This is going to freak some of you out, but you really must watch this:
One of the truths about every cooperative preschool is that, as a school, you're strong where your parents are strong and this year our 3-5's school blog is one of our strengths. It's only accessible to members of our class, written by the woman known to us around the internet as Floor Pie. (Please click over, it's worth it, I'll wait. She also made me aware of this video.)
We released our butterflies last week and Floor Pie chronicled it there, winding up with this paragraph:
“I hope a bird doesn’t eat them,” Teacher Tom remarked matter-of-factly, absolutely rattling my misplaced maternal instinct for our newly released “babies.” But the children took it in stride, discussing the food chain for a minute before moving on to watch the other butterflies in the garden. All part of the life cycle.
One of our painted ladies was fluttering away from our garden, the first of our small colony that once numbered 13 to do so, tasting innocent, unlimited freedom for what was likely to be only a matter of minutes given the gang of city crows that lives in the trees around our school. That's when I said it.
I've always spoken matter-of-factly around preschoolers about death. Trying to keep the truth as simple as I can make it, not muddying it up with dogma -- that's the business of the families. My job is to report the facts, and my hope about that butterfly's fate was a fact.
We were releasing our butterflies, frankly, to a certain death. Three of them had already died in our "viewing chambers," leaving us with 10 geriatric "babies" by the time we finally got around to releasing them. They had given the better part of their 3 week lives to science and we were setting them free in a world of predators and temperatures likely to be too cold for survival beyond sunset.
On Tuesday, after releasing the living specimens, I put our 3 carcasses on a low surface, along with the chrysalis husks, and one whole one from which the pupae had not emerged, directly on the poster we'd used to talk about the life cycle, which I only realize now doesn't cover the death part. I guess that's why they call it the life cycle.
These are mostly young 3-year-olds by now, so like the girl from the video they had to touch. I used the word "dead" and the admonishment "gentle" quite a bit, and mentioned a few times that I wanted the dead butterflies to stay on the table, but otherwise I either hovered, listening in, or just left them alone with their meditations and conversations. From the outside, they appeared to maintain a scientific matter-of-factness, an attitude I've found almost universal among the youngest preschoolers.
I heard many of them use the word "dead" in their conversations amongst themselves. One of the children mentioned that butterflies don't fly when they're dead. Another blew on them and when they moved, fluttering, claimed they were alive again. Then dead again. I couldn't tell if it was a joke or not. At one point one of the girls handed me a wing. At our closing circle time at the end of the day, Charlotte informed me that she'd put them back in the "cage," which is where I found two of them on Wednesday morning: two very tattered, dead butterflies.
I did the same thing in our 3-5's class yesterday, with the two remaining carcasses, but no one gave the dead butterflies much attention. A few of them fingered the filter paper upon which the chrysalid husks remained connected and discussed the ones we'd released, perhaps already taking a more "grown up" approach to the life cycle by concentrating on the "life" part. Of course, they'd already demonstrated their facility with the topic of death in the context of the food chain earlier in the week. None of them asked me questions. Maybe they initiated conversations about death at home.
Or maybe, for the time being, that's all our preschoolers need to know about dead insects.