It started with a shelf…

Shared by Nicole Pierce


As I began to think deeper with fast fooding ideologies,  I began to look closer at the ebs and flows in our classroom, at the dance between the children and the materials in a new way. We often fall back on fast food, or quick meal options because of how easily accessible they are. This can come at the expense of taking the time to engage in a longer food experiences, savouring the flavours, and spending longer periods of time connecting together with our food and with each other over meals. Looking around the classroom, I saw a space full of “fast food” options for learning; a selection of quick bites for ‘cognitive’ palates, and a sprinkling of snacks for ‘dramatic play’ tastes… the children coming in for a fast bite of this or that, tossing the remainder on the floor like garbage or food waste. I had noticed this especially with a particular shelf; regardless of what selection of materials we placed there, the children seemed intent on pushing them all through to the other side and leaving them in a large heap on the other side and walking away. I was curious as to why and assumed they simply didn’t like what we were offering there. We changed the materials, and still the same happening occured…..

I began to wonder about what it may look like if instead of providing a thousand fast snacks and fast food options we chose to only provide 5 course gourmet meals? Meals or moments of engagement meant to be savoured.  I began to think… perhaps the bland flavours of the banal yet plentiful fast food options seem less engaging to the children….. Easier to just take a bit and throw away, or throw them all out for being ‘stale’, only there because we are required to have a large plentiful supply of quick options instead of just a few flavourful and lovingly prepared gourmet meals….. And so, it started with a shelf. 

After some discussion, we decided to put everything that was on the shelf away, to get rid of these options and leave an ‘empty plate’ for the children to fill with what they wanted to savour. The shelf, now empty of materials, or fast-food options, was so full of potential. It became a shelf full of challenges, of patience, of hesitation, of overcoming obstacles, of confidence, of excitement, of pride. A shelf full of sharing, of social engagement, of relationships, of joy. 

We wondered, what if every material was offered only with intention based on us listening to what the children really want to focus on and we took the rest away? What if we placed the potential of the materials at the forefront of our environment? What if we stepped outside of the boxes that separate the domains of creative arts, cognitive, science and saw that they are all connected and happening simultaneously? Would this change the way we encounter, treat and interact with the materials, each other and the time and space of exploration?

And so we looked around the rest of the room and noticed other spaces where there wasn’t a multitude of offerings, but one five course gourmet meal of materials to savour; the paint, the blocks, the water…. and noticed the longer periods of engagement in these spaces…. The relations the children were forming with the materials, as well as with each other through and with the materials, a deeper sense of connection than the areas full of ‘fast food options’ which mostly ended up on the floor with us chasing them to tidy up after. 

We also wonder what messages do we send by prioritizing have “less” materialistic things in order to have more time and deeper connection to the things we do have? What other logics does something like an “empty” shelf invite in as opposed to a shelf full of stuff?

We set ourselves to put aside the requirements of the fast-food nation of material offerings set out by outside bodies of governance. Instead, we worked to create five course gourmet meals in every part of the space WITH the children; meals we wanted to savour together. Our room changed, the energy changed, the relationships changed and grew deeper…. Now more space to breath together, to stay present in the moment with one another, and to spend time not needlessly picking up the materials that scattered the floor like garbage/litter. Instead we hope and seek to have more time to notice the relations that live within our time spent in the space together, the lives which the materials have and bring to our time together with them…. The lives they lived before they came to be in our classroom space and the lives they may live (or may be stopped from living) while with us or after they leave our classroom…. 

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