Abstract

This paper follows a group of young children in an early childhood education setting and their growing acquaintance with a pumpkin over a five-month period. During this time, relations were forged between the pumpkin, weather and the children, and as we observed these emerging relations, we found ourselves attuning to the change of pace this brought to thinking and learning in the centre. In turn, we came to recognize this as the work of a collaboratory. In this paper, we consider the resilience, practices and demands that arise from being in the presence of a pumpkin-weather-child collaboratory. Weathering interrupts and destabilizes routine thinking. Pumpkins weather with wind, snow, sun, critters and rain. Pumpkins also weather whims of human consumption and land management practices as they are reconfigured to meet the demands of human traditions. Children draw educators and researchers into noticing the shifts and tensions unfolding with the tempo of pumpkin decay. Working with a pumpkin-weather-child collaboratory brings opportunities to reconsider the politics and practices of tempo and change in working with children, in early childhood education settings and beyond.
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Children's Geographies
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Watching change: attuning to the tempo of decay
with pumpkin, weather and young children
Sarah M. Hennessy & Tonya Rooney
To cite this article: Sarah M. Hennessy & Tonya Rooney (2021): Watching change: attuning
to the tempo of decay with pumpkin, weather and young children, Children's Geographies, DOI:
10.1080/14733285.2021.2007217
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/14733285.2021.2007217
Published online: 23 Nov 2021.
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Watching change: attuning to the tempo of decay with pumpkin,
weather and young children
Sarah M. Hennessy
a
and Tonya Rooney
b
a
Faculty of Education, Western University, London, Canada;
b
Australian Catholic University, Dickson, Australia
ABSTRACT
This paper follows a group of young children in an early childhood
education setting and their growing acquaintance with a pumpkin over
ave-month period. During this time, relations were forged between
the pumpkin, weather and the children, and as we observed these
emerging relations, we found ourselves attuning to the change of pace
this brought to thinking and learning in the centre. In turn, we came to
recognize this as the work of a collaboratory. In this paper, we consider
the resilience, practices and demands that arise from being in the
presence of a pumpkin-weather-child collaboratory. Weathering
interrupts and destabilizes routine thinking. Pumpkins weather with
wind, snow, sun, critters and rain. Pumpkins also weather whims of
human consumption and land management practices as they are
recongured to meet the demands of human traditions. Children draw
educators and researchers into noticing the shifts and tensions
unfolding with the tempo of pumpkin decay. Working with a pumpkin-
weather-child collaboratory brings opportunities to reconsider the
politics and practices of tempo and change in working with children, in
early childhood education settings and beyond.
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 17 November 2020
Accepted 9 November 2021
KEYWORDS
Early childhood; place-based;
weathering; common
worlds; pumpkins;
collaboratory
Introduction
In early childhood education, childrens learning is often embedded within the routines and
ordered spaces that educators construct to bring predictability to the ow and pace of daily activity.
However, the structured nature of these routines can also obscure the possibilities for learning that
arise in what lies unseen or unnoticed in childrens relations with non-human bodies, times, places
and forces. In one early childhood centre, the arrival of a pumpkin disrupted routines and opened
new possibilities for thinking and learning with diverse temporalities through the gradual decay of
the pumpkin. This encounter with a pumpkin extended over a period of ve months, and in its
presence, human-centric views of time, place, growth and decay were challenged. This paper
explains how we came to understand the emerging relations and interactions between children,
pumpkin and weather as a form of collaboratory (a hybrid concept of collaboration and laboratory
that we expand on shortly). The collaboratory of pumpkin-weather-child compelled us to look to
new possibilities for knowing by attending rstly to the lively acquaintance-making among colla-
boratory participants, then over time to the childrens invitation to sit and watch changewith
pumpkin, until eventually we all (educators, researchers and children) fell in with the weathering
tempo of pumpkin decay as it folded slowly back into the earth. As our ideas unfold in this
paper, we consider how watching change and re-orienting ourselves to notice the lively entangle-
ments between this collaboratory and its surrounding microworlds, can act as an invitation to
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Sarah M. Hennessy shennes5@uwo.ca
CHILDRENS GEOGRAPHIES
https://doi.org/10.1080/14733285.2021.2007217
question the fast-paced, human-centric, hyper-visible practices of consumption and production
that often drive the routine of human lives. In the presence of pumpkin-weather-child, we became
acutely aware of the ever-moving micro times and worlds of soil, critters, seasons, growth, earth and
decay in ways that challenged our human tendency to embrace linear and ordered temporalities.
Several themes weave through this paper as we consider the implications and insights from the
process of decay and adjust to a new pace of learning. We look to the signicance of the gentle folds
and folding of pumpkin as revealed through the sensory interchange between child, pumpkin and
weather, the possibilities of seeing what is unseen as we sit with pumpkin-weather-child, and the
practice of weathering-with pumpkin. Across all of these we notice a growing attunement to the
pace of change, described here as the tempo of decay. Our discussion in this paper focuses on
how we came to think and learn with variable rhythms and uctuations of decaying matter. We
highlight the potential in this approach for, somewhat counter-intuitively, attuning to the pace
of on-going life and change in a way that challenges human-centred routines and rituals. We
observe how the uctuations in the tempo of decay that we witnessed lie in stark contrast to the
rigid and controlled scientic breeding processes involved in the strictly timed production (and
subsequent disposal) of Halloween pumpkins; an event that in certain times and places dominates
the pumpkin imaginaries of childhood. With pumpkin-weather-child, we ask how attuning to other
life tempos might provide an alternative to the overly structured and adult-imposed routines and
schedules of childhood, and more broadly, might also invite insight into the carelessness of human-
driven production that too often exploits, rather than fosters, the mutuality in weather-plant-earth-
human relations. It is in responding to these concerns that this paper unfolds.
