Jake sees it, jumps up and lands his foot on top with a thud. As he smiles, Olivia cries out, “You killed Charlotte!”
Jake pauses, eyes and mouth open likely connecting to Charlotte’s Web, the book I was reading out loud after lunch and says, “It was headed for Lily. It would bite her!” Then he adds, "It's a scary spider."
I understand Jake’s feelings and empathize the dilemma of being afraid of a spider by sharing a story:
Years earlier while teaching a class of 9 – 12 year olds at Center Montessori School, I had another spider visit during circle time.
You see, Kristopher, a student and young arachnid researcher, brought a garden spider to class and placed it in a large topless aquarium that held the class turtle.
(The children relate to this part of the story because we have two gerbils, a red-toed frog, and a rabbit as classroom pets.)
Sometime during circle that garden spider found its way to a girl named Sissy’s leg. A student notices and cries out, “Sissy, Kris’ spider is on your leg!” Sissy doesn't scream but I do as she involuntarily reflects her leg and the spider lands on Vance’s shirt.
Kristopher quickly grabs it and puts it back in the aquarium.
I look around the circle and notice wide-eyed listening.
I tell Jake that I felt startled, scared, and glad that Kristopher's spider didn’t land on me and that I'm also glad the spider wasn't hurt as it hurled across the circle.
I turn to Olivia.
"I see your tears." (A couple other children are crying too.) "I'm sad that the spider is dead." Olivia gets up and walks to the peace table to cry some more.
Jake quietly sits down next to Miranda. "And I'm sad for Jake, because I know he was trying to be helpful when we were afraid and now we realize that this little creature that breathes just like you and I do is not living anymore." Miranda hugs Jake. Deena says, "Sorry Jake."
"We can have a funeral," says Will. (We later have a memorial and put the spider in the garden outside.)
"Children," I say, "when something uncomfortable happens, there is usually a lesson for us."
I realize and admit that I have not yet told them the Cycle of Life lesson or connected the study of biodiversity to the Animal and Plant Kingdom studies. As I promise to bring that lesson to circle this week, Will asks, “Is the Cycle of Life like photosynthesis?" I respond, "It's like it in that it's about all things working together."
I briefly explain what I mean, "For example, when bees get nectar from a flower, pollen ends up on their abdomen and they fly to the next flower that pollen ends up on the flower of the next plant. That is the way fruits and vegetables grow. The bee helps the plant that helps us by making food to eat."
I say, "Let's get back to the spider and what happened today."
I pause and take a breath.
"How can we support the work of spiders that accidentally end up in our classroom?"
The children have ideas like they can live in the classroom. A child offers to open the door so a spider can find its way outside. And then this creative suggestion from Jamie: choose someone to guard and take found insects outside where they like to be.
"Use a cup and piece of paper to gently capture the insect. Take the living creature outdoors."
We put paper and cups on the shelf to be ready to help spiders. Hurting them no longer made sense.