expressions, we sing ‘I am amazing’ and focus on a specific French sound. It is sung to the tune of Skip to My Lou. It is very catchy.

Sonia and her students enjoyed the experience of singing together. It was the whole experience that they enjoyed – singing together was a relational experience as each person heard their own voice from within the midst of each other’s voices. Would this classroom moment, we wondered, be an example of the kind of inner happiness at the core in Soka schools?

 Further wonderings:

  • What is inner happiness and how do we foster it for children and teachers in Canadian schools?
  • What does it look like to nurture a child ‘from the inside out’?
  • Soka education is based on value-creation. Whose values count? How do you assess values?
  • Is the word ‘happiness’ as it is used in Soka schools an Eastern concept? How might this concept be translated in a Western context?
  • How do we link children’s lives, their happiness and experiences with the mandated curriculum (academics)?

Until next time,

Sonia Houle, Claire Desrochers, Eliza Pinnegar, Jacqueline Filipek, Janice Huber, Joanne Farmer, Lorna Sutherland, Nathalie Reid, and Lynne Driedger-Enns

Ikegami, K., & Agbenyega, J. S. (2014). Exploring educators’ perspectives: How does learning through ‘happiness’ promote quality early childhood education? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 39(3), 46-55.

Creating Space

“Bringing the children around the peace candle was a way to move forward, to talk about how the children were making sense of their experiences, a space for children to speak their stories, to listen to others’ stories.” (Huber, Clandinin, Murphy, 2004, p.344)

In Creating Communities of Cultural Imagination: Negotiating
a Curriculum of Diversity, Huber, Murphy, and Clandinin (2003) explored the making of a curriculum of diversity by attending to children’s stories to live by as they rub up against one another. They focused on a particular curriculum space, peace candle gatherings, as the research site for attending to these moments of bumping up. The bumping up of stories of school created tensions that are part of a negotiated curriculum space. These negotiations that happened in Peace Candle circles created a liminal space where children and teachers were encouraged to inquire into the tensions between and among their lives.

As our group began to make sense of what we had read alongside our own diverse experiences, the conversation went to the absences of sense making opportunities for children, teachers, and families in the busyness of daycare, school, and rushing between various commitments. There were stories from mothers who ask their children what they did in school that day, wanting to make sense and understand their child’s experience, and the child’s response of “good” or “nothing”. We shared stories of a daughter making friends in a new country and stories of foster care, consequences, and adolescents wanting to have control in their lives. We told stories of children, teachers, and families who want to see each other as people first rather than a checklist of things that need to get done in a day. From the midst of our stories, we entered a liminal space intentionally where there was a humble awareness of listening alongside each other’s experience. This reading and our conversation together, reminds us to live into the tension by making space for conversation and learning to listen to each other.

What else are you thinking about in relation to the articles?

Huber, J., Murphy, M. S., & Clandinin, D. J. (2003). Creating Communities of Cultural Imagination: Negotiating a Curriculum of Diversity. Curriculum inquiry, 33(4), 343-362.

Experiences in Early Childhood Education: Building Relational Communities

Welcome: Meetings will be held from 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month from September 2015 – April 2016. The first meeting is September 23, 2015 at The Centre for Research for Teacher Education and Development, 633 Education South, Faculty of Education,University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Description: This reading group will unfold in a seminar format and is intended to engage participants in an exploration of early childhood education with particular emphasis on building relational communities attentive to the shaping of more just, peaceful, and meaningful schools.

Facilitator: Dr. Lynne Driedger-Enns, the 2015 Horowitz Teacher Education Research Scholar, will facilitate the reading group. For more information, please contact her by phone at 780-492-7770 or by email at

Articles for conversation on Wednesday September 23, 2015:

Huber, J., Murphy, M. S., & Clandinin, D. J. (2003). Creating Communities of Cultural Imagination: Negotiating a Curriculum of Diversity. Curriculum inquiry, 33(4), 343-362.

McKie, F. (2000). Myer horowitz: One person making a difference. Early Childhood Education, 33(2), 11-13.