The other day my sister mentioned how some of her students were crushed when another student killed a spider in class.( Score: Ms. Foley 1) My friend followed that comment with, "Yeah, I was pretty sure our relationship was over when I killed a spider and mentioned it to her." (Score: Friend -1)
Each year I put my passion of kindness into my lesson plans on spiders. I try to instill an understanding of how the earth, and all its residents, are interconnected. And how we don't need to fear things out of misunderstanding. How we should be kind to all living things.
It goes without saying that the unit starts with many friends telling me how they routinely crush spiders, bugs or insects. What's the big deal, you might ask, "it's just a bug." I find it a very big deal. I see that a lack of caring, for life in general, leads to less empathetic kiddos. Kiddos that are less empathetic don't see the big deal when the line is crossed into animal abuse (overt or merely rough handling). They are not concerned when a stray kitten is injured in the trailer park because, "it's just an animal." Yet, it is well known that animal abuse can be a pre-cursor to abuse in general.
Big step? Why take the chance. Teaching kids to be KIND is a virtue that should be embraced and appreciated. Curiosity in the world around them is great. As long as said curiosity doesn't include destruction. Our kids need to learn that being respectful, in essence being kind, is what we should strive for. Respect for the Earth involves being kind to plants (living), insects (living), animals (living), and humans (living). Do you see the connection here? How we act on one group or specie transcends to the next, and the example we set for our kids is likely to become their basis for all further interactions.
I even take it a step further in the classroom. Beating up stuffed animals, or toy babies, is not allowed. The kids will routinely say, "but it's not real, why can't I smack it against the floor?" When we get our kids to think about why it's not ok, and talk about why it's not ok, that is when they begin to understand the connection themselves. Meanness, whether through actions or thoughts, is not ok. It leads to the assumption that meanness is a quality that we approve of, when we should not.
My ultimate goal is to teach about spiders for opinion writing, lifecycle knowledge, knowledge of scientific facts and future occupations. It is also my goal to quell fears and anxiety young children have about spiders in general. Yet in the end the most important lesson comes from the conversations we have about, "Fred." Fred is whatever spider takes up residence in our classroom. Always small and innocuous Fred gives a name, and therefore meaning, to the life of the object--in this case, an arachnid. Fred is living his life, minding his business, as we are. My kiddos go from freaking out about Fred/wanting to kill Fred, to ignoring Fred/saying "hi" and leaving Fred alone. Parents thank me when their over anxious kiddos no longer freak out, but instead explain facts about spiders.
So each time I hear one of my former, or current, students speaking up for not killing a bug or spider I give myself a point. It's my passion, it's important, and I'm changing the world...one kindergartener at a time...
PS--I tell my students, as well as their parents, that by no means am I abdicating for taking a spider as a pet. Or petting a spider, or otherwise engaging in dangerous activities. My goal is one of understanding and respect.