Friday, April 30, 2021

Our Raccoon Teacher

We were in the midst of circle time when a raccoon began climbing a tree behind me. I didn't see it, of course, but I knew it was there, or rather that something was there, because the eyes of every child were following it.

Maybe I knew that raccoons climbed trees before this moment, but wether I previously knew or not, I did now. We all did. It made its way up the trunk, apparently oblivious to the two dozen humans watching from below.

I wonder what we had been talking about or singing or reading before the raccoon began its assent. Whatever it was it was far less important, far less significant, far less educational than this. The evidence was in all those eyes, wide, curious, unable to look away.

I didn't try to recall them to our previous project, whatever it was. For one thing, I knew it would have been futile. Have you ever tried to get children, or pretty much anyone for that matter, to pay attention to anything else when there is a bee in the room? A giant house spider crawling up the wall? The rumbling approach of a thunder storm? 

Of course, we dropped whatever we were doing to attend, fully, to that raccoon, an emissary of Mother Nature, our first and best teacher. The evidence was right there before us. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was more important to any one of us than that raccoon who began to inch along a branch toward . . . We saw it together, almost at once -- a bird's nest. 

"It's going to eat a bird!"

"No, eggs!"



"The branch is going to break!"

"Oh no!"

The branch began to bend, we all saw it, we all feared for the raccoon, for the baby birds or the eggs. It was a drama as real and as old as creation, full of danger, suspense, life. Life itself was taking place above our heads and we were unable to pull ourselves away, not for a lesson or a lyric or a look at the pages of a picture book. 

The raccoon was moving more cautiously now as the branch bent under its weight. There came a point when it stopped entirely, raising it's pointy nose to the air.

"It's sniffing!"

"It's smelling the eggs!"

"It's going to fall!"

"Why isn't the mommy bird saving its babies?"

We were all, including the raccoon, one, tied together in concern, desire, and life itself. We live in the city of Seattle, named in honor of a Duwamish chief who said, "Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect." Ancient wisdom that modern scientists have only just begun to learn through their precious, childlike method of taking everything apart to see how it works only to destroy the very thing they are studying.

The raccoon slowly turned itself around, having assessed the risk to be greater than the potential reward. It made its way back along the branch and down the trunk. And we, all of us, did as well.


Indigenous educators Brenda Souter (Maori), Jackie Bennet (Australian Aboriginal), and Hopi Martin (Ojibwe) share their views of Mother Nature as our first teacher. Teacher Tom's Play Summit is nothing less than an attempt to bring the full web of the early childhood world together with the singular mission of transforming the lives of young children and their families. It's a chance to listen and learn about best practices and new ideas from around the world from a wide variety of perspectives. As I've interviewed our presenters, this idea of play within the context of community is a strong recurring theme, especially from indigenous educators. Please join us for this important free event. To learn more and to get on the waitlist, click here. If not us, who? Together we can turn this world around.

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