In this inquiry we consider the new possibilities for the future practice in early childhood edu-
cation based on re-thinking childrens relations with time, place and more-than-human others. The
empirical eld work reported below was undertaken by Sarah Hennessy and occurred from October
2019 to March 2020 in an early childhood centre located in Southwestern Ontario on the traditional
lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak and Attawandaron peoples. Later in this
paper we describe the methodological approach in more detail and share extracts from the eld
notes. Before doing so, we rst explain how we came to understand the emergence of pumpkin-
weather-child as a collaboratory, and then provide an overview of the theoretical inuences that
inform our discussion.
Recognizing pumpkin-weather-child as a collaboratory
Our exploration of the unfolding relations between pumpkin, weather and young children is part of
an on-going pedagogical inquiry inspired by scholarship within the Common Worlds Research
Collective (2020) that draws attention to the signicance of our (human) relations with more-
than-human worlds. The research is part of a wider study being undertaken within the Climate
Action Childhood Network
1
, an international network of researchers who are investigating alterna-
tive pedagogies to the dominating discourses of developmentalism and child-centredness in early
childhood education with a view to seeking out new ways that educators might respond to the chal-
lenges of climate change.
Over the period of the eld work, and in our joint reection since, we have come to know pump-
kin-weather-child as a collaboratory; a term we take from a group of early childhood researchers led
by Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, who explain:
The [collaboratory] is a hybrid and experimental space where educators and pedagogues trace and experiment
with the contours, conditions, and complexities of early childhood education pedagogies in the twenty-rst
century. (https://www.earlychildhoodcollaboratory.net/about)
As a space where the work of collaboration and laboratory merge, we interpret this concept as a
lively place where things are created and happen with the coming together of people and/or a rich
array of more-than-human others, including animals, plants, earth, waterways, atmospheres,
2S. M. HENNESSY AND T. ROONEY
micro-critters and much more. The activity in the collaboratory demands that we notice the actions
and doings of more than just the children, but rather attune to the activity of all participants as well
as the entanglements and interconnections that stretch far beyond its uid boundaries.
In the eld work for this project, Sarah did not set out to create or bring together a collaboratory;
but rather the generative potential of the deepening relations between pumpkin, children and
weather became so apparent during the eld work and in our subsequent analysis, that we could
not avoid the insistence that we pay attention to the collaboratory that was unfolding. Initially,
we grappled with the place of adults in relation to this collaboratory. And while we recognize
that it was an adult that brought the pumpkin to the classroom, and on occasions would move
the pumpkin around or observe the children with the pumpkin, it soon became evident that
such actions were at the periphery of what we came to notice as the generative doings of the col-
laboratory. This does not mean we view adults (or other actors such as trees, buildings, earth or
insects) as outsidethe collaboratory, for it doesnt make sense to articulate the boundaries as
xed in this way; rather, we name the collaboratory as pumpkin-weather-child to foreground
our interest in attending the encounters and relations between these three participants and the
dierent stories of time, place, liveliness and decay that they drew to our attention. Childhere
encompasses all the children at the centre in their interactions with pumpkin, which sometimes
involved an individual child and at other times was more collective. The moments of
encounter witnessed between child bodies, movements, voices and times with other collaboratory
members became a lens attuned to the collective doings of children in relation to pumpkin and
weather. Weather although also named here in the singular, refers to the multiple forms in
which we might understand the work or formation of weather as will become apparent throughout
the paper.
In noticing what was happening in the pumpkin-weather-child collaboratory, we also came to
recognize that we were aected by what we noticed and that we could not ignore the demand to
pause and listen to the doings and demands of this collaboratory. We acknowledge that the pump-
kin did not seek to be part of the pumpkin-weather-child collaboratory, but nonetheless - once the
pumpkin was brought into the education setting - we had an opportunity and responsibility to wit-
ness the work, relations, tensions, cares that came with getting to know pumpkin. By following the
childrens interest in the pumpkin, our study, here in part, takes up Pitts invitation to explore more
fully what plants doas active presences in human-world relations (2015, 49). We agree with Vran-
ken (2020, 238) that this is not an equal relationship; as she says of her collaboration with plants
(t)here is no innocence in our co-workingfor we are complicit in their mis/displacement and
will have to nd ways to deal with the innate oppressive nature of our relationship. Thus, thinking
of pumpkin-weather-child as collaboratory is not to suggest a bounded entity, or a collaboration
that happens in isolation. There are many other members known and unknown, seen and unseen
- worms, microbes, air, water, adults to name a few. Here we focus on pumpkin, weather and child
because of the intensity with which these three members work together and change each other. In
this way, we are not so much interested in what this collaboratory isbut rather in what it does.We
also recognize that there are ethical insights and repercussions that the collaboratory demands. In
particular, it requires us to question the complex legacies we (humans and settlers) bring to the
entanglement, and we draw out some of these throughout this paper.
First, a brief introduction to the three focus members of the collaboratory.
