Drumming in chaos and excess: New possibilities for literacy and sustainability in early years learning

Year: 2017

Author: Powell, Sarah

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Literacy and sustainability remain on the Australian government agenda. The Best Start program has been in schools since 2008, NAPLAN is in its tenth year and now the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy 2017-2020 (DEC NSW) has been introduced. Likewise, commitment to sustainability is communicated through the Environmental Sustainability Policy (2014) and other documents such as the National Waste Policy: Less waste, more resources and Environmental performance reporting. In education the F - 10 National Curriculum and the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) incorporate literacy and sustainability objectives across all areas.
For children born in the 21st century, the enmeshing of natural and human forces in the survival of the planet requires conceptual and practical innovation. This paper comes from an Australian Research Council funded project that aims to integrate literacy and sustainability to produce powerful new learning for young children. Conducted in eight early childhood centres in NSW, QLD, VIC and Finland, this international study seeks to investigate the ways children name their worlds; document children's growth over time; articulate innovative pedagogies; and inform policy and practice to address 21st century learning imperatives.
The project employed 'deep hanging out' as its methodological approach, the underlying purpose of which is to observe without predetermined bias or assumption. Deep hanging out involves, being led by children's play, movement and talk, and being immersed in their setting, absorbed by them and in what they do. An iPhone was used to take photos and record short videos whilst the 'Notes App' was used to record shorthand fieldnotes.
This paper focuses on a video from one preschool that depicts children playing drums and other percussion instruments outside. The drumming ebbs and flows in intensity, children come and go, rhythms merge then diverge; a chaos of sound and vibration, a refrain of rhythm, movement and bodies (Deleuze & Guattari, 1984) from the rhythmically a-grammatical child (MacLure, 2015) communicating from within the excess of the earth's energy and musical force (Grosz, 2008). Here literacy and sustainability are challenged and extended. Amidst such cacophony children communicate their sense of the world - with drums, each other, earth, themselves - sustained by the vitality of place, the materiality of drums, the vibration of sound, the energy of earth, and the movement of bodies. Exploring these intra-active relations offers possibilities for producing new knowledge about new forms of literacy and understandings of sustainability as young children develop capabilities as future citizens and leaders (400 words).