Supporting Dispositions for Documentation with 100 Languages

Terra Nova Nature School, Richmond

“What is our relationship to this place? How do the seasons, the changing landscapes, and our interactions with the more-than-human, impact our teaching of young children?” This was the driving question we considered in the course of our Learning Journey grant.

Each of our six members explored this question by committing to spending one hour a month for six months in Terra Nova Rural Park – the location of our licensed outdoor preschool program. The manner of the research, however – the exploration itself – was left unspecified. Our belief is that educators themselves need the time and freedom to dive into the ‘100 Languages’, languages both familiar and unfamiliar, in order to support children’s research using diverse ‘languages’.

Despite the very open invitation, we held an underlying assumption that as adult educators we would rely on research that would take the form of documentation methods familiar to us from Reggio Emilia:
written notes and visual images, and we assumed these would be objective, perhaps even scientific, in style. Wow! Were we ever wrong!

Our staff members engaged in the following methods of research: running; mapping; note-taking; writing stories; writing poetry; sitting, standing, climbing, falling, and crouching in mud, water and trees; sketching; reading; researching; listening; observing; photographing; gathering; collaging; mask-making; musing.

Every month we shared with one another our experiences of ‘just being’ in the park, and our various
forms of collected information. As the year unfolded, we noticed that our individual explorations were
leading us in unforeseen directions:

  • we each had ‘false’ starts: explorations, ideas, or projects that started but didn’t feel sufficiently
    engaging to continue;
  • a developing confidence in our own path of exploration, and excitement about seeing the work
    of others;
  • incorporating insights and feedback from our monthly meeting into our next month’s
  • and, most poignantly, a vulnerability with one another that has strengthened our team.

This is not to say that the work was easy. Each of us wrestled with challenges of time, commitment and
energy. Sometimes it was only our accountability to one another, and to the funding we had received
for the project, that kept us engaged.

Many ‘a-ha’ moments emerged from nurturing this culture of inquiry: metacognitive insights that will
lead us to many more months of research regarding our individual and collective teaching practices.
For example, we recognized that during both our research and our sharing, we often felt anxious and
uncomfortable, just as the children do while out in the cold rain, or when faced with a task that is
daunting (using sharpie pens that you cannot erase!) We wonder how to live with the ‘knowing and
familiarity’ of a place, one another, and our teaching practice, yet still maintain the excitement of
wonder and newness we all experienced in the first years of working outdoors? We better appreciate
one another’s values, dispositions and strengths. It became so apparent that the true foundation of this
work is relational.

None of us wanted the project to end – we didn’t feel we had even completed the seasons yet! We are
keen to continue mapping, making, thinking. We can, however, begin to overcome our collective and
paralyzing fear of documentation. Like any artistic practice, documentation requires specific tools,
habits, and attitudes. By incorporating our lived and shared insights from the learning journey –
allowing time, multiple lenses, vulnerability, and reflective thinking – to the work of documentation, we
can move forward with authentically documenting our experiences of teaching in this place alongside

Just as we were unsure of the format our final presentation would take, we understand more clearly that
documentation cannot be conceived of as a final product. The product is the result of the journey, and
our journey has just begun.

With much gratitude to Shantelle Allard, Tricia Booker, Misuzu Chiu, and Heidi Ziegler, for being
willing to play along,

Emily Vera

Kate Dawson