By Alison McCoy, AmeriCorps Member
Hands flew into the air as countless little voices shouted, “It’s a dinosaur! It’s a dinosaur!”
“Well, not quite. This is a little smaller than a dinosaur.”
“IT’S A BABY DINOSAUR!”
Although we did not bring in the skull of a dinosaur (or a baby dinosaur), we were lucky enough to show preschoolers across Southeast Ohio the skulls of many local creatures. Not only did we show them the skulls, but also the skins. The kids were excited about all of the animals, from squirrels and raccoons to coyotes and bobcats.
While some students were hesitant to be anywhere near these skins and skulls, others were eager to get to know them better. One boy and his friend were particularly fascinated by the bulldog skull. One reached up to touch it.
“That’s where his brain went!”
His friend chimed in. “I WANT TO FEEL ITS BRAIN.” He stuck his finger in the place the bulldog’s brain once was.
“IT FEELS LIKE BEEF!”
His friend tried to reassure him.
“THERE’S NO BEEF IN THERE RIGHT NOW!”
This was just one of many things that happened amidst the controlled chaos of the classrooms.
One of the animals the students were most excited for was the otter. Although we didn’t have the otter’s skull, we did have its skin. Some students hadn’t seen an otter before; others had never even heard of them. There was one girl, however, who absolutely loved otters but had never seen one in person. She was so excited when it was her turn to touch the otter’s pelt.
“It’s a lot softer than I expected … I can pet its back … and its belly … and its insides!”
She stuck her entire arm into the otter in an instant. I had never before felt my eyes widen as much as they did in that moment. I think she was just as surprised as I was.
“Wow! Even its INSIDES are soft!”
While a lot of the things that happened were silly and lighthearted, there were some difficult moments. One of the classes divided themselves into groups before coming to learn about the skins and skulls. The last group had only one student in it. She was in shock when we pulled out the first pelt, a red fox.
“Foxes die too?… Animals all die?”
Oh no. How do you explain death to a preschooler?
“Yeah. Foxes and all other animals die too.”
She interrupted. She needed an answer, not an explanation.
“Is it because they can’t get a shot? My mom says that when you’re sick but can’t get a shot to help, you die.”
It can be hard to explain things to children. Especially things we ourselves can’t fully understand. Sometimes, children have a good way of explaining the unexplainable to us. Their way is much more creative, gentle. They have a way of making us feel at peace about the least peaceful of things. Teaching is an amazing opportunity, because it’s also an amazing opportunity to learn. Hearing and being heard are two of the most powerful things we can experience. So, chaos works hand in hand with peace in every classroom. It’s important to learn from each other every once in a while.
(If you’re looking for help talking to children about death and loss, check out Sesame Street’s Guide to Helping Kids Grieve for a variety of helpful stories and videos.)