Lessons Of Life From Children
It was an ordinary spring day in my kindergarten classroom, or so I thought. It was actually June 3rd. Almost summer. You know that part of the school year when everyone is starting to get tired, but in an early childhood classroom, the excitement is still a buzz. The favorite themes are introduced and the children are just as eager to explore and learn. We were beginning to prepare for our end of the year presentation, you know, the moving up celebration. I was sure we had covered all possible learning by this point through required curriculum and teachable moments, but boy, was I wrong!
It was a Monday morning, to be specific. We had been learning about insects, mostly butterflies, and up until this day, my young learners were sure I had been lying to them. For weeks, we had been watching a dozen caterpillars grow bigger and fatter, until we could see nothing but the chrysalis they created. Well, I had not lied to them thus far, but the butterflies were taking their time appearing, and the children had given up hope. The constant question, “When will they be butterflies?”, was being asked less and less, and I knew that it had to happen soon. They just had to come out before the school year ended.
So at this point, the routine was set. The children came in each morning, put away their belongings, took a quick peek in the butterfly garden to see nothing new and then joined us on the rug for our morning lesson. I was as disappointed as they were, until this Monday morning. When I came into my room, I prepared for the day’s lessons and decided to check on our butterflies. Lo and behold, there were a dozen painted lady butterflies flying around their space, letting me know in their own way that all beauty takes time. I knew at that moment that my day would be recreated based on a teachable moment. It was going to be a wondrous day!
Shortly after, the children arrived. They hung up their belongings, chatted with their friends and made way over to the butterfly garden. The wonder in their eyes could not be described.
Ah, the joys of teaching.
“Teacher”, they called to me, “teacher, look! The butterflies are here!”.
I was just as excited as them, but not to see the butterflies, simply to see that there are life lessons that create wonder and bring about joy. My day was made, but the lessons were not yet over.
Being a lover of nature, our beautiful world and all of its creatures, I knew we had to set them free so they could begin their journey. But being a teacher who had spent a great deal of time assuring impatient children that they would arrive, I decided we would set them free the next morning.
Tuesday morning arrived, and we began our meeting time talking about why we were releasing the butterflies. We spoke of their needs and the harm that would be done if they were limited to this small space within our classroom. Finally, the children agreed, and we journeyed outside for our “setting free” ceremony. We wished them well, and watched until the last, tiny creature was out of eyesight.
It was then that I looked down into the mesh garden and noticed one butterfly lying still on the bottom. Oh no, I thought. We are about to encounter another of life’s lessons... Death.
Little did I know, this was just an introduction to an even greater lesson that would shortly follow. We filed back inside and the children watched as I gingerly picked up the butterfly and placed it in a soft basket, allowing us to observe it more closely.
We talked about this butterfly at length. The children were curious about death. Nothing seems so painful through the eyes of a child, does it. They wanted to know why it died while the others had lived. Was it sick? Did we hurt it? Could we make it better so it could live again? I sighed, and knew that this was a true teachable moment, one that would be remembered by all for years to come. I began to explain that it may have been sick, but we had no way of knowing. I was not sure why it died, but did know that death was as much a part of life as living was. I told them that animals and plants and people die. Some are sick and some are old. Some are neither sick nor old, but they still die.
The children seemed content with the discussion, though were very concerned and not sure how to feel about the loss of this tiny creature who had become such a significant part of our classroom community. One little girl said that she felt sad and then began to cry. I told them that, yes, death is sad, and it is okay to cry. I held and comforted this little one as she cried for the loss of our tiny classroom butterfly. And at that moment, I was proud to be the teacher of such a compassionate group of little ones. Still, not knowing that I was going to encounter yet another of life’s lessons.
As the morning progressed, the children were busily working in their centers. The classroom had come to life with language and laughter. It was a typical day in my kindergarten room.
Suddenly, the telephone rang and I stopped what I was doing to answer it. It was rare that the phone rang, but not uncommon. Parents occasionally called to check on their children or to get progress reports. But this call was different. Somehow, I knew that before I even picked up the phone. It was my brother-in-law and he was calling to inform me that my father had experienced a heart attack and had died in his sleep.
No. This could not be the truth, I thought. I pleaded with him to tell me that he was joking. He had to be, I had talked with my father only two nights earlier...
We had talked about how life changes; how we change, and in essence, are similar to butterflies. He was fine then. In that phone conversation, he told me how much he enjoyed seeing me change. We all change. We are all like butterflies.
I could not believe that my daddy had changed so much in a day. Please, I begged him, tell me the truth. My dad promised that he would be here for me as I continue to ‘become’. But my brother-in-law’s response was no different. He spoke the truth.
I hung up the phone and when a replacement came, I left for the day. I helped to make arrangements, inform friends and family of our unexpected and untimely loss and attend the services and burial for my closest friend, my father.
It was not until I returned to school and saw the butterfly that I saved, lying so still in the cushioned basket, that I realized how lucky I was, not only to be a teacher, but also to have had such a loving father.
What I had learned, as I looked at this delicate butterfly was that, on the day we released them, my children had helped me to learn that death is a natural part of life, but my father had taught me how precious life truly is.
By looking at life through the eyes of a child, I was allowing myself to miss my father.
I was allowing the sadness to be okay.
© April 1997 Gina Gobel
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