Thud went his foot on the spider and Olivia cried, "You killed Charlotte!"

"Allowables," Nikki Giovanni, poet. A page in her book, Chasing Utopia.

I am sitting in circle with children in a preschool class at Dublin Montessori Academy. Suddenly, a garden spider makes a dash in an attempt to hide under the shelves. 

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. He 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 with the dilemma of being afraid of a spider. I share a story from another circle of children.

Years earlier while teaching a class of 9 – 12-year-olds at Center Montessori School, I had another spider visit during circle time. 
Kristopher, a student and proclaimed 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 classroom pets: two gerbils, a red-toed frog, and a rabbit.)

Sometime during circle that garden spider found its way to Sissy’s leg. A student noticed and cried out, “Sissy, Kris’ spider is on your leg!” Sissy doesn't scream, but I squawk as she involuntarily flexes 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 pause.

I let Jake and the students know that I felt startled, scared, and glad that Kristopher's spider didn’t land on me and that I was 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.

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.)

I pause. 

"Children, 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 nor connected the study of biodiversity to the Animal and Plant Kingdom studies. As I promise to bring these lessons to circle soon, Will asks, “Is the Cycle of Life lesson like photosynthesis?" I respond, "It's like it in that it's about things coming together and creating an effect."

I briefly explain what I mean, "For example, when bees get nectar from a flower, pollen ends up on their abdomen and when they fly to the next flower a little of that pollen scatters on the flower. That is the way fruits and vegetables grow. The bee, while seeking its food, 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. 

"How can we support the life and work of spiders that accidentally end up in our classroom?" 

The children have ideas. "Let them 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. He demonstrates. 

"Use a cup and piece of paper to gently capture the insect. Take the spider outside." 

We place index cards and cups on the shelf to be ready to help spiders and other insects. It's a practice of being kind to all living things.

(First published on 3/9/11.)