Pedagogy of Maintenance as Care

Bringing caring labor and the knowledge that stems from participation in it to the analysis becomes critical for a transformative program equally within science and within society. The baby socks, webs of wool, photos, and flowers threaded into wire fences by the thousands of women peace activists ringing Greenham Common speak for this knowledge of the integration of hand, brain, and heart.

H. Rose, 1983

It’s here, the new playground. We can discuss the choice of adjectives for a long time (new, old, redesigned), but the fact remains: this space has been closed to the children and educators for a long while, and now we are invited back in.

This playground (and we can discuss the choice of nouns for a long time – studio, garden, outdoor classroom) has been designed not only to reflect the curriculum and relationship stories cultivated through the last years at Oak Ave, but also with the practice of the pedagogy of care in mind.

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We’ve made a choice to seed the berms. To remember the Big Hall that was loved and then carelessly leveled. To choose grasses over artificial forever-green surface was, not an innocent move and not without consequences.

How will we care for these hills? How might we occupy them with respect? What are our responsibilities towards these berms? What sensibilities and thinking will we nurture in ourselves and want to nurture in children as we walk up and down the sloping sides, roll sideways, feel the soil and grass give beneath our feet?

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Maintenance is a program to keep something in a specified condition and, particularly in case of landscapes that change/grow over time, improve it. And, like any other practice, is driven by a question of why.

In typical built projects, including landscape designs, maintenance takes an important line among project considerations. Numbers crunch balancing complexity of design vs. available budgets and staff. To paraphrase Virginia Woolf, maintenance is not sexless; she is a man: physical, knowing, certain, infected with knowledge of how to maximize return on investment.

Within the realm of a pedagogical project, we have an opportunity to consider something different: maintenance as a form of care. Care is more than a call for inclusiveness or a moral stance of goodness. If we are to take seriously the pedagogical proposition that a world is more than human, then the practice of care goes hand-in-hand with the recognition of care-giving and care-receiving: a complex interweaving of affect, thinking, noticing, and hands-on work of interdependence (de la Bellacasa).

In a practical sense, I think that the pedagogy of care can include the practices of checklist, sweeping sand, picking up toys, not entering certain areas, or whipping the mud off boots before entering the building. However, in order for these actions to be pedagogical, i.e. meaning-making and orienting us in the world (Dahlberg, Moss & Pence; Delgado Vintimilla), we need to consider (to paraphrase Donna Haraway) what thoughts we think these practices through.

How can the motions of brooming sand back into the sand area be not a question of disciplining children or other educators? How can we put the toys back in the shed by not simply succumbing to the stereotype of early childhood educators being the motherly types that ‘naturally’ take care? How can we work with children to care for berms in a way that doesn’t make it a colonial human taking care of his domain?

We need to consider, as Maria Puig de la Bellacasa wrote, the “intricacies of the work of carers, showing how relations of dependence care can be cruel as much as living”.

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To practice care pedagogically is, perhaps, to love politically: to think and to do love and care against traditional ways of knowing and doing, whether that’s discipline and oversight, developmentalism, capitalism, or production of scientific knowledge.  

In the field of early childhood education, where “care” is part of the name, sometimes included and sometime implied and where ‘to care’ is a professional demand (see How Does Learning Happen), we have an opportunity to rethink care beyond a misogynistic stereotype. Pedagogies of care as maintenance hold, perhaps, the potential to be a provocation for asking ‘how might we care?’ in uneasy and unresolvable ways (Atkinson-Graham, et al, 2015). 

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Once more, I have written to you with questions rather than statements, with propositions rather than instructions. This is because the pedagogical work is to make openings, because curriculum-making has that second, ‘making’ part – a proposition towards an unknown future made through tiny changes: a pause, a conversation, an invitation, or a careful sweep of a broom.

COLLAGE. Left: Wool string running through the playground, sketch. On the right: fence with balloons, wool, children’s sock and toys weaved through it, as part of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp in the UK that was set up in the 1980s to protest against nuclear weapons.


Atkinson-Graham, M., Kenney, M., Ladd, K., Murray, C. M., & Simmonds, E. A.-J. (2015). Care in context: Becoming an STS researcher. Social Studies of Science, 45(5), 738–748.

Dahlberg, G., Moss, R, & Pence, A.R. (1999). Beyond quality in early childhood education and care: Postmodern perspectives. London: Falmer Press.

de La Bellacasa, M. P. (2017). Matters of care: Speculative ethics in more than human worlds (Vol. 41). U of Minnesota Press.

Delgado Vintimilla, C. (2020). The Pedagogist Network of Ontario.

Rose, H. (1983). Hand, brain, and heart: A feminist epistemology for the natural sciences. Signs: journal of Women in Culture and Society9(1), 73-90.

Woolf, V. (1938). Three Guineas.

Image: Photo from Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp (1981-1982). Online.