Pumpkin is matter and came to matter to the children in the early childhood setting. The pump-
kin was brought into the centre from a nearby farm. It entered as a native species and as one of the
oldest domesticated (by humans) plants. This was not an innocent addition to the centre, as the
pumpkin entered ripe with political and geographic discourses and tensions of human genetic
and climatic interference, and colonization. The pumpkin also challenged routine practices in
the centre and introduced some tension for educators as decisions were required as to what to
do with the pumpkin, where to store it and what to make of the childrens growing relationship
with the pumpkin even as it decayed into a smelly rotting form. The pumpkin reminded us that
CHILDRENS GEOGRAPHIES 3
living is full of encounters that intrigue and provoke us(St. Pierre 2013, 226) and in this case
demanded that we think beyond ourselves to recognize the concerns of pumpkin matter.
Children in the collaboratory brought another dimension; a non-innocent and open curiosity to
being with more-than-human worlds. It was the childrens engagement with pumpkin that drew the
adults in and made it impossible to ignore. The children invited us to sit with pumpkin and, if we
were to remain with the children in this encounter, we too had to slow or quicken our thinking to
move with the tempo of decay. For us as researchers, the children in this collaboratory were not
idealized or limited (Istead and Shapiro 2014; Kraftl 2015)their work in the collaboratory was
acknowledged as hard, real and full, and provided for us an opening to unseen worlds and
possibilities.
Weather in this collaboratory includes the changing elemental conditions of rain, wind, heat and
cold that acts as a force of growth and decay. The act of weathering is also a reminder of the resi-
lience of pumpkin and lands in the face of careless human practices. Weather interrupts, shifts and
destabilizes any sense of routine or regularity and weathering is the process of folding and unfolding
pumpkin and stories into and from the land. Children weathered the silence of a snowfall and the
gentle movements of air, weather, during the many times they sat with pumpkin. The work of
weather shifted and shaped the processes and times of decay, and the children witnessed on-
going weather changes. To weather is in some sense to decay, but it is also to enliven and prevail.
It was with pumpkin and weather that the movements of this particular group of children were
shaped and opened to new possibilities for where, how and why they found themselves; for
example, sitting with pumpkin in the snow or foraging in a forest for critters that might one day
eat the pumpkin.
Tempo, weathering and decay
Before turning to a description of our eldwork and ndings from our observations, we discuss here
the inter-related notions of tempo, weathering and decay, as core concepts that frame our discus-
sion and the insights derived from this research. This project was in one sense situated in place and
time, and yet as we explain further below, the collaboratory also forged connections across cultural
and biological histories, physical, agricultural and geological places and complex legacies of
colonialism.
Recent writing on diverse temporalities (Farquhar 2016; Pacini-Ketchabaw and Kummen 2016;
Rooney 2019; Smailbegović2015; van Dooren, Kirksey, and Münster 2016) remind us that there is
more time than human time. For example, in their work with children, Pacini-Ketchabaw and
Kummen (2016) make time to walk outdoors and sit with a forest in ways that gives the children
a chance to notice changes over time, from the micro happenings in the forest that day to imagining
deeper times that shaped the geographies of the place. With, Pacini-Ketchabaw and Kummen
(2016), we wonder what kinds of more-than-human temporalities might enliven childrens life
worlds and what might we do in our practice with children to better notice the rhythms and
times of entangled human and non-human lives.
Rather than talk of time or temporalities, we shift our attention here to the notion of tempo. This
is because we want to nd ways to attune to the pace of decay that we notice and grapple with when
we sit with pumpkin-weather-child. Tempo suggests movement and change over time and, as we
illustrate below, in relation to the doings of the collaboratory there is nothing in the pace of change
that is recognizable as linear, regular or predictable. Rather, there is a wafting, unfolding, mushing,
and often gentleness to the pace that draws us along with the decay of pumpkin into deeper life
worlds and times. Farnsworth (2003, 118) explains that tempo represents a ow of energy in
time, and in relation to the environment. We choose to think with tempo for two reasons. Firstly,
we nd tempo a way of attuning to the pace of decay of organic matter, the rhythmic circulations of
weathering and the slowing down that makes way for the childrens curiosity about change itself.
Secondly, with tempo we focus on energy and relations rather than human constructs of time
4S. M. HENNESSY AND T. ROONEY
and routine. Pumpkin time, decay time, child time, weather time move with diverse and uid tem-
pos. Tempo, an element of experiencing time, is active, moving and experienced by all things
(Farnsworth 2003; Gren 2001; Yuso2018). In decentring the human, we look for tempos that
might be shared by all members of the collaboratory. As Farnsworth explains, pace connects to bio-
logical rhythms. These paces, such as nocturnal/diurnal and circadian rhythms, are vital to health.
All members of the pumpkin-weather-child collaboratory move along with variable tempos blur-
ring rhythms of the entangled human and non-human lifeworlds (Pacini-Ketchabaw and Kummen
2016).
The tempo of weather is in constant ux. New weather intensities, and prolonged periods of
hot, dry or wet seasons, come with rhythms and cycles that are less predictable and are
becoming further exaggerated as a result of human-induced climate change. In an article
that explores the relationship between weather and time, Rooney (2019) suggests that attuning
to the work and eects of weather can provide insights into the diversity of more-than-human
times and scales that humans often ignore. Furthermore, when working with children, if we
provide opportunities for learning with the shifts and uctuations of the weather world (Ingold
2007), and the way that weather is intimately entwined with all other worldly actors and activi-
ties, then we also open a way for children to experience diverse temporalities that circulate
through these more-than-human worlds. Rooney (2019) also highlights human entanglement
with weather, and in particular the way that humans are now clearly implicated in the increase
in extreme weather associated with climate change, as a reason to bring human-weather
relations to the fore in research work with children. The everyday encounters with weather
and weathering, can provide a point of connection to larger scale times and concerns that
might be otherwise dicult to comprehend (Rooney 2019).
