Mary Baxter felt that the squirrels needed some space and asked the children to play away from the trees. After some time, the children's play returned to the trees to retrieve leaves. It was then that the unresponsive bodies of the young squirrels were found.
I watched the faces of the children as they tried to comprehend what they were witnessing. Young children respond to hard experiences with a multitude of emotions. Often they are very open to their emotions and release immediately...anger and/or sadness. Sometimes it takes some time to process and they move forward with their play and other times their emotions comes out with a giggle or joke. Really, it is not too different from the rest of us.
Our class felt many emotions.
One of the hallmarks of our education at Sabot, which I am also learning to do in my own life as I grow older, is to sit with the hard feelings. Sometimes our inclination is to run fast and far but that doesn't make the feelings go away it just shifts them from the surface to the depths of our being where they can no longer be accessed.
In that spirit, we asked the children to come to circle and then invited our eight grade reading buddies to join us. We felt that the eighth grade would frame the conversation in a way that would be meaningful to the Kindergarten.
Transcript of a conversation regarding the death of two young squirrels
Caroline: I have been to four funerals and I am very shy and one was grannie, uncle AC and my Marmies’ cousin. I was getting bored and so I wish I went into the nursery.
Charlie: Rattlesnakes don’t live in Virginia.
Shayna: I have seen a dead squirrel when I was in the preschool.
Bryce: I know how to bury a dead squirrel because I buried a cardinal.
Annabel: A big bird might of got them. The snake and the squirrels.
Charlie: Maybe a big cat climbed up the tree and hurt the squirrel.
Bryce: I once saw a dead squirrel in my back yard.
Julia: Once a dead squirrel died in my yard and my dog Lineaus ate him.
Tristan (an eighth grader): What do you think would be the best way to remember the squirrels?
Caroline: We could draw them.
Eve: You could pick a name for them.
Zoey: We could write a name on each squirrel.
Cole (an eighth grader): You could a marker there to remember what happened there and you could remember it each day.
Kate (an eighth grader): If you buried them would their families know what happened to them?
We could make a grave for them. To make a grave you just dig a hole and we could put a sign please don’t go near the squirrels.
Eve: We should of put a parachute before they died do they could get back to their grave.
If they really liked coming up and down the tree we should bury them there.
Dig a hole and put them in a hole with a scarf.
Evan (an eighth grader): I work with a woman who rehabilitates animals. She receives many baby squirrels. If the baby squirrels die she has grave in her backyard where she buries them. Baby squirrels cannot always judge the distance between the branches. They have depth perception issues.
Samuel: Maybe when the baby squirrel died he was born without his eyesight and when he jumped from a tree he feel because there was not a tree.
Evan (an eighth grader): When babies are first born they are pink and their eyes are closed and they stay in the nest. The squirrels look like they were about a month old.
Mary: Lets return to the comment Kate made. How do you think their families feel?
Scarlett: I think that they are very sad.
Eve: We could write a sign that says no squirrel here and yes squirrels here on the place that we buried them.
Cal: They may not be able to read.
Eve: So let’s draw the squirrels with a big circle and line through it. We could put nuts under the signs so they (their family) could find them.
Evan (an eighth grader): A long time ago they would bury humans in a grave with gold and food so they would have money and food after they died.
Caroline: In Egypt, after a king or queen died in the first tomb they would put all their jewels in one grave and in the other tomb they would put the body.
So in one tunnel there would be nuts and in the other grave we would put the squirrels.
We could put blankets in the grave so it would be soft and rocks around the grave so we would know where it was.
Samuel: We could make a tunnel and then put nuts to the top of the tunnel so the family could find the dead squirrels.
Julia: We could have one hole with the squirrels holding each other.
Myles (a middle school teacher): There was a mummy at the VMFA. There was an x-ray machine next to it and there was bird buried with the mummy. They were both wrapped together.
Caroline: I have been to where Charlie’s mom works and there is a big person like an adult who is wrapped up like a mummy. They put a trap inside the grave to catch bad guys who are trying to steal the money.
Evan (an eighth grader): I have read that in some cultures they plant a tree on top of the grave. As the body breaks down it creates food for animals and insects. Plant a small tree on top of the squirrels and it creates food for other creatures to eat and healthy soil for the tree.
Zoey: My pet died and I learned that it was good that they died because they are in a way better place out there than down here.