We found a dead bird at Forest School today. Well, actually, N. found the dead bird and brought it to me in her hands. I yelped a little (“Where did you find that?!?”) and then leaped for the soap and water. Once we’d scrubbed and dried our hands, we carefully transferred the bird to a bucket. As we did, N. asserted: “If we put water on it then it will come back alive right away.”
Questions and assumptions about life and death arise and reveal themselves all the time at Forest School. I wrote about one such time here, about how O.’s question, “What does dead mean?” so loaded with potential for deep thinking and inquiry learning, made me roar (internally) with excitement and the desire to pounce all over it.
N’s assertion today that putting water on the dead bird would bring it back to life again was another such moment. (And, actually, reminded me of how O’s question about death also led him to water, and how a group of students this past summer wondered whether water would make a stump decompose faster, and how another group of students just this Monday wondered whether water might make a fallen tree they wanted to climb on stronger for that purpose…it seems like kids have a really profound intuition about the connection between water and life!)
So we poured some water on the bird. By this point some other children had gathered around, and there was some debate about how much water would be necessary to revive the bird. When it didn’t come back to life “right away” as initially posited, N. and her friends agreed that what was needed was a little bit more water. Once they’d filled the bucket nearly to the brim to no effect, N. revised her theory again: “It will come alive in a little bit. Maybe 20 minutes.”
I’m always fascinated by the way kids accommodate for the curve balls experience launches at their theories. First N. was sure that it was just a question of more water, that that would bring the bird back. Then it was just more time. What experience constitutes reason enough to abandon a belief? Is it quality or quantity? Does there have to be a new belief ready and available to latched on to? What would have needed to have happened for N. (and friends) to abandon the belief that the bird would come back to life?
When the students next checked in on the bird, something had shifted.
T. said: “We need to keep it warm for it to get better.”
N. said: “We need to put water on it so it doesn’t die. It’s probably sleeping. It’s probably dead.”
D. said: “I got more soap to help the bird stay warm.”
J. said: “Water will make it survive.”
What was going on there? At first it seemed that everyone agreed that the bird was dead. Though we didn’t discuss or define what dead means, when there was talk of bringing it “back to life”, no one balked. But then at some point, the line between dead/alive/sleeping seemed to get blurred. Now it seemed that everyone agreed that the bird was in peril, and that something could be done to help it. Although, I guess they believed they could help it right from the beginning, in believing that they could bring it back to life.
What does all this mean in terms of what N. and her friends believe about death? Do they believe it’s an impermanent state? A fluid one? Somehow that’s a beautiful thought, to me. And where do we go from here? What would you do, as their teacher, or their parent? I’ll be sitting with these questions until next time…