The Snail Playground

Elissa Calvin Featured, Jewish Life, Youth & Family — By on April 4, 2012 9:06 am

Room 310 has gastropods for pets.

Some preschool classes have fish or hamsters, we have snails and slugs.  And why not?  The children are fascinated by these slimers who are always in motion–Snaily, Slimey, Doggie, Cutie, and Scott.

We hold them every day, touch everywhere, probe gently. These are the eyes, these are the feelers, this is where the slime comes out that helps it move.

We research our new companions, and learn that snail eggs can come out of anywhere on their bodies.  One day, Snaily produced a white opaque ball from his head to much applause.

The children do not judge a life like we often do, and deem the creatures worthy of a playground.

Blue prints are made, plans are laid–this takes months.  Yes, 5 year olds can handle hammers and nails.  These new humans are deserving of our ultimate respect.

Finally, a three dimensional miniature community emerges.  The creatures are introduced immediately, and the children watch with wide eyed concern and hope.

“Will Slimey use the pool?  Will Cutie climb the ladder?”

Their innocence juices my heart, killing me and sustaining me at once.

Parents smile uncomfortably at our curriculum that centers around the leisure activities of gastropods.  I explain:

“But the children are learning science and caring for living things and working together and this and that…”

Still sometimes I wonder if we are doing the right thing.

I find myself sucked into the children’s world, and care for our little pets so much.  I crave holding them, feeling the slime trail that won’t wash off, the gnawing of their mouths like a baby’s fingernail on your skin, hoping in vain that Snaily who lost his shell will live…what is wrong with me?

One day a tragedy–tiny Cutie disappears.  Some surmise giant banana slug Slimey turned cannibal.  We all mourn together.  The children reminisce about the good times.

Weeks later, Alex approaches me in an agitated state.  Alex had never said much until his love for the snails gave him a voice.

“I found Cutie, I found Cutie!”  We all run over.  Alex’s eyes point towards his open palm.

“Look, I’m holding him right here in my hand!”

Unbelievably, a tiny translucent shell, its inhabitant long gone, rests in Alex’s hand.

“But where…where was he?” I breathe.

“In the plant next to the terrarium.  He must have escaped.”

We are silent in sadness and wonder.  Little Sophie speaks.

“If Cutie was living in the plant…and then he died in the plant…then the plant is now Cutie!”  Resounding “Yeahs!” all around.  The children happily water the plant, lovingly touch the leaves, return back to the terrarium.

I am struck mute, astounded by the leap of wisdom that has taken place.  Five year olds tackling the proverbial circle of life with greater ease than any adult I know.

I breathe and smile, no longer worrying what anyone thinks.

I now know what is right with us.

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