Kids have a way of seeing the smallest of details in the world. While they often miss some big picture items, they never miss the puncture mark in the shared eraser, the cloud shaped like a volcano erupting, or the perfect rock that most of us would never give a second look.
We had another unexpected rainy morning today, pushing me back upstairs to change from my suede booties to my cowboy boots before heading out the door for work. By the time I was out on the blacktop for before school recess duty, the rain had stopped, but the ground was still wet and shiny. The time change has kids straggling in later than usual, giving me plenty of time for mental meanderings as I watched the few early kids play on the blacktop.
After recess duty, I spent a few minutes back in the classroom chatting with a few of my third graders, listening to their stories of the previous evening. When the bell rang, we headed out together to pick up the other students where we line up on the blacktop. We barely made it out the door when one my students noticed an incredibly tiny snail on the sidewalk in front of our classroom. Smaller than the fingernail on my pinkie, this snail was a perfect miniature model of those pesky snails often found in the garden. We all knelt low, noticing its perfect features, spiral shell, and gooey slime on the wet sidewalk. After taking a few photos, one of the students offered to carefully “save” it and move it from the sidewalk where it risked getting stepped on by the many students who would walk that hallway to a safer location on the nearby dirt. Carefully picking it up by holding the shell, the snail was relocated without incident.
Later in the day, the sun shone brightly and most students had shed their jackets to bask in the warmth of the almost spring sun. During lunch the kids had noticed that our school seemed to be in the flight path of a butterfly migration. Monarchs are familiar friends to our schoolyard where milkweed grows tall, so the kids thought the smaller butterflies they were seeing were baby monarchs. We walked out to the pollinator garden to see if we could get a closer look, but butterflies flittered by in twos or threes, staying above our heads rather than alighting on any plants. I’m pretty sure these were actually painted ladies…the same butterflies I had just seen in profusion in the desert over the weekend.
It always surprises me that these same students who never miss a tiny snail or the beauty of butterflies migrating overhead don’t seem to notice that they are standing on a classmate’s jacket with muddy shoes or that they just jumped in front of ten other children patiently waiting for supplies for a project.
They are perfectly self-centered and exquisitely altruistic, obnoxious and incredibly kind, thoughtful and infuriatingly rude…all rolled into one. Tiny snails and butterflies remind me to look closely and find those sometimes hidden endearing qualities rather than focusing on what so often is the most obvious to notice in the classroom. And I’m lucky, those same confounding small humans are also the reason I find myself paying attention to the smallest of details, appreciating the world through the eyes of children.
Oh, man, this, to me, is the perfect Slice. #1 – I appreciate the length. REALLY appreciate it. I’ve given up my Internet habits in general and have found a new-found delight in reading beyond 2 paragraphs. #2 – I NOTICE things in this Slice: Summary (?), Backstory, Moment – Moment, Thinking, BEAUTIFUL, soulful, meaningful closure.
Question: did you go back and tweak Intro? What was your process? .. I feel kinda embarrassed to ask, but here goes.. I am.. hitting.. “Post Comment”!!
(Thank you for this great experience!)
Hi Veronica. Thanks so much for your comments! Like so many of my posts, this one was inspired by the photograph I took of the snail this morning. Weirdly, this one began with the title. I was sure there was some connection between the tiny snail and the butterflies this afternoon…so I started writing. I wasn’t really sure where I was going, but that beginning was my original beginning (my students are rich fodder for writing–I was so annoyed about the tattling over the punctured eraser when what I really wanted was a serious conversation about the writing we were doing!) Something that has influenced my writing is Katherine Bomer’s The Journey is Everything:Teaching Essays that Students Want to Write for People who want to Read Them. I spent a whole summer a couple of years ago learning to write a real essay–and I’ve written a couple that I like. Thanks so much for your enthusiasm and appreciation!
I’ve the book and I’ve been to 3 or so of Katherine’s talks, so I get the vibe. (went to our WNP under Randy)
I guess I know what I’ll be doing this spring break and this summer, because essay has been on my mind for about 3 years now.. and I’ve got to start Katherine’s book, I’ve had it since it came out, but I’m waiting for that “special time.”
None like the moment, I guess.
See you later!
What a beautiful post. I love how you compared your students to the snail’s shell…all rolled into one. I’m also quite jealous of the palm trees on your playground. I’m stuck in the midwest and your pictures hold a lot more color than we’re currently enjoying here, so continue to notice those small details and the joys your students bring!
I am lucky to teach across the street from the beach. It’s truly beautiful. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment!
Love the story and the sentiment. I wish my playground was a beautiful as yours. I am jealous of your palm tree!
I love the use of photography in your post. Kids are amazing and when they notice those little things, it causes me to slow my life down and not be in such a hurry. Your ocean view, if I saw it correctly, is unbelievable.
Yes…I’m definitely lucky to teach across the street from the Pacific Ocean! It’s beautiful…and makes playground duty a lot more palatable!
Kim, I felt the same about my middle schoolers — they could be in awe of the frost blooming on the chain link fence while pushing for a longer recess for one more game of basketball. And like your first graders, fairness is of prime importance, while at the same time loyalty for friends — it’s ok for their friends to cut in line, but no one else. Teachers are lucky; we learn about humanity through our interactions with our amazing youth. And as for writing, my class was one of encouragement– finding the strengths in each piece and letting students identify the same strength elsewhere. Soon that was their practice: find or add their strengths. And learn and identify new “strengths,” the traits of good writing. When I read about Katherine’s book, I could see a similar idea: not a formula, but feedback together. Thanks for your model of thinking through while writing. ~ Sheri
Oh, do go slow,
keep a pace
that let’s you know –
with wonder –
only unfolds —
this invisible origami
of paperless creases
and stories, told —
our fields of vision
— Kevin, poem as comment in appreciation
Thank you Kevin! It really is special to get a poem as a comment! 🐌🦋
A beautiful reminder to remember who those small humans we teach really are- small humans! Kids with a long way to go and a gazillion questions to ask, things to see, and lessons to learn. Thanks for this post!