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Event 3: Water, sand-mud, tin and child

The next event takes place at a different spot a bit further along the river. A little more clean, a bit more wild, with a wide dirt/sand beach beside a large expanse of shallow water. A ridge of river stones stretches across to a little island. Water bubbles over stones. We take snacks in a biscuit tin and a picnic rug. Both girls take shoes off and walk to river stone crossing, slippery with a light layer of silt. Charmaine feels her way with feet on rounded surface of slippery stones; Lulu doesn't like slippery, unstable feel of stones, stays on sandy beach. Charmaine comes back. They look around, try different things, ask for snacks, have little tiffs, need attention. I remove myself from the action, to enable whatever will happen to emerge.

After a little while Charmaine sits down, fully clothed, in shallow water at the very edge of the river with the tin emptied of its snacks. She scoops handfuls of wet sandy mud, drizzling it through her fingers alternately onto a half submerged log and a flat rock. She continues to scoop sandy mud with fingers and biscuit tin from the river, drizzling it through her fingers to make a drizzle castle, then washes it away with water from the tin and then makes it again. She does this on the flat stone and then on the log and then back again for 20-30 minutes of complete absorption. For all this time she is completely silent.

I record a small segment of this activity, once it is fully established, with a three-minute video on my iPhone. I had decided that about three minutes is sufficient to capture the elements at play and is manageable in terms of the detailed review it requires. Each time I review this video and show it to others, we are amazed by the stillness and silence of this normally noisy, overactive, rambunctious child. Only her hands and arms move except for a slight turn of her head and upper body as she switches from log to flat stone as the platform for her castle. There are no human voices at all, only the sound of water bubbling over river stones, the chirruping of birds and slight tinny clicks as tin meets pebbly sandy mud and water in Charmaine's play. Normally running around from place to place, Charmaine sits entirely contained, attention captivated by sandy mud and water within the small arm, hand and finger movements of scooping, drizzling and washing.

Understood through the lens of intra-action, water, sand, tin and girl are acting on each other simultaneously (Hultman & Lenz-Taguchi, 2010). If I understand them as transforming each other, I see that the elements of water mixed with the sand and scooped in Charmaine's hand each change the other. The sand becomes a drizzle castle, the tin becomes a scooper and container of water, the hands of the child become tools, open and close, body becomes creator as arms lift and drop, head turns, eyes focus. If I understand all of the bodies as causes I see how the physical qualities of sand, water and the log platform and the body of the girl cause each other, no one element is dominant. I can see how new problems emerge as an effect of their mutual engagement: how does sand drizzle into castle, what amount of sand to scoop, how to hold fingers for best result, how does it wash away, what happens if I do it this way or that? In this way I can see that sand, water, tin and girl simultaneously pose questions in the process of trying to make themselves intelligible as different kinds of matter involved in an active and ongoing relation. The water wets the sand to enable it to drizzle; tin carries water to wash drizzled sand away, arm, hand and fingers move in relation to sand, water and tin as whole girl-being is formed in this relational moment of becoming which is also a moment of intense learning. Within a more human-centred approach, the agency of the world would be lost from the story we tell of it, the child understood as autonomous and separate, and learning from, with and about the world would be considered only the business of the child.

After this event I followed the recommended practice of reviewing the visual data with research participants and I asked Charmaine to look at the video with me. Charmaine loves iPhones, and at three years of age is an expert in finding the camera icon, opening the tiny thumbprint image that signals the camera roll with a light touch of her finger and scrolling through the photos until she spots the triangular icon that marks a video. She is clearly excited to find the video of herself at the river. We watch it together, me with the digital recorder in my hand anxiously waiting for the words that might explain her sense of the event. Charmaine, however, watches in complete silence, my questions merely an intrusion into her viewing. Again only the river, tin, sand and birds make their own sounds and give her much pleasure. There is no sound of the human voice either in the original event or the review. I wonder what to make of the silence that is such a significant element of this event.

 
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