Review: The Art of Land-Based Early Learning

by | Apr 3, 2024 | Book Reviews

The Art of Land-Based Early Learning

Vol I: The emergence of natural materials and ecological connections

Sophie Anne Edwards and Heather Thoma (editors)

I first discovered The Art of Land-Based Early Learning in 2019 at an Ontario Reggio Association conference in Toronto. It was at this conference that I also met Sophie Edwards, the leading editor of this book. Through conversations with Sophie at that conference, I felt her passion for land-based art and learning in the early years. I bought the book and read it appreciatively for how their early learning team so capably nurtured a curious, loving relationship with the earth among young children. As articulated in the first few pages of this book, a relational intention underpins their work:

A relational ecological approach coupled with an embodied practice connect hand and land, heart and place, mind and the natural world, moving us toward a cultural shift that understands our place in the world as relational and interdependent, rather than dominant and separate: we are in the world, not observing it. (p.20)

Recently, reference to this book by a group of educators I greatly respect, prompted me to pick it up and read it again. I rediscovered its value through a different lens – a lens of immediacy and practicality. The group of educators who had mentioned it were using it as a study tool to support their work with children who were new to using clay. The chapters in this book about clay are certainly thought-provoking and helpful as a guide.  The contributors to these chapters begin by exploring clay versus playdough through the words and experiences of children. They share examples of how children connect with clay in various ways, then offer techniques, tools, and tips for educators who are offering clay experiences to children. They explain too how clay can be more than an art medium. It can also be a tool that enables children to document textures they find in their school yard.

In my own recent experience of creating natural paints using spices and plant material (See StoryMaker ‘Shades of People’) I wanted the children in my program to make connections between skin tones and the colours we find in plants and the foods we eat. In The Art of Land-Based Early Learning I found a companion for thinking this through.

Colour is present in everything we see. Learning about natural dyeing is a way to become more attuned to seeing (and questioning) the origin of colour. We need not be limited to colour that is pre-made, in paints or fabrics or chalks: we can create colour with children from many sources that are near to hand. (p. 99)

Several chapters in this book focus on creating earth pigments, charcoal, and natural dyes, each with valuable information about these mediums, as well as how children made and used these natural colours. These chapters also offered suggestions for future provocations.

The section on loose parts is no less inspiring, as children are supported to explore seeds, bones, cabbage, spider webs, invertebrates, and rocks.

As one child working with these loose parts reveals:

Miss Blair taught me that nature gives us gifts. We have to say thank you to nature. There are so many things that we can do with the things we find outside. If we re-use the things that nature gives us, we can show how much we love the earth. (p. 107)

This book has informed and inspired me as an educator to consider new ways of nurturing caring relationships among children and adults with the natural world.