Walking as learning: Finding our way in a climate change era

Year: 2017

Author: Rooney, Tanya

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Young children are growing up in an era where the ethical and political dimensions of anthropogenic climate change can no longer be ignored. If we are to support children as inheritors of the environmental challenges ahead, then we need to extend our practices beyond those that teach children 'about' the environment as though it is something 'out there' to be observed from a distance, and embrace pedagogical approaches that help children understand how they are connected to and part of the environment. In this paper, I show how walking, or more specifically a particular mode of walking, offers a way of learning that provides children with new insights into the interconnections between humans and the environment, and does so in way that is responsive to the wider challenges of our time.

Drawing on a collaborative ethnographic research project, titled 'Walking with Wildlife in Wild Weather Times' (Taylor and Rooney, 2016), I outline the significance of the walking method used in the project. The methodology involves undertaking regular open-ended walks with preschool children in their local surrounds, and follows what emerges in the encounters between children, wildlife and weather. I bring together narrative accounts from these walks, and a conceptual framing of the practice of walking itself, to show how there are modes of walking that can also be understood as offering a pedagogical opportunity for young children. Walking along in a way that is open and attuned to the relations that emerge between children and the environment, reveals many possibilities for learning with the world that are all at once multi-sensory, curious and playful and intricately entwined with the lives of more-than-human others. As a way of learning, I suggest that this practice offers a pedagogical opportunity that is responsive to the climate challenges ahead, as it forges connections with the environment that are tangible and local, thus bringing closer the challenges that might otherwise seem distant and disconnected from children's everyday worldly relations.