Event 1: Stones at the river
The first event is a walk from the girls' house to the nearby river, about half a kilometre away. As we begin our walk I already realise that for me as researcher this walking with the girls is a different configuration of time and space. To observe how they choose to intra-act with the world takes as much time as it takes, and the spaces and places of our walk are shaped by their stoppings. We make our way slowly across the road and between the houses to get to the track that takes us down to the river. On the way Lulu spots a dip in a dirt driveway where the surface has become soft: 'I want to play in that one', she says, 'I want to make a sculpture', flopping down in the soft dirt. 'I'll be the sculptor and make a sculpture shop and sell the sculptures', she continues as I move on and she reluctantly follows to what I regard as the very beginning of our walk to the river. For the girls there is no beginning or end point, the time of our walk stretches into the continuous flux of everyday life.
As we walk on down to the river the girls stop at each stone along the track, some loose, some half buried in the pathway. Charmaine tries to pick up the stones from where they are embedded in the dirt and asks me to help her wrench them from their place in the ground. 'Let's pick up the small loose ones', I say. Lulu sorts her stones into goodies and baddies and a collection of these builds up in my pocket. Down the hill and across the grassy flat Lulu hums her walking song until we veer onto a tiny side track that leads to a spot by the river. As soon as we arrive at the small beach of dirt/sand, both girls pick up stones and throw them into the water watching them plop, plop, plop as ripples spread out over the surface. I take a photo of the stone throwing girls on my iPhone: bodies leaning, arms outstretched, legs bracing, hands holding and releasing, stone falling, a moment of motion held still in the camera by the press of a button. What is it about stones that make the girls pick them up and throw them into the water?
Charmaine picks up handfuls of dirt and sprays it over the water where it makes a sprinkling sound as it falls onto the still surface. She then turns to a little fireplace someone else has made there with a circle of large river stones. 'This is a little fire. It is my little fire, I am making a little fire for everybody!' (loudly). She begins to play in the fireplace with the charcoal and burnt remains of rubbish. Shoes being discarded, I quickly gather up pieces of sharp broken glass scattered on the dirt. Lulu smoothes the bumpy surface of sandy dirt with a sweeping motion of one hand, placing flat pebbles in a half circle on the smoothed surface with the other. Charmaine continues her now well-established story of cooking. Lulu suddenly gathers up all the flat pebbles from their arranged pattern, throws them into the middle of the little fire and joins the cooking story. 'We're making a camp', she says.
Leaving means preparing both girls to stop their play, put their shoes on and walk back along the track. The only way to persuade them is to integrate the leaving into the story at hand so it makes a bridge to the next place. 'Let's see if we can find more stones on our way back to make a fireplace at your house.'
The Stones at the river story as a particular spatiotemporal event begins by requiring a shift in orientation to time and space that challenges my adult researcher being. Birthing and dying are the only other times I have experienced such a shift in the relationship of space and time, yet for the girls this is the mundane, the everyday. The girls move through space in an extraordinarily slow way, the purpose becomes not to get somewhere but the going itself, even though they want to get to the river. The stopping places are provoked by the materiality that presents itself, the softened dirt in the driveway that is ready for play, the stones embedded in the path that need to be levered out and the loose stones that gather in my pocket. My pocket becomes a necessary adjunct to the walk and I feel the weight of stones against my leg as we continue on.
Like Pauliina Rautio, I must relinquish my researcher self to collaborate with the girls in our experiment:
The speed with which the running, panting children deconstructed and reconstructed my adult researcher self was intriguing. I began to question not only my role but my size, my clothing, my voice, my sense of who I was and what I wanted. I became very lost and confused until I realized that a predetermined or consistent way of being that I thought I needed to have would not even fit my overall approach: the notion of intra-action according to which entities don't pre-exist their encounters.
(Rautio, 2014, p. 6)
We are all subtly altered through these encounters. For me it is the slowing down, a relinquishing of self to the seemingly purposeless occupation of space with its emergent materialities, which in turn leads to a radical openness to its possibilities. The stones in my pocket are symbolic of this slowing down to the material of the earth; they literally weigh me down, I wear them as part of my clothes, they jingle against my leg as I walk. For the children, it is as if the stones call forth their responses.
Stones call the girls to respond in particular ways. The ones embedded in the path on the way down to the river become the baddies and the looser ones become the goodies as they are collected into my pocket. At the little dirt beach the small stones are immediately thrown into the water, water-child-stone together forming one continuous entity. The dirt/sand beach spot, a favourite with other invisible players, forms the cleared surface for making patterns with flat smooth stones. The stones of the adult-made fireplace produce a cooking-camping story accompanied by other stone actions as Lulu's stone circle turns into food being cooked in the fireplace. The rapidity with which the perfect patterned circle of flat round stones, each specifically selected for its qualities, is dismantled to become something else is surprising. Stones and child transform in an immediacy of moment to moment within this slow time/space event.
I came across Pauliina's article 'Children who carry stones in their pockets' after this first event with the two girls. It has been a useful way to explain the posthuman paradigm through the concept of intraaction to early years educators. In my experience of doing this research, early years educators can be alive to these qualities in children's play without necessarily articulating it in this way. They seem to already understand the ways in which children's worlds and words are shaped by the material world around them. They have many stories about stones and children's play but they also extend these ideas about the agency of other beings and things that shape children's becoming. One educator talked at length about a large tree that had to be removed from the early childhood centre. The children had played under and with that tree for all of their lives there. Her story of the tree was about emotion and loss but during the workshop she realised that it was as much about the material being of the tree as intertwined with the bodies of children. The limbs of the tree were part of the tree-child collective, and cut up and removed it was as if part of their own bodies were amputated.
In asking: 'What is it that takes place when children carry stones in their pockets?' Pauliina Rautio draws on Jane Bennett's notion of 'vibrant matter'. Akin to Barad's observations of her daughter's loving attentiveness to life in the tiniest details and textures of the world, Rautio observes that children often seem to display an attentiveness to, and sensuous enchantment with, non-human forces. She says the child- with-stones can be approached as a momentary event produced by a mesh of related human and non-human bodies. In this way of thinking, all matter, including human children and stones, are constantly in a state of becoming through these encounters between diverse bodies.
It is the immanent and continuously emergent relation that is the focus of attention. Pedagogical approaches that take up these ideas would involve letting go of control of children and collaborating with them:
Follow children who write, draw, speak, jump and shout without a clear purpose. Create space for this. Join in. Interrupt yourself as a researcher, stay on your toes, change methods... if that is what it takes. Seek the moments in which children produce the unfinished and the pointless and move on.
(Rautio, 2014, pp. 10-11)
As it turned out, this event with the two girls followed the lead of stones as much as that of children. The girls chose the place of our walk and arrival and responded to the qualities of stones. Stones shaped their bodily actions, their pattern making, their stories and me as they put stones in my pocket. Stones were transformed as they were thrown into water, shaped into circles, picked up and carried to another place. Stones become textual as they called to my mind the article 'Children who carry stones in their pockets' and this article is used to further expand the analysis of this event of place. The stones transform time and space as they punctuate the walk with stopping places and each stone encounter contributes its story. Perhaps, as Rautio says, each is a moment in which children produce the unfinished and pointless and move on but perhaps for children the point is they are learning about themselves in and with the fabric of the world.
Figure 6.1 River, stones, dirt, fireplace, girls