Bordermaking and Ownership

By Selena Ha and Nicole Land

“How do we move together?” and “How do we get to know a place with movement?”. These have been the big questions in part of the movement research in the preschool room. 

From the start of the research project inquiry work, we noticed children’s conversations and play, such as “No you can’t play here, it’s my house” and “It’s mine”. We wondered: What did children tell us with this play? What ideas and concepts were they thinking with? We noticed children were creating structures and using them as boundaries that stopped the flow of human moving in the playground; structures and boundaries that interrupted the children’s movements. Thus children that used structures, words, and even their own bodies to create boundaries – they were border making, a term we used to describe our acts of creating and participating in boundaries. Noticing how important borders were in shaping moving, we started to question: what do borders really do? 

It is easy to notice the physical borders around us, such as fences around the playground or doors, or when children used chairs to build closed-in houses. We explored what border making means, such as the desire to enclose ourselves into a smaller space. We noticed children used chairs on the playground to build their space; to make borders around a space they named as ‘theirs’. One morning, they used a large cardboard piece to enclose a space. As children continued to border-make, the movement of the space, material and their own bodies became incredibly entangled with control and ownership. 

As the idea of ownership appeared in children’s play, we questioned the importance of ownership in childhood: what does it mean to own something? What happens when “It’s my ball”, “You can’t come in” become familiar responses to the space and to the other bodies on the playground? We were curious how children have an understanding and connection to the materials and space, and noticed how when children become more familiar with the space, the way that they move and respond changes as well. They learn to care and maintain the items they have collected and created. After getting to know a place or material, that place or material becomes something to hold onto. We started to feel uncomfortable with this idea of hoarding and control that we understand to be important elements in ownership. We traced where our ideas of ownership came from, which started to branch into how ownership in this societal world becomes an inherited idea to have. So taken-for-granted ownership is, that the idea becomes natural to us. For example, “It’s my keys, I need it to open the door” shows us that if it is owned by somebody then they have control of it. Suddenly, hoarding materials and spaces make sense! If I own it, then I can control it – and someone else cannot control or own it –  becomes a possible response to a place or movement because that is a politics of ownership we see and hear circulating around us. Play, accordingly, shifts from learning how to interact with a material or place to figuring out how can I control it. 

If a material or plant or idea lives and stays in the playground, is it really ours? We started to  challenge the idea of ownership of space and hoarding of materials by having a morning once a week on the playground without any baskets, chairs, and toys such as balls and trucks. The first morning, children were quick to play through running and chasing. As the morning continued, we noticed that the children interacted more with the natural materials and space, such as playing tag with each other and feeling, twisting, collecting, and engaging with natural materials to make something. Selena remembers asking if the children noticed anything different and the children answering no and going on about their play. Not many children asked for toys either. It made us wonder: by taking out all these plastic materials from the playground, had we started to interrupt the idea of ownership? Is there something about those toys, their quantity, or our relationships with those toys that invites practices of ownership? As each week came along and we continued trying to get to know the playground without added toys. We worked to practice ‘noticing’, inspired by Anna Tsing (2015) who argues that in contemporary worlds it “makes no sense to crystallize first principles or seek natural laws that generate best cases. Instead, I practice arts of noticing. I comb through the mess of existing worlds-in-the-making, looking for treasures—each distinctive and unlikely to be found again, at least in that form” (p. 191). This means that we worked with the children to cultivate ways of getting to know the playground that resist objective, removed ways of inquiring to uncovering ‘truths’ about the playground and its inhabitants. Instead, following Nelson (2018), we are trying to pay attention with children to what happens in the playground – who lives here, who dies here, who moves here – and to how our bodies, senses, pathways, and relationships are implicated in these rhythms; to notice how our moving is always entangled with, as Tsing says, the patterns, differences, and encounters in this playground. As we worked to notice with the yard, we found that the children created more social and creative dramatic plays; stories and relationships emerged, created with the playground and the trees, rocks, sand, leaves, potato bugs, snails, and sticks that live here. Borders or “you can’t play with us” became less present, but was also something we worked to unsettle when it did emerge: “what if that tree doesn’t belong to you?” or “I think this bug is walking on this log right now – how would picking this bug up into your hand change that?” 

We also found that children, even though their movements could be fast, were stopping to notice – to pay attention to, to get to know – the environment, the place, of the playground. Together we started to notice the different animals and insects that live on our playground. We noticed how we (children and adults) needed to move our bodies differently with the bugs, and also how those animals and insects moved differently when we were near. Through working hard to notice place and to be with the playground without other toys, we felt how play shifted toward learning about space and how we move in this place. We want to suggest that when we pay attention to how our movements are with a place – with a bug or with lots of crumbling leaves – it becomes more difficult for ideas of ownership, hoarding, control, enclosures, and boundaries to happen in the ways we are familiar with. We always participate in border-making through our moving, but we want to work to unsettle individualistic ideas of compiling property or  ‘borders’ as strategies for ensuring ownership. How can we move and notice in ways that resist domination, stockpiling, or blocking off? How do we continue to ask what control, hoarding, and enclosure do as ways of border-making – and if those are ways of moving we want to be part of? We think ownership will continue to be part of our space and relationships but we want to challenge ourselves to think about ownership differently, and not to let the idea own us. 

Nelson, N. (2018).Common worlding pedagogies: cultivating the ‘arts of awareness’ with tracking, compost, and death [unpublished Masters thesis]. University of Victoria, Victoria BC. Retrieved from https://dspace.library.uvic.ca/handle/1828/9341


Tsing, A. L. (2015). The mushroom at the end of the world: On the possibility of life in the capitalist ruins. New Jersey, NY: Princeton University Press

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