Monday, December 17, 2012

Lessons from a Snail: Shut Up and Teach

I've been meaning to blog this since October. In September, Pamela and I headed out to the yard to study a dogwood bud. As most flowers bud in Spring, I thought Pamela might enjoy nature's little anomaly. We were delighted to find a garden snail clinging to a dogwood leaf! Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study suggested we build a little snailery. Since I didn't know how long our new pet would stay, I added some cuttlebone which I had on hand for our bird.

The Comstock book has some wonderful ideas for observing our snail. We watched it eat fruit; we watched it walk—or really glide—on one foot. We saw it climb the side of the glass jar and even cling upside down to a clear glass bowl. We studied the eyes and watched its reaction when we slightly touched one of the eyes. We did the same with the feelers. We saw the snail in the early stages of drying up when we did not offer quite enough water. We even set it on its side and watched the snail right itself. Snails have much in common with turtles: they move slowly enough for Pamela to process and keep up!

Since I'm always looking for something to show the kids in our church afterschool program, I decided to bring our pet snail for nature study after our Bible lesson. The children who have been in my class for the past few years weren't a bit surprised to learn I had a pet snail. The new kids were shocked and one cried out, "You have a BUG for a PET?"

The first thing we did was to gather around a large glass bowl. We simply watched the snail glide across the bottom of the bowl. I didn't do much teaching for the snail taught the children simply by doing what snails do best: move slowly. The students began to have little side conversations and, in essence, they were teaching nearly everything I would have said:

"Snails sure are slow!"

"I think it's opening its mouth!"

"What are those things?"

"Those are its eyes. Snails have alien eyes."

"Look at how it glides!"

"Do you think it can fit back in its shell?"

"Well, the shell is its house."

I didn't need to take an active role as the teacher for the children were doing all of the work––they were observing, thinking, asking, and answering. One turned to me and said, "Mrs. Tammy, I think it has another set of eyes on the bottom." So, I supplied the vocabulary word he needed, "Those are feelers. They are like fingers that touch everything."

Then, I turned the snail on its side, and the children watched it right itself. They were so enthralled that they asked me to do it one more time! Turning the snail on its side revealed the foot, which lead to more conversation.

"How many feet does it have?"

"A million?"


"I think it's one. Look at how it curls up its foot."

After this, we handed out art supplies and children depicted the snail: watercolors, markers, and crayons. The boy who knew the most about snails was not interested in illustrating it. The snail inspired him to draw a diamond-backed rattler. He is the same person who said he could not draw three years ago!

While they were working on their art, I turned on Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. One child sighed and said, "Miss Tammy, I wish I could live with you for a week." That comment was sweet, but convicting. My role as teacher is not to be the mediator between the child and the world. My role is to lay out the materials and ideas and see what they do with them. Am I the showman to the universe or the one encouraging them to lay hold of interests when they leave church?
Our error is to suppose that we must act as his showman to the universe, and that there is no community between child and universe except such as we choose to set up.

Interests––Have we many keen interests soliciting us outside of our necessary work? If we have, we shall not be enslaved by vapid joys.

Interests are not to be taken up on the spur of the moment; they spring out of the affinities which we have found and laid hold of. And the object of education is, I take it, to give children the use of as much of the world as may be.
~ Charlotte Mason, Volume 3, Page 219
I hope that our time together has taught them to grab hold of what interests them and to develop life-long passions that add meaning to life.

Two weeks later, Pamela and I met a distant ancestor of our snail at the National History Museum in Gray, Tennessee. We added the fossilized shell to our nature notebook entries for our pet nail.


Bonnie said...

Again and again , you pull me back to
great truths. Even the observation that snails are SLOW is not to be taken lightly because many have not even seen how slow a snail is!

walking said...

Bonnie, and don't you love how our Creator hid these lessons in something as "insignificant" as a snail? :-)