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(Re)Connecting with the Land

Welcome to my year-long journey of place-based learning, as I participate in a 13-month study guided by Indigenous leaders at the University of Alberta. Join me as I reflect on what nature is teaching me, and offer what I have discovered about learning through play with children on the land.

The location I have chosen for my 13 Grandmother Moon place study is Mill Creek Ravine, situated on the map in Edmonton, Alberta. In the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation, I acknowledge that I live, work, and play on Treaty 6 Territory lands, and I honor the Cree, Dene, Métis, Blackfoot, and many more who have lived, gathered, and travelled here for centuries, and whose presence continues to enrich our vibrant communities.

Who am I? What am I doing? Where are you invited in?

My name is Laura Woodman. I am a mother of three children, and a stepmother in a blended family with three more. I deeply believe in the value of children and families, and have been uplifted by my connection to the land throughout my life.

I spent ten years running an accredited, award-winning day home where I was proud to be paid to play. Together with six young children in mixed ages, we spent as much time outside as possible watching the seasons turn and delighting in the rich natural landscape. I was uplifted by this work, deeply challenged by this work, and determined to learn why and how to better balance the highs and lows of family childcare. I returned to school as a full-time student in 2020, building on a Bachelor's degree in Child and Youth Care by achieving a Master's degree in Human Ecology, Family Sciences, and continue my education and research as a full-time PhD student at the University of Alberta. I have held my Level 3 Child Development certificate and Early Learning and Childcare diploma since 2014, and have been offering continuing education in the field since 2012.

Now much of my time is spent inside and alone, reading academic papers and studies and conducting original research on family childcare in nature. My day home has been closed since 2019, and my own children are growing up. There is much less laughter and joy in my life, and very little time in nature. I am embarking on this year-long journey to re-connect with the land, and to provide a platform for freely sharing what I have learned about supporting children's outdoor play over the years.

What am I doing?

I first learned of the 13 Grandmother Moon course at the University of Alberta during an outdoor opening ceremony of a spring conference. Dr. Dwayne Donald shared about the importance of the land and briefly mentioned the course that he offers to a small group of students each year. The course is led by Kehteya Bob Cardinal, and is intended as an opportunity to seek wisdom and balance over the 4-season 13 moon cycle that has been guiding Indigenous peoples living on the northern plains for centuries.

I am not Indigenous. My father was born in Switzerland, and moved here as a young child. On my mother's side, some of my Ukrainian and Scottish ancestors have lived here as settlers on the land for generations, and others including my maternal grandfather were born here. My purpose is not to claim any Indigenous knowing, but to share how my time spent on this land over 13 moon cycles has influenced me, and to offer ideas to educators for bringing young children outdoors so they can enjoy the benefits of natural experiences together.

Over the course of 13 moons, I will spend time attending to the rhythms and the cycles of the earth and natural world around me, in the hopes of gaining insight on how I can gain balance by paying attention and becoming attuned to holistic ways of being. I will study the phases of the next 4 moons through the 4 seasons, and closely study a particular natural space in the Mill Creek Ravine. This is a place where I spent a lot of time as a young adult when I first moved to Edmonton, a place where I have brought my children frequently throughout their early years, and a place where I now often visit on family walks with our dog Tucker. You can see my husband and Tucker about to explore this special place above!

As I spend time in this place, I will seek to discover:

  • What is being communicated

  • How I am perceiving it

  • How I interpret what is being communicated

  • How I can express what I am learning

For each moon cycle, I will create a symbol based on my learning from the land and my learning in the course. The act of symbol creation is based on the Indigenous winter count practice, which I am learning is a form of literacy that uses symbols to help recall significant life events. I have decided to create peg dolls as my symbols.

Peg dolls are items that can be used for display or for children's play. I have been making them for years as a family childcare educator, and I draw inspiration from Margaret Bloom's books including Making Peg Dolls, and Making Peg Dolls & More. All of the symbols I create for the winter count will be original creations using my own designs, and I work without patterns. I love the natural materials used in peg dolls, their open-endedness, and the limitless options for combining color, texture, and more.

Where are you invited in?

My hope is that this blog can act as inspiration for those working with young children, particularly family childcare educators, to go outside, play, and learn with nature. In each month's post, along with an image of the winter count symbol I create, I will share what I have learned about making outside play easy and fun in the day home setting.

While the primary purpose for this blog is to document my own learning journey, I strongly believe that sharing knowledge and making connections is how we grow stronger together. I am deeply blessed to be a part of this course, and recognize that not everyone has the chance or ability to participate in opportunities like this. By sharing my past and present experiences, I hope that rather than keeping my learning contained I can make connections with and offer support to others who seek to spend more time in nature, perhaps with little ones in tow. Thank you for joining me on this journey.


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