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Practical action and practices of care

For Mirabelle and Kelly, relief from the burden of pain and sorrow in the face of an unsustainable world is provided by taking practical action. Their impetus towards taking action arises from affective connections within their immediate communities. There are many examples of practical action enacted by the children in this book that are part of intentionally designed pedagogical sequences in their sustainability learning. They arise from their relations with particular places. In the final phase of the school garden design programme at The Patch, the children used the meaningful connections they had made to sun, shade, angle, gradient and flow to construct the whole school landscape, laying newspapers, making garden edges, planting seeds, fertilising, watering and finally inhabiting the garden themselves. The ongoing actions of gardening are made visible in the description of the garden shed at Kallista School. The shed contains the saved seeds in glass jars along with all the equipment of food gardening, including wheelbarrows, gloves, trowels, shovels and empty garden pots stacked high, coiled green hoses and digging forks. Evidence of garden activities also includes words in the form of lists written on a large blackboard in coloured chalk: 'Things to do in the garden today'. The lists include 'weeding', 'watering', 'empty and spread the worm wee', 'turn the compost', 'collect parsley seed', 'plant peas', 'seed saving' and 'hang CDs on fig tree'. These actions and words arise from the complexity of the world of the garden itself and the demands of maintaining its wellbeing.

Practical actions are iterative and return children again and again to the embodied satisfaction of re-immersion and re-connection. At Woodbridge Public School in Tasmania the children explain that when they pull out the combungi weed the wetland invites different plants to grow that assist the flow of water. They describe the way they do this with machetes, making swift chopping movements, always managing to get muddy anyway. The chicken monitors describe how they go around to each classroom every day to collect their chook scrap bin and when they have put all of the scraps into a bigger bin they take the bin and pellets to feed the chooks. Other children talk about how they have 'learnt how to care for plants' through planting the seeds and then weeding the gardens; 'Weeding is really fun because you get to learn all the different types of weeds.' Learning happens through the ongoing repetition of practical actions energised by affective connections of pleasure.

Practical actions in the context of sustainability learning are actions of caring; caring is affect translated into activity through which children make a positive difference in the world. For Kelly, the initiation of Purple Day by children at her school provided a response to the sense of loss felt at the death of a child. This operated on multiple levels of direct engagement. Initially it involved the symbolic act of children dressing in purple to raise funds for the epilepsy foundation. The affect/action connection then evolved and extended their caring to an annual Purple Day to raise funds for other people in need, the most recent being for the Black Dog Institute that deals with depression. For Mirabelle and Kelly there is no difference between the actions of caring for people and caring for places through planting trees. Practical actions of caring are equally directed towards the wellbeing of animals, plants, the fabric of the earth and other humans. At one school the teachers talked about how the children's efforts in the school grounds connected to the wetland across the road. The children who make nesting boxes that they place in trees both at the school and the wetland 'have an ownership of the surrounds of the school, the vegetable garden, the butterfly garden, and the extension of that, the wetlands are so close'. Their actions in the wetlands radiate outwards through children understanding that human waste impacts on other places carried by the flow of water. In this way, children learn that their actions in one place affect constellations of places, extending their practices of care.

The accretion of repeated practical actions is transformative and constitutive. The satisfaction of acting on the world produces powerful affective states which reinforce the same actions that change both world and children. The wetland at Woodbridge Public School in Tasmania is restored from its smelly weed infested state through the actions of the children repeated over a long period of time. By removing the weeds the wetland returns to its natural function as a filter that cleans the water as it flows to the sea. It is neither children's actions alone, nor the wetlands natural functions that produces the effect. Over time it becomes a thriving habitat for local frogs, water hens, cormorants, sea eagles and a platypus who move into the transformed place and change it further. Similarly, a bare, half-grassed lawn in the middle of the school grounds is converted to a bushy habitat for birds, butterflies, bettongs and children who find places to hide, all of them preferring the protection from visibility of the dense, prickly bushes. The vegetable garden undergoes seasonal transformation as food plants are harvested, having completed their life cycles, and new plants take their place. These cycles are supported by children with watering cans, shovels, forks and the ladybugs that keep unwanted insects away. All of these changes occur over time through repeated actions of children and their places together, neither one nor other dominant but both inseparably active in these vital transformations.

 
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