As researchers, we recognize that we interfere with the on-going work of the pumpkin-weather-
child collaboratory. Our roles are something the members have to tolerate, put up with and to
weather. In recognizing ourselves as problematic in this context, a new story unfolds a story
that makes weather more complex than what the elements of rain and snow do in decay. This
moment of reckoning is an example of Farnsworths(2003) tempo-derived energy. Human beha-
viours are changing the planet through climate change, impacting growing seasons, temperatures
and water levels. They have also had an impact on the realities of species diversity through genetic
modications. Pumpkins, genetically modied by humans, now exist with orchestrated limits of
colour, shape, insect resistance and growing time, fundamentally shifting and narrowing the
pace of species development from the species half a millennia ago. This is to say that the pumpkin
we are acquainted with is already a re-storied version of pre-contact pumpkins. While some
approaches to farming of pumpkins may focus on the interconnectedness and reliance of weather,
earth, seasons, nutrients and food, other practices are more explicitly human-centred, in practice
and purpose. In the production of Halloween pumpkins, the entwined tempos of growth, season-
ality and weather are ignored in favour of a mode of production that is controlled, genetically
modied, economically driven and directed towards maximum output for a single day on the
(human) calendar. This mass cultural consumption of pumpkins becomes divorced from the notion
of plants as sustenance and life-sustaining, and the resultant mass waste has little regard for the
fruitful folding of pumpkin back into the earth, with millions ending up in landll the day after
Halloween (Poon 2019). As Hird (2013) observes, sending waste to landll does not mean that it
is contained, for it will eventually decay and disperse into earth, air and water ways. However,
such homogenous mass disposal imposes a human-driven timeline to the tempo of pumpkin
decay and return to earth.
Introducing a pumpkin to a group of children an encounter we expected to last a day or two,
but that extended across months provided an opening to rethink unexpected and tensioned chal-
lenges such as these, highlighting how any discussion of time, decay, growth and life is at the same
time a discussion of weathering and elemental forces, but in a way that cannot be disentangled from
the impact of human activity.
CHILDRENS GEOGRAPHIES 5
In drawing attention to the tempo of decay in this paper, our suggestion is not that this replaces
the linearity of human calendars and clocks, as dictators of curriculum. These mechanisms come
with their own tempo (e.g. familiar regularity of a tick, tock rhythm, or of day turning to night)
that can provide comfort, routine and security. Rather, through our work with pumpkin-
weather-child, we aim to make visible the limits of human understanding of time and oer a frame-
work that shows the value in recognizing and taking the time to attune to other tempos that more
richly capture the cadences of non-human and human matter weathering together (Smailbegović
2015).
Decomposition, part of the nutrient cycle essential for recycling nite matter in the planets bio-
sphere, engages with an ebb and ow that weaves relations and changes with weather, earth, air and
the diversity of living species. Members of the pumpkin-weather-child collaboratory participate in a
range of processes associated with decay, moving in and out of this entanglement attuning to the
pace of decay as much as to relations with others. Pumpkin and children do not just engage with
weather; but, as we highlight in our discussion, in many respects become weather, (Ingold 2015:
Rooney 2019) weathering the on-goingness of life, matter, weather and decay.
Ways of learning: eldwork and ndings
The extended encounter with pumpkin described in this paper is part of a broader more-than-
human ethnography being undertaken by Sarah Hennessy. The eld work was undertaken between
October 2019 and March 2020 in an early childhood centre located in Southwestern Ontario on the
traditional lands of the Anishinaabek. The class was of twenty-four children (each of whom partici-
pated to varying degrees), four educators and Sarah.
Stories of pumpkin, land, weather and human connectedness have been told and retold over
time. To situate this research, we start with a story and practice of many First Nations (including
the Iroquois, Haudenosaunee, Mohawk, Akwesasne and Seneca), the Three Sisters.
Three Sisters is the story of companion planting where corn, beans and squash (or pumpkins) are planted
close together so they can support and benet each other. The corn provides structure for the bean plants
to climb while beans provide nitrogen for the corn and squash. The big leaves of the squash plant prevent
weeds and retain moisture in the soil. Together this provides all the complex carbohydrates, fatty acids and
all nine essential amino acids for a human diet. (Corneau 2016; Mann 1997)
Inspired by this Haudenosaunee story the entanglement of corn, beans and squash with human
farmer working with the land, we came to realize that the collaboratory of pumpkin, weather and
child in the early childhood setting was only one of many such collaboratories that are re-storied,
nurtured, decomposed, recomposed and folded in with the earthy and atmospheric matter of on-
going deep times and places. The story cycles of Haudenosonee epochs, with folds that continue,
reincarnated with past and future folds are always connected (Mann 1997). We recognize, value
and are thankful for the generative knowledge of First Nations in understanding this story. It
has reminded us that the pumpkin-weather-child collaboratory requires positioning within another
factor the tensioned histories of the land.
The collaboratory emerged on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee,
Lūnaapéewak and Attawandaron peoples, lands connected with the London Township and Sombra
Treaties of 1796 and the Dish with One Spoon Covenant Wampum. While this land continues to be
home to diverse First Nations peoples it is undergoing extraordinary change as it hastily transforms
from farmland into developed suburban housing. The childcare centre, where this research was
undertaken, is a product of resulting population growth from this transformation. New suburban
developments perpetuate the wrongs of settler-colonialism and on-going tensions of relations in
this place. The pumpkin in this collaboratory came from a nearby farm. As farmland is rezoned
for human housing, and local forests are sculpted to perform as stands of nature for humans,
the politics of complex histories remain visible. In this political geographic space, these tensions
6S. M. HENNESSY AND T. ROONEY
cannot be ignored alongside the seemingly ordinary presence of a pumpkin in an early childhood
classroom.
