Learning about death.
My introduction to Forest School was a friend telling me her toddler had stroked a dead mole there. Being a new mum and having always been freaked out by dead things I was horrified. Fast forward 11 years, and experiences I’ve had as a Forest School leader have shown me the immense value of looking at dead creatures.
An opportunity to observe
It is likely that a dead mole is the first mole most children will see. Moles are usually underground! Therefore, a dead specimen is the only chance they get to observe it first hand. Consequently, they might pick up on what’s the same or what’s different to the images they’ve seen in books or on screen. For instance, a student might remark on its big feet. This in turn, is a chance to discuss adaptations. Many other relatively common wild animals are either so fast or so timid that children never get close to lives ones. For this reason, children relish the opportunity to examine the anatomy of these animals in detail.
At Forest School we often discuss life cycles: seeds, tadpoles, frogs, eggs, birds, larvae, dragonflies. However, in our culture we less commonly talk about the death part of the cycle. Yet, death is one of life’s few certainties. Furthermore, young children are often fascinated by it. Finding a dead animal opens up a wealth of discussion. Moreover, talking about death in relation to a creature you aren’t emotionally attached to allows you to explore it in a more objective way. Here are some ideas for prompts:
What is death?
How did it die?
How does it make you feel?
In what way should we honor it, deal with the body?
It’s important to hold space and respectfully listen to the children’s ideas. Some may be faith based, others may turn to science or fantasy to help them answer these questions. Finding a dead pheasant led to a beautiful session. The children decided they wanted to hold a ceremony to bury the bird. They then made memorials for it.
In conclusion, rather than avoiding death by removing animals bodies from the Forest School area before the children arrive we should embrace it for the learning experience it is.