At the beginning of June, something exciting happened at kindergarten. We welcomed a new friend into our whānau, Bluey, our blue tongued lizard. One of the reasons we wanted a pet at kindergarten was following on from looking after our tadpoles and frogs (you can read our blogpost about them here). When we had the tadpoles, which of course turned into frogs, we could see first-hand how the children were experiencing many learning opportunities, including learning to empathise as they cared for and interacted with the small creatures.
Bluey our lizard, came to us as just a baby, and has been warmly welcomed into our whānau. The children simply adore him. When he arrived, one of the first things we set about doing was thinking of a name. There were many options suggested from all our whānau and children, and after a vote – Bluey won.
Bluey is still only a baby, so every week we take the opportunity to measure him. It’s been amazing to see how much he has grown. In 10 weeks Bluey has grown an incredible 13cm, from 26cm to 39cm. The interest in Bluey along with the care and knowledge the children have for him, continues to grow each day. From day one many were wanting to stroke Bluey, help me make his food, and clean out his terrarium.The children have been great leaders even with their own whānau, they have not hesitated to hold Bluey, when in fact many adults were a little more reluctant!
|...to this - 39cm - and still growing!|
Shortly after arriving, Bluey had his first skin shed with us and the children were fascinated. As you can imagine there were lots of questions and a fair amount of concern for Bluey. Was this normal? Did it hurt him? Was he dying? Is this how he changes his clothes? These questions lead to lots of in-depth discussion about Bluey’s skin and this is when many children observed how he also appears to change colour. Sometimes Bluey’s skin is orangey in colour, sometimes it’s almost grey and at times it appears brown. Why this happens I am leaving the children to continue investigating together. For the moment, we are playing around with our thinking and coming up with ideas. Basuru suggested just today, ‘So I think that in the winter the stripes will be orange and in the summer the stripes will be grey. He’s grey now because it’s summer today (it was a particularly warm winters day), but look, if you see, Bluey also has a lot of black on him’.
As we look after Bluey, and I encourage the children to observe him – to see if he likes something, does he prefer us to be quiet or noisy?, is he content?, or scared?, we often engage in some observational drawing of him. This is a tool we use a great deal at Mairtown. The simple action of sitting down and drawing something that is in front of us, encourages us to study this particular thing carefully and in-depth. In the words of Kolbe (2009) observational drawing encourages children to make more intricate drawings than they do from memory alone, often leading to joyful discoveries. It is part of the process of ‘learning to see’.
Here is some of the conversation and subsequent discoveries the children have noticed through the observational drawing of Bluey.
Elsie: I noticed that he has black on him.
Aya: I notice that he can walk backwards and he walks only slowly.
Isla D: I see he has a blue tongue and he likes to climb.
Adam: I can see that he has 5 fingers like me.
Matthew: I notice how much he grown, he’s bigger than the other term.
Arlo: Yes he’s bigger, he longer, he’s very long now.
Amelia: Look if I measure him, he's bigger than my arm now.
Amelia: Look if I measure him, he's bigger than my arm now.
Juno: He’s got stripes, all the way down to his tail.
Isla T: But look Juno, a stripe goes the other way on his face, and he is scaly, there are lots of scaly bits on his head.
As we talked about what we noticed soon our conversation moved onto what we love about Bluey?
Aria: I love his stripes.
Isla D: And I like touching him.
Nika: I love looking after him. We look after him in his cage all the time. Sometimes we get him out so he can have a play around.
Isla D: And a stoke.
Nika: He does like having a stroke. We also need to give him food, I like feeding him.
Elsie: Yes, we need to do that, we give him apples, bananas and cat food.
Archie: He doesn’t just need food. We need to keep him warm in his tank. He has a red heater for that.
McKenzie: And he has hay to sleep on to keep him warm and he likes to sit on his rock and watch us.
The animal is a conduit for learning to be human: Some propose that it is only through the animal that we recognise our humanity (Jill Bone, 2003).
One thing I have really enjoyed watching is the growing empathy from the children that comes from having an animal to look after. I have been so very impressed with all our tamariki and how gentle and concerned they all are for Bluey’s well-being. It is the children who are the first to recognise, and then remind one another, if they are being too rough when they handle or stroke Bluey. The care, sensitivity and responsiveness to such a small animal has been truly heart-warming to observe. Of course, many of our children have animals at home so may be used to looking after pets and readily and eagerly share this knowledge, but for many the responsibility of caring and thinking about something other than themselves, is very new.
Having a pet…gives children the opportunity to observe, interact and learn about animals. It can be a valuable part of a child’s education and care experience, enriching their learning about nature, ecology and relationships (Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority).
Empathy is such an important part of how we live and function in society, something that I believe needs to be developed and role-modelled within our children, yet can often be forgotten and not considered important or relevant. However, research tells us, ‘Empathy, the ability to understand others and feel compassion for them, is arguably the most defining human quality – setting us apart from…other animals. Without it, we couldn’t function in social areas such as schools… and office workplaces that are the cornerstones of our society… it is at its simplest, awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people. It is a key element of emotional intelligence the link between self and others, because it is how we as individuals understand what others are experiencing as if we were feeling it ourselves. Empathy goes far beyond sympathy, which might be considered ‘feeling for’ someone. Empathy, instead, is ‘feeling with’ that person, through the use of imagination (world.edu global education network, 2016).
Our children at Mairtown play a huge role in looking after Bluey, something we want to continue to foster and encourage. They are learning to predict his needs by thinking about matters from the perspective of Bluey, which is an amazing skill to have. We think Bluey is one very lucky lizard to have so many children who love him. Or in the words of Mayson ‘I love Bluey so very very much, I just have to kiss him to let him know’.