During October, the pumpkin spent some time rst in the open classroom. It was then moved by
a teacher to a dark cupboard as it had begun to smell. Sometime in late November, it was (re)dis-
covered by an educator and brought out for the children to inspect and pull apart. Eventually the
pumpkin shell was taken outside to the playground where it remained for some months continuing
its slow place of decay. There is much more detail to the movement of pumpkin than can be
described here. We hesitate even to include this description of events with this degree of linearity
as already this ignores some of the messy and entangled tempos of decay that we noticed and tried
to capture below; for example, some of the rotting pumpkin moved around the room on the chil-
drens hands and ended up down the sink, some seeds were kept and others scattered in the forest,
and the pumpkin remains were at times moved, turned or neglected for varying periods. When the
pumpkin eventually disappeared into the earth, we were left to wonder whether it had really gone
and whether there was any sense in which pumpkin-weather-child collaboratory continued. The
unfolding relations between the children, pumpkin and the processes of weathering, oered an
unexpected invitation to think dierently about human/non-human relations and challenged the
pace and rhythm of the daily teaching and learning routine. In this, we were reminded of Bennetts
(2010) observation when she considers Dewey and writes members of a public are inducted into [it]
rather than volunteering for it: each body nds itself thrown together with other harmed and
squirming bodies(101).
While we cannot know the tempo of decay as pumpkin or weather might know, we speculate
that this might involve an irregular mix of gentle unfolding, breaking down and folding in, alter-
nating with more dramatic and sudden shifts and (re)compositions, eventually perhaps slowing
into a deep slow time of underworld geologies that come with wider patterns and eruptions of
change, dislodgement and relocation of matter (Yuso2018). Moving and thinking with a
tempo of decay was part of our learning with this collaboratory.
Stories of the pumpkin-weather-child collaboratory
In this section we tell stories extracted from Hennessyseld notes. We follow each with a short
reection in which we aim to capture something of the curious process of decay and to draw out
some of what seems distinctive about the rhythms and workings of the pumpkin-weather-child
collaboratory.
Becoming acquainted
The consumption of lunch paused as all eyes fall on the pumpkin. Carefully placing the bright pumpkin on the
oor, the visitor tells us the story of picking the pumpkin in the eld and transporting it back in the wagon
with another group of children. Conversation ensues with discussions of the colour orange, Halloween, elds,
farms, roasting pumpkin seeds and the smell of pumpkin soup. As children leave the lunch table greetings and
acquaintance-making with pumpkin begin. Both arms of a child encompass the fat pumpkin that has joined
the room. Hands slid down its skin catching the rolling edges of the folded contours of pumpkin. Bodies col-
lide with pumpkin and pumpkin rolls across the oor. Collectively, we watch it roll and pause. Another child
leans in and tentatively licks the soft orange skin bestowing a succulent kiss on pumpkin. Extending relations,
a third child leans in again and gently rubs their cheek along the contours greeting pumpkin and building
acquaintance with this new kin. (S. Hennessy, personal communication, October 27, 2019)
Halloween was still to come. But this pumpkin would not be carved or become a jack-o-lantern.
This pumpkin became a member of the room; the beginning of a deeper relation was forged. What
we would learn with pumpkin remained unclear at this point. We noticed that touch, care and hap-
tic communication were part of relation building. As a form of non-language communication that
conveys meaning through physical contact, haptic communication emerged early as a method of
communication for members of the collaboratory. Touch can inform others of our presence.
CHILDRENS GEOGRAPHIES 7
How touch happens also conveys intentions (Bobby 2014). In watching children become acquainted
with pumpkin, we wondered what intentions or relations might be conveyed through gentle rubs,
succulent kisses and the following of contours. Knowing seemed to emerge through the movement
of colliding and moving bodies. Upon acquaintance, the children in this collaboratory moved and
were moved by pumpkin, rolling pumpkin to and fro. Pumpkin folds and uneven oor made for
unexpected movements with pumpkin. When the pumpkin rocked, at this stage with folds still
intact and rm to the touch, the irregular pace of pumpkin made it hard to predict where it
would go next, yet the children followed. Becoming acquainted was a jolty, unexpected and yet
gentle unfolding. We started to notice hints at the non-linear engagements that unfolded over
time. Pumpkin engagements, with the Three Sisters and a tempo of decay, transformed into con-
nections across cultural and biological histories, including with First peoples and complex legacies
of colonialism. The predictable and linear logics of life, death, decay were thus disrupted by the
diverse temporalities that lie deep in human engagement with more-than-human worlds. Similarly,
realities of mess and smell raised awareness of change that is not necessarily seen or orderly, but
disruptive to routine learning. The collaboratory of pumpkin-weather-child provoked intimate dia-
logue on how time and place is understood and enacted.
