St Aiden's Homeschool – Our Other Blog

April 26, 2009

Caterpillars and Kids – Appreciating Our Wildlife


Recently I came across this wonderful quote from Bradley Millar: “Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar.”

It resonated with me strongly, knowing what I know about both caterpillars and kids. I have spent my professional life watching kids. I know their boundless curiosity, their innate desire to explore, and their fascination with critters and creepy-crawlies. I also recognize their inability to look ahead and see the results of their actions. I know that, unintentionally usually, children’s exploration of tiny things can result in hurt for the creatures, and kids’ reactions of surprise, confusion, and sometimes remorse.

On the fewer occasions when I have seen children deliberately hurt tiny creatures, it has usually been because they are fearful of what they don’t understand, and no adult has ever helped them know their responsibility to the natural world around them. In this world where we humans are supposed to be the smartest species, it behooves us to help our children assume their rightful responsibilities of protecting the living things around us.

It will ultimately help our world, fragile as it is. But it will certainly help our children see themselves as part of something larger than themselves. It is the nature of young children to be egocentric. Slowly, through experiences and explicit teaching, they move to being able to appreciate others’ needs and rights. In coming to understand, appreciate, and know the stories of living things around them, children develop what Rachel Carson called “a sense of wonder.”

The ability to marvel at life processes, and to appreciate the many forms of beauty in our world, will sustain children through the routine or dreary parts of their lives. As we encourage children to explore with gentleness, and care for tiny creatures, they learn to control the impulse to smash and overpower, a very important kind of self-control indeed.

As we give them information and help them make connections between the caterpillar and the butterfly, we expand their understanding of the world around them. As we validate their curiosity and help them learn skills for studying nature, we aid their understanding of what is important. “No, you can’t keep it,” we say. “What would that caterpillar need to be healthy?” Slowly the child learns to put aside his own wants in favor of what is best for another, no matter how small.

So when you teach respect for all things, even something as small as the caterpillar, your child is coming to be a caring, compassionate person. Your child is also coming to see herself as part of the larger human community to whom is entrusted the care of this earth, and all the creatures on it.

Those are important lessons indeed, all coming from teaching your child not to step on a caterpillar.

USED WITH PERMISSION: C Growing Child 2009 Please feel free to forward this article to a friend.


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