I set out into the forest to meet the children on a beautiful warm and sunny afternoon. As I walked through the forest I came across an extremely hurt squirrel, I wondered what the children would feel and think. As I approached the children and other educators it was clear I had come across something caused me to feel sadness. The children had rushed over, once Krystal said “I wonder what happened to Cristina”. I knelt down on the ground as the children gathered around. I expressed my empathy through my words and body language. The children naturally became eager to rush over and help the squirrel. As their excitement began to rise I expressed my thoughts and feelings on how I felt they needed to be bring calmness to the squirrel because it appeared to be in a delicate state. The children were extremely curious: at first they tried to poke the squirrel, get really close and even try to touch it. As we expressed our concerns about their actions the children began to wonder what was wrong with squirrel. “I think he’s sick”, “he’s still breathing so he could have a cold”, “he so fell out of the tree and broke his leg”, “Maybe another animal pushed him.” All these wonders, concerns and empathy on how they were going to help the beautiful creature was inspiring. We thought together that it would be a good idea to say our goodbyes to the squirrel and let it relax and get comfortable. The children thanked the squirrel, loved the squirrel, blew the squirrel kisses and walked away.
As we ventured to the dock, C’s heart filled with sadness and pain, the look in his eyes, how he held his heart and the way his body was bent over as he sadly walked around saying “poor little squirrel, I really want to see him again.” I reached out to C and told him I would walk over with him if he wanted to have a moment alone with the squirrel. C sat with the squirrel and expressed his feelings of sadness and genuine concern for the tiny animal of the forest. C theory was that the squirrel had fallen out of the tree and broke his “tiny leg”. C was able to share a similar personal experience he had, with the squirrel. He expressed his deepest sadness “I’m so sorry this happened to you, I hope you had fun playing in our forest”. This moment made my heart feel full and eyes tear up from the beauty of C’s heart and empathy he so openly was able to express.
I feel it’s important to express emotions of empathy, which is why I felt it was important to share my experience with the children. At times adults try to “shelter” children from these experience so they don’t feel “sad” or at times may feel that these experiences will harm children. I feel the complete opposite, children need these experiences in order to know its OK to feel and honour a life that is passed. The children see the forest as “our forest” a place that they know well, a sense of comfort, a sense of home. As educators we must honour this and provide them with all “our forest” as to offer. When we provide children with these powerful experiences and an open- ended environment we open their minds to authentic learning experiences that are natural and realistic.