Messy markings
We nd wrinkles, folds, freckle-like spots, and bruises. The pumpkin has wounds, scratches, sores, appen-
dages. It has lived and carries the markings of a life. Its weathered surface indicates encounters and signs
of life over time. Through its skin we learn it has weathered many events, including humans who have
grown, cut and sold it. (S. Hennessy, personal communication, October 28, 2019)
When the pumpkin began to rot in the classroom it was put away. The educators were concerned
that the smell from the increasingly softened skin might cause mess and convey dirty conditions to
parents. There was a morality (Biss 2014) infusing itself into the classroom through fear of parental
judgement of mess and decay. We follow Biss (2014) and Shotwell (2016) in thinking with a human
continuity with everything here on earth(Biss 2014, 76) and how this continuity is a starting point
for critical inquiry, rather than an explanatory end(Shotwell 2016, 10). Our entanglement with
pumpkin was not innocent. Keeping the pumpkin in the class, as acquaintance and more, was
an act of unforgetting as resistance (Shotwell 2020). There was deance and critical inquiry with
the act of keeping pumpkin, knowing it would become messy, smelly and lthy and possibly
oend the order of classroom ideals (Douglas 1985). In early childhood education, childhoods
framings of innocence, vulnerability and purity are changed to involve complex active agency
and the political (Moss 2017).
For millions across North America pumpkins are produced solely for human entertainment on a
single day, Halloween. When this day has passed pumpkins are resigned to the garbage or compost
bin as waste. More signicant than the messy marks on the pumpkins, these piles of waste act as
marks of our own (human) mess. The decomposing bacterial, fungal blooms of pumpkin death dis-
turb us and remind us of decay and the imperfect realities of life like the noxious smell we cant
escape. This pumpkin stayed. Weathering the changing smells, sounds, shape and colour, we stayed
with the pumpkin and its trouble (Haraway 2016).
Pumpkin atmospheres
As pumpkin folds in on itself, a smell emanates from the rotting esh and noses begin to scrunch up. Touch
and sight transfers to smell as our relations and behaviours attend to this noxious odour. The stench wafts out
to meet our noses and interrupts play, changing our material dynamic with pumpkin. This response to the
overripe is enough for some children to turn and leave. But for some this is an invitation to smell more.
They lean in and stick tongues out, in snake like fashion, to interact with the airborne aroma of pumpkin.
Many watch each other and pumpkin attending to the now whatthinking of this experience. There remain
8S. M. HENNESSY AND T. ROONEY
peripheral children unwilling to touch or step onto the paper with pumpkin having set a personal boundary of
engagement. They did not escape the smell. (S. Hennessy, personal communication, November 3, 2019)
Sitting with pumpkin-weather-child as the pumpkin slowly decays, the collaboratory demanded
we notice the entanglement of weather, bodies and atmospheres. The airborne aroma reminded us
that pumpkins are not bounded or solid materials. Where child-pumpkin-weather met was not
always material in a physical sense; it was at times atmospheric and eventually liquid. In decompo-
sition, the pumpkin not only changed the surrounding air with its gaseous emissions, but, once it
was moved to the playground, it also changed the composition of the soil below, shifting levels of
moisture, absorption and aeration in the soil; weathering with earth and microbial habitats.
The smell of the decaying pumpkin was unavoidable. As the children sat close breathing in the
air thick with pumpkin smell, we noticed that the rain and other elements were not simply external
weather actors in the decay process, but that pumpkin had become weather (airborne) and child
had become (breathed in) pumpkin (Pollitt, Blaise, and Rooney 2021).
The smell of decay reminded us that we cannot escape membership (Latour 1993). Reluctant or
engaged we were all involved, complicit and non-innocent. These transformations were part of the
changes we could not see happening. We sense worlds we cannot see (Greenhough 2016). The
encounter with noxious, nose-scrunching odour, between weather, pumpkin and children, was a
moment that commanded our attention. Naming and describing this moment was a pedagogical
decision it was not innocent. How we, as adults and educators labelled the smells of rot was as
much an act of education as the putting away of the decaying pumpkin. How we practise with
decay is not, therefore, innocent (Wilson 2017) and in these moments we realized that the children
were showing us how to stay with the discomfort of decay, rather than hiding it from view.
Together, the collaboratory was inviting us to consider how we might learn with the tempo of
decay without consigning it to a cupboard. It became possible to recognize the gradually intensify-
ing smell of the tempo of decay as a practice that warranted atmospheric space in the classroom,
even if it disrupted the usual routine.
Watching change
The pumpkin carcass remains outside on the playground for fourteen days slowly transforming with weather,
microbes and animals. After more than a week under a blanket of early snow it is once again visible, I join the
children on the playground and notice three children standing around the fence surrounding the gas line. I
approach as they ask whats up?they silently point towards the pumpkin carcass contained on the ground
behind the metal fence. I kneel down and join them pressing my face against the cold metal bars. A rst
child whispers we are watching change. There are nods of silent assent. Unwilling to break the silence I
stare and begin to notice the white lm on the surface and the faded nature of the former vibrant orange.
As we stare in silence the children begin to speak I cant reach it,it doesnt smell anymoreand now it is
food. I ask whos food?
The answers come fast and furious, birds,owls,squirrels,raccoons,bugsand monsters. A child in the
sandbox some distance away yells worms, too. We just cant see the worms. Lift it up, under the pumpkin. (S.
Hennessy, personal communication, November 17, 2019)
The invitation to consider ideas of speculative enchantment with monsters changes the tempo.
In considering monsters, the collaboratory narrative is shaken by the extraordinary that lives amid
the familiar and the everyday(Bennett 2001, 4). Imagination opens new possibilities of liveliness
and reveals other members we cannot see but must consider. Bennett (2001) reminds us of the
unintelligibility of many sensory experiences that generate speculative and creative energies.
