The Bugs class (the 2 and 3-year olds) found a second headless baby bird in the play yard on Friday. They buried it in short order. The first one was found by the Tracks (the 4 and 5-year olds) earlier in the week. After carrying it around for a bit and then losing it, it was rediscovered and was given a send off that would rival an Egyptian pharaoh's entombment. Except that at the last minute, one of the children took back the remnants of a pink bead necklace and the pink flower because, of course, you can't take it with you!
We have a bird graveyard on the playground. Things are rough for birds out there. We have a neighborhood hawk. Foxes, raccoons, squirrels, and cats are regular visitors once the children go home and things go to stillness in the yard. Who knows what got the heads of these birds? Could be any of those animals or maybe a Blue Jay had had enough. That it was a predator was certain, because the heads were gone. So that was the discussion. What did it? And should the pink beads go in the ground with it? The facts, just the facts, ma'am.
The next day, we found a dead rat on the way down to the forest. There was no question here what had happened, a car had rolled over it on the way in or out of the apartment building parking lot. Interestingly, the Leaves (the 3 and 4s) passed it without a second glance, "Dead rat on the left. Keep going, we have places to be." But the Tracks had only just visited the National Museum of Health and Medicine and it was plain to see the intestines (large and small) as well as the liver and stomach in a circle around it. It was pretty gruesome. But there it was and the children looked, and took it in, nodding. Even though I would have rather just kept walking like we did earlier when the Leaves saw and then ignored it. The Tracks stood there in a circle, nodding and looking at it too close for my comfort. "Yes, that's a thing." "That's what happened." "A car." Flat Rabbit, but in real life and with a rat instead of a rabbit.
Because developmentally, this is where young children are -- they sit easily with the facts, with the directness of things. A few weeks ago at the Rainbow Families Conference, one of the presenters talked about how the anticipation of dealing with a situation is often more distressing than just dealing with it. I think it is often that way with things that bring adults sorrow. It is hard for us to look directly at it because the sorrow we feel is hard to hold and to find ways to express it. Empathy is something that develops over time, through experience and modeling, sharing, and talking with children beginning in a place of where they are developmentally.
This means that over time, their responses will change, but for now, just the facts will do.