Raised by a River

By Heather Wilson

Soo River, Whistler, BC

After watching the TED talk video, Reclaiming the Honourable Harvest by Robin Kimmerer (2012), I could not stop thinking about a statement she made. She said, ‘… a boy was raised by a river.’ And further questioned if there were two meanings in that statement – was the boy near or reared by a river? Now that I have reflected on that statement, with my own knowledge and experience, I would say that ‘a boy raised by a river’ was just as near it, as he was reared by it. If the boy had the time and freedom to wander and wonder… Where would the boy go to play? Where would he go when he was bored? Where would he want to take his friends? Where would he go to explore? Where would he go for adventure? Where would he go when his soul needed soothing? To the river. 

My role as an ECE would be to create time and space for children to become familiar with the land. There is much excitement in the novel experiences, but there is depth, layers and the richness of the child’s own knowledge when they are in a familiar place. Only once this familiarity is there, do children begin to connect with the land, when they are influenced, loved, and raised by that space. In the Early Learning Framework [ELF] (Government of BC, 2019) there is reference to this idea, “Providing time, space, and materials rich with possibilities for experimenting, imagining, and transforming allows children to create and explore…” (p. 75). 

There is depth to these questions once you start unpacking them. My role as an ECE seems clear, but what challenges are we facing? Children come from many different families and thus different cultures and perspectives, how do we connect children who would prefer to be connected to a screen or game? When it comes to Infants and Toddlers, how do we explain to families that they are capable of walking a trail, exploring a forest/beach/field/rocks/dirt and connecting with it meaningfully?

Robin Kimmerer spoke and wrote beautifully, and I really appreciate her nine responses to the gifts of the earth:

  1. Never take the first one.
  2. Ask for permission.
  3. Listen.
  4. Take only what you need.
  5. Use everything you take.
  6. Minimize harm.
  7. Be grateful.
  8. Share.
  9. Reciprocate.

I am wondering how Kimmerer’s nine responses to the gifts of the earth invite me to think with/about the pathway “Every child is a gift” (Government of BC, 2019, p.66) as offered in the ELF’s Living Inquiry Well-being and Belonging? How might we meet and receive children as gifts? How might we give meaning to the statement, “every child is a gift?” in our daily encounters with children? How might we show our love, appreciation and responsibility to the children in our care?


Government of British Columbia. (2019). British Columbia early learning framework (2nd ed.). Victoria: Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Children and Family Development, & British Columbia Early Learning Advisory Group.  https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/education-training/early-learning/teach/early-learning-framework

Tedx. (2012, August 18). Reclaiming the Honorable Harvest: Robin Kimmerer . YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lz1vgfZ3etE&feature=youtu.be

3 thoughts on “Raised by a River

  1. Hi Heather,
    I love how you mentioned “create time and space for children to become familiar with the land” because I feel like there are more details that we need to know and understand in order to connect with the lands. There are layers of knowledge that we need to understand and it takes time. We need to understand that children’s mind are different than ours too and their point of view can be different from ours. Each person develop their sense of knowledge and curiosity differently, their way of learning is also different.

    I agree with your questions, in this era we are so connected with technology that we sometimes “ignore” the beautiful things that are in our surroundings. Starting from a young age, children shouldn’t be connected as much with technology and let them enjoy the nature. Let the environment be their teacher and let it shows the beauty that we have if we just look deep enough. I think we can let the families know the goodness of our environment and that children will develop quicker if they are not in touch with technology at all times. Technology can be their casual friend instead of their 24/7 company.

    As for the gift of land connection to children’s gifts, I love the third one “listen”. I feel like we as human beings are not listening as much as we should. When we listen, we can think more wisely before doing something. We start to appreciate more of the children themselves and their gifts. We will be more appreciative towards what they can do and what they showed to us. Children develop sense of pride as well and it really helps with their self-confidence for the future. I think that by listening and observing, it also makes us think how can we broaden their gifts? How can we make them explore more about their gifts?

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, it’s beautiful.

  2. Hi Heather,

    That was an interesting quote to contemplate. Having lived in various parts of Canada myself, I know that being by the ocean definitely speaks to me. My childhood I associate with the Atlantic Ocean and I now live in coastal BC, so the ocean is an important part.

    I agree with the challenges you listed. There are so many things that impact how children and families connect with the land. In starting our Strong Start in the Great Outdoors program this year, things went in ways we would never have predicted. The one spot we weren’t sure would work at all has become the spot that families have the strongest connection to.

  3. Dear Heather,

    I love your heart and the voice that you bring to this blog. You are a true inspiration for me as a nearly graduated ECEC student at VIU. I read your blogs and feel in awe and have so many ideas that spring from there. I was struck in particular with the thought that “… there is depth, layers and the richness of the child’s own knowledge when they are in a familiar place. Only once this familiarity is there, do children begin to connect with the land, when they are influenced, loved, and raised by that space”.

    Recently I have been thinking about being in a posture of gratitude and how I desperately want to be in a world of thanksgiving. I am curious if we can genuinely learn and teach about our earth and what is shared and happening on her if we do not have gratitude? I feel connected to your blog in the way of a question: is it possible that to communicate with the land, we must first be grateful? Could it be that gratitude is part of the “…depth, layers and richness of a child’s own knowledge”? A connection swims to Kimmerer (2020) and her thoughts that “when we speak of these not as things or products or commodities, but as gifts, the whole relationship changes. I can’t help but gaze at them, cupped like jewels in my hand, and breathe out my gratitude”.

    Recently we read some of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s work, and I feel called to share with you some thoughts in a question and answer format:

    In what ways can I acknowledge children’s small moments with ants, birds, or worms as meaningful relationships?
    a fenced crab home by N, V, N and A

    To answer this, I have a small personal anecdote: On a gathering at the beach with young children on October first, we hoover, crouched down along the high tide shore, observing the wildlife. Children shuffle around as their hands turn over rocks to discover their first catch of the day: a crab. This group of children so naturally concluded that the “so small and tiny” crab needs a place for shelter. It demands a home. And so they formed homes in various ways, circular rock homes and a home made of sticks to act as a fence. Why is it that the children created these unprompted places of belonging? Is it because they feel connected to the land? The way children care for creatures is almost as if it is clear to the children: I am a child, and therefore, I am cared for, and these crabs are creatures, and consequently, they too need care.

    How can I encourage children to recognize that humans and the natural world are connected and mutually dependent on one another?
    The thought of educators encouraging children to recognize that humans and the natural world are connected and mutually dependent on one another is an intention. And, it is a knowing as much as it is a teaching. But is it fair to say that children already know? Because of this, they feel already far removed from the idea that we are in a transactional and scarcity economy. Children have an inherent knowing that “scarcity [could] just [be] a cultural construct, a fiction that fences us off from gift economies” (Kimmerer, 2020). In the case of the crab houses, for example, there was never any question of the labour cost associated with building the house. Crabs deserve a safe place to live; we all do.

    “Every breath that you take is a breath that was made for you by plants” (Kimmerer, 2019).


    Bioneers [Bioneers]. (2019, June 11). The honourable harvest – Robin Kimmerer [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEm7gbIax0o

    Kimmerer, R. W. (2020, December 10) The serviceberry: An economy of abundance. Emergence. https://emergencemagazine.org/essay/the-serviceberry/

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