With the collaboratory, speculation is part of a new fold in the undulating tempo of decay. The vis-
ible and invisible creatures are, at once, familiar and unfamiliar and disrupt any question of bound-
aries in the pumpkin-weather-child collaboratory. While this paper focuses deeply on three
members and their work, we can see from the above eld note that worms, owls and others are
active in the collaboratory. The children consider what else is part of the decay and engage with
features that adult humans may nd revolting.
CHILDRENS GEOGRAPHIES 9
In watching change, the children seem puzzled that we (adults) do not notice what they are doing
with weather and pumpkin. We cant see change in the regular paced moments of our adult time
where we seem to always feel beholden to a schedule. It can be dicult to notice the tempo of plant
activity because the changes are too gradual or minute to perceive(Pitt 2015, 52). This applies just
as much to decay as growth. In this scenario, Hennessy may well not have noticed the change in the
pumpkin if it were not for the children. Through this, we realize that children were showing us how
to watch change that was so slow it could not really be seen at all. Smailbegović(2015) also reminds
us that such an attunement to the particulate dierences that compose change is dicult because
many of them occur at rhythms of transformation that are below the threshold of temporal sensi-
tivity available to human perception(p.96). Or perhaps we should say human adult perception,
given that the children seemed to readily attune to the slow pace of change, they witnessed over
months of getting to know and being with pumpkin. Allowing children to sit with more-than-
human others, Taylor (2011) suggests, can reintegrate the child back into the imperfect, real and
messy world of fascinating socionaturesthat we all embody and coinhabit(431). In this collabora-
tory, the children enter into these messy more-than-human worlds with pumpkin and weather.
As we watch children who tell us they are watching change, we nd ourselves considering: How
might we give attention so that we (adults) can see the decay, and perhaps slow down and attune to
unfamiliar tempos? We understand this as an invitation that the pumpkin-weather-child collabora-
tory has asked us to consider.
Breaking it down: nal discussion
The praxis of decomposition connects a variety of willing and unwilling members in a lively colla-
boratory of plant members, human members, microbial members, weather members, political and
theoretical members. In the pumpkin-weather-child collaboratory, the tempo of decay is the pace at
which members fold and unfold into each other and others. We dene the tempo of decay as enga-
ging and moving with the dynamic, unpredictable and unseen of the ambient factors and relations
of decomposition. The pace of decay slackens with a snowstorm, slowing microbial action and hid-
ing the pumpkin from human eyes. Similarly, the noxious odour of rotting pumpkin becomes with
air and wind to inltrate human noses and bodies. The smell wafting in the wind conveys a pace of
change that is dicult to measure but that persists nonetheless.
With a tempo of decay, we contemplate Greenes(1988) guidance to consider alternatives in
childhood that unfold time beyond the human. One deep inhale can energize thinking connecting
noses with decay and other realities, possibilities and place. With decay, the teacher/parent/adult
time that dominates childrens experiences is backgrounded and its linearity folds in and out of
the collaboratory that is shifting the tempo of daily routines.
Decomposition is a dynamic process that follows predictable stages but is unpredictable. When
the pumpkin arrived in the classroom its relations with decay and humans were already underway.
Decomposition was revealed and progressed through each abrasion. For the pumpkin, death occurs
when the fruits stem severs from the plant. Once separated from the plant it begins to break down
based on three major factors of the physical environment (soil, temperature, water), quantity and
quality of dead material available for decomposers (a whole eld of pumpkins will decay faster than
a lone isolated pumpkin), and the nature of microbial community (Chapin, Matson, and Vitousek
2011). For the pumpkin in this collaboratory the elements of Fall and Winter in Southwestern
Ontario and the corresponding drop in temperature, rainfall and ensuing snowfall, location in
close proximity to various scavengers (raccoons, birds, squirrels, foxes, skunks and rodents) and
physical location on a combination of soil and woodchips, all acted and interacted as ambient
and unpredictable factors in the pace of decay. On arrival at the centre, the pumpkin resembled
its living eld self - rm, intact and orange. With time and interior temperatures, it softened,
unfolding the intact whole-ness of the pumpkin and communicating its active decay with smell,
softness and discolouration.
10 S. M. HENNESSY AND T. ROONEY
The tempo of decay, as a uid process dependent on various members, was one of many tempos
that gave pace to the work of the collaboratory. The children participated, in part, according to
monochronic linear time - determined by the clock and calendar, and the diurnal rhythms of
our species. Weather tempos, entangled with human, bring a cyclical nature where winter occurs
before and after fall/autumn. Weather presences the unseen; a blanket of snow visually concealing
the pumpkin from other members. Children are eventually drawn into the tempo of decay; enough
to know that sitting in stillness with pumpkin and weather is to be watching changeat a tempo that
resists routine and regularity.
In concluding this discussion, we share two insights that we take from the collaboratory for
our wider understanding of times, places and concerns: rst, acknowledging that the entangled
membership is, in part, what makes it possible to act with new, collective tempos that invite us
to rethink scientic practice; and second, that in being transported into times and places
beyond the human we can see how we might become human dierently in our everyday prac-
tices and actions.
