“We sometimes do weird things at forest school,” I occasionally think to myself. Realizing that some parents may also have these thoughts, I decided to explore why we do some unusual things.
Like exploring dead animals.
In our society, most of the dead animals we see are roadkill and we don’t pay much attention to them. Other ones seen are often stepped around or avoided. However, at forest school, we take time to look at dead animals. (Don’t worry, we don’t usually touch them - only poke them with a stick.) There are two main reasons we do this:
A dead animal allows us to have a closer look at an animal we may not otherwise get to see. I’m thinking of the dead possum we found in a tree last winter. I’d never seen a possum up close – neither had many of the children. On another occasion there was a dead mouse on the trail. Last week, it was a dead fish scooped up from the pond. Usually they run (or swim) so quickly that we can’t get a good look at them. These occasions allowed us to get a closer look at the animals that live in our parks – learning about what they look like and how they adapt to the environment.
More importantly, the question of why the animal died always brings up great discussions. The children are usually full of questions. And these questions need a space to be heard, shared and thought through. It is interesting to hear children’s thoughts about why animals die - from cancer to starvation to “maybe it’s just sleeping.” Discussing death of an animal to which the children had no attachment can be very beneficial as they learn to understand the causes and finality of death. At forest school, we share ideas and are respectful of others’ thoughts – whether they are philosophical, faith-based, or based on creative thinking.
At forest school through observing the environment, looking at models or reading books such as “Plant Secrets”, we talk about life cycles of trees, plants and animals. But we quickly notice that death is commonly missing from the animal life cycle. But at forest school, life and death are common parts of our weekly experience.
We are aware that our actions have potential to cause harm. Children rescue worms and snails from the trail. We show them how to hold nymphs gently so that their fragile bodies are not damaged. When a dead animal is seen, questions of what happened to it are asked within the context of our weekly lessons of caring for the earth and being respectful of life. Hearing stories such as “Hey Little Ant” and “Everything is Connected” further emphasize the influence that we humans have on the ability of animals to survive.
So why do we look at dead animals at forest school?
We acknowledge and make space for children to talk about the causes of death, and to acknowledge our potential impact on the environment around us. It may seem weird to look at dead animals and talk about them, but these are important life lessons and conversations for all of us.
by Giselle Carter
Hammers, Huge Swings, and the Freedom to Play