Learning encounters with a toddler

‘Bristol is the first city in England to become part of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities’

‘A Learning City is defined as a place which uses its resources to promote inclusive, lifelong learning in education, families, communities and the workplace’

As a young family raising a toddler in this culturally opulent city, this accolade prompted a desire to discover and document the myriad of learning opportunities that Bristol boasts as a recognised UNESCO ‘Learning City’.

Over a period of three months, we have used photography to ethnographically document our family learning encounters as a research resource for the ‘Reinventing Learning Cities’ project.

As we embarked upon this exciting project as a family, we had resplendent plans to further connect with the city in which we live; a chance to explore learning opportunities in areas of the city less well known to us, to engage with the plethora of cultural projects, opportunities and visual stimuli that Bristol extends. As parents, we are desperate to capitalise on this tender age and developmental stage of our toddler, his unreserved enthusiasm for learning and his capacity to absorb and engage with information in such a starry – eyed and impartial way.

As we have progressed through our research journey, it has become overwhelmingly clear to us however that we have been enamoured and enraptured by the wealth of learning opportunities on our doorstep and in surrounding communities.

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Our research and ethnographic documentation from a toddler’s learning perspective, parallel our initial aim to connect and discover new areas and opportunities across the city and instead proffer a love affair with our local and surrounding communities as an area to live and learn in as a young family.  Whilst this brings about some feelings of failure on our part to meet the research brief that we prescribed for ourselves, as we strive to be globally and culturally attuned parents, I can’t help but refer back to the UNESCO definition of a Learning City – ‘a place which uses its resources to promote inclusive, lifelong learning in education, families and communities’. I feel that that our research findings unreservedly champion the idea of community learning and celebrate the local opportunities accessible to us.

Rather than showcasing a cross – cutting breadth of learning encounters across the ‘Learning City’ of Bristol, our photographs instead capture the subject of community love and living in Bristol from our toddler’s perspective and illustrate learning outcomes from our everyday mundane activities, connecting with people and places in our local community and trips and visits all within walking distance from our family home. Furthermore, it was important to us that we only documented learning encounters that were free or that were part of general living costs such as food shopping for example, to ensure that what we recorded would be accessible for everyone.

It is our aspiration that this research project serves as only the foundation and mere beginning of our family learning journey in this vibrant Learning City. If I refer to the quote by Mother Theresa ‘Love Begins at Home’, in the context of our ambition for our son to have a lifelong love for learning, I certainly do hope that our infant learning narrative is testament to that.

Jessica Tomico – Community Researcher

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