To expand on the rst point, the pumpkin-weather-child collaboratory reveals new ways of act-
ing and enacting a collective tempo. Collaborating is far from simple. Members inltrate, become
with and travel together, becoming blended. In thinking with Shotwell (2016) here, we use the term
blendedto avoid the purity connotations associated with the more scientic term hybrid. These
blendings blur boundaries between members. The collaboratory demands that we, as humans,
recognize unlikely alliances. We are a blend as individuals and as a species with each human
body being composed with as many microbial cells as human ones (Hey 2019). And while there
is a system of decay at work, the doings are more than those of traditional science-based under-
standings of decomposition. The members, seen and unseen are in dialogue with(Plumwood
2009) each other through tempo and haptic communications. Decay is not at work with weather
and children because of scientic knowledge - decay predates this knowledge. Decay also predates
human time and attuning to the tempo of decay reminds us that more-than-human histories and
futures will always exceed our own. It becomes possible to see the unseen. Wind, invisible to human
eyesight, together with rain, snow, temperature from land and sun, moves and infuses with others to
moderate tempos that aect the microbial community. Collaborators are a uid, heterogeneous
group changing in shape and state in often inaudible and invisible ways (Cortade 2018; Hey
2019). Dismantling the laboratory in collaboratory acts to decentre researchers, scientists, humans
and shift understandings of scientic collaboration to a more inclusive model of the more-than-
human, vegetal, unseen and weather.
The second insight we take from our work with the collaboratory is that it disrupts human-as-
norm, inviting us to consider ourselves-as-humans in dierent ways(Castro 2019, 12). Humans
participate, but as non-hierarchical members, often at the edges. Like the acknowledgement of
Woods et al. (2018) of a forest as co-author, for us pumpkin, place, microbes and weather author
the work of the pumpkin-weather-child collaboratory. With an emphasis on tempo, the collabora-
tory moved away from constraints of a linear past-present-future, as dierent times folded into and
became the rhythms of change. This highlights how nature is not an amorphous backdrop to the
human (Chakrabarty 2009), but rather a rich entanglement of distinct members with tempos
that extend to and include the human. With one comment of watching change, the children, as
witnesses to change they were part of, showed us a dierent way of being human (Castro 2019),
as member-not-boss, as non-innocent but unforgetting (Shotwell 2016). We could sense the chil-
dren trying to convey a process rather than a thing; a slow, imperceptible process that they some-
how sensed we (adults) could not see.
In working with the tempo of decay members of this collaboratory have enacted what Shotwell
(2016) refers to as a thick conception of entanglement(100). The snow covering the pumpkin
behaves similarly to the leaves of pumpkins in the story of the three sisters, keeping weeds at
bay and moisture in the soil. With weather, the children inhale the thickness of entanglement.
Over time, all members of the collaboratory changed: childrens engagements moved elsewhere;
CHILDRENSGEOGRAPHIES 11
pumpkin became more soil than pumpkin in its decay; weather moved from Autumn to Winter and
into Spring.
Conclusion
The collaboratory provided a space and co-habitation framework for humans and more-than-
humans as interrelated beings together in the world (Sauvé 2005). This approach repositioned chil-
dren from the centre of curriculum to a more-than-human system that included the human. As
inseparable from the more-than-human world of other materials, species and energies, this colla-
boratory unfolded as a non-hierarchical entanglement. Pumpkin was understood as more than
single-use human entertainment and, as a plant, was not interpreted or measured as in a laboratory,
or reduced to routine learning prop in the classroom. Instead pumpkin fed political and pedagogical
growth. As a species that grows on all continents except Antarctica and is featured in the culture,
cuisine and medicine of a multitude of peoples dating back to 7,500 BC (on a human, Judeo-Chris-
tian calendar), pumpkin brought histories and far ung geographies to this place.
The childrens learning time with pumpkin did not rely on a pre-planned series of interactions or
stages, but emerged with the relations between children and pumpkin (or indeed parts of pumpkin)
and weather; times marked more by disorder than order, and disruption rather than routine. The
collaboratory gave rise to tensions with educators through mess, uncomfortable smells and a dis-
dain for purity. The collaboratory threw plans for learning into disarray. Instead problems were
raised and educators had to prepare for what was unexpected and unknown. Weathering, folding,
unfolding, living, dying and becoming collaboratory together, opened new worlds for the childrens
learning. As educators and researchers, we realized that the alternating quickening and slowing
tempos and trajectories that often elude us as adults, may well provide new opportunities we so
often miss.
The process of decay and decomposition has taken us to some lively, life-giving and unexpected
places. We return to the First Nationsstory of the three sisters and consider how thinking with the
tempo of plants, earth and weather through decay and regeneration can inform how we think about
childrens emerging relations with the world. At some point the pumpkin will weather and decay
into the soil; yet the need to delineate the point at which this change occurs seems less important
in light of the on-going stories of pumpkin, weather and child that continue to unfold. As the folds
of the pumpkin collapse inward, we are reminded of folds in the earth; upheavals and histories vis-
ible on the surface. The folds in the childrens small ngers touch the rough skin of the pumpkin,
surfacing rst the sweetness and then the staleness of the pumpkin esh. The folding of weather and
bodies moves together in tempos that dier across vast scales, and yet all with presences in the here
and now. In bringing pumpkin to children, and children to pumpkin, weathered microworlds
unfolded and gave us a small view into the work and demands of a pumpkin-weather-child colla-
boratory and a pace of decay that, in turn, revealed much about the on-goingness of life.
Note
1. This paper is part of a funded study with Climate Action Childhood Network (http://www.
climateactionchildhood.net/), an international collaborative partnership created by the Common Worlds
Research Collective (http://witnessingruinsofprogress. climateactionchildhood.net/). The research is focused
on young children, education, and challenges related to climate change.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author(s).
Funding
This work was supported by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
12 S. M. HENNESSY AND T. ROONEY
ORCID
Tonya Rooney http://orcid.org/0000-0003-1722-6009
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14 S. M. HENNESSY AND T. ROONEY
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