Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Visit from a Very Hungry Caterpillar

As you might have guessed from previous blogs, we are keen gardeners. Since we like to eat organic, we choose to grow a lot of our own produce. Like all organic gardeners we find it challenging and often frustrating trying to keep pests out of our veggie patch and fruit trees. Generally the culprits are fruit flies but this year we have had some new visitors- caterpillars.

Inspecting our hungry caterpillar
I was making my routine morning check of the patch and while inspecting the tomatoes I found an unwanted guest who had invited himself for breakfast- a green, plump caterpillar. At first I was annoyed--he'd eaten through many of the tomatoes and I could see damage on most of the leaves. However, I knew that Lachlan would be very excited to see a caterpillar, as Eric Carle's, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is one of his favourite books and also where I observed his first experience of representational play when he was reading the book to himself one day and pretending to make a caterpillar eat through the fruits on the pages. It was from this experience that his reading journey really blossomed and he began to explore and act out more and more images from books.

I gathered our little caterpillar friend and placed him in a clear jar and poked holes through the top for ventilation. I called Lachlan over to show him what was inside and he was so excited! He began giggling and pointing at the caterpillar and watched in fascination as it slinked its way around the jar. "He's just like The Very Hungry Caterpillar," I said. "Look at this tomato he ate through!" I showed Lachlan the tomato and he smiled with amazement. "Should we give him something more to eat?" Lachlan shook his head yes and his daddy suggested we put a large tomato leaf in the jar so the caterpillar could finish his breakfast. The caterpillar didn't waste anytime. Right away we crawled on the leaf and began nibbling away. Before we knew it he was eating so much that the bottom of the jar was filled with little caterpillar poos. I never knew a caterpillar could poo so much! This of course was of great fascination to Lachlan as well.

Lachlan took a nap and after he woke up he was surprised to see that the caterpillar had already finished half of the huge tomato leaf and was still eating. Lachlan sat and ate his lunch and insisted that the caterpillar sit at the table with him. He ate and watched the caterpillar eat. He also have the jar a little shake to see what would happen. The caterpillar clung to the leaf for dear life, survived the mighty toddler earthquake and resumed back to his eating rituals. I took out Lachlan's The Very Hungry Caterpillar book so he could look at it. He took the book over the the jar and began smiling and pointing at the caterpillar in the book and pointing to the one in the jar. I reminded him that the caterpillar is eating a lot so it can make a cocoon and turn into butterfly; this made him very happy and excited as he understood the possibility.

Each day we monitored our caterpillar and feed him well. On Tuesday we tried to switch up his food to add some variety and I put a lettuce and mint leaf in the jar. The caterpillar refused to eat all morning and searched the bottom of the jar. That evening we put another tomato leaf in the jar and he was happy again- eating and pooping as usual. Wednesday morning Lachlan insisted that we take the caterpillar with us where ever we went. He had gotten very attached. I told him that I'm sure his friends at our play sessions would love to see it so we'll bring it along. I also took The Very Hungry Caterpillar book to share with the class. Lachlan was very proud. Anytime someone walked over to the table to look at the jar he ran over and pointed inside to show them the caterpillar. All the toddlers were fascinated and enjoyed it when I shared the book with them. Lachlan helped in the reading by making smacking noises with his lips and wiggling his toy caterpillar along the pages and into the holes of the fruit. We talked about the caterpillar and how we hoped that it would also make a cocoon just like the one in the story.

Finding the same cocoon in The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The following week came and we continued to monitor our little hungry friend. Monday of that week he began to look very unwell' just like Eric Carle's caterpillar in the story. For two days he ate nothing, not even a fresh tomato leaf. He laid on the bottom of the jar and we had to wonder if he was going to make it or not. I thought we might be dead. Wednesday morning however we woke up to a lovely surprise. On the bottom of our jar was a cocoon! Over night the caterpillar had begun making his little house and by morning he was completely wrapped up. I couldn't wait for Lachlan to see. I only hoped he would understand what has happened and not be sad to see the caterpillar gone. When Lachlan looked in the jar he was astonished. "Look! Our caterpillar made a house around him. A cocoon!" I exclaimed. Right away Lachlan understood. He clapped and laughed. He trotted his little feet over to get his caterpillar book and turned it to the page with the cocoon and began pointing to both of them. Again he sat and ate his breakfast with his little cocoon next to him.
Pupa, Day 1

That morning we went to our play session again and shared our cocoon with our friends. The children were delighted to see the cocoon and the parents enjoyed the opportunity to talk to their children about what had happened to the caterpillar. When we got home set up Lachlan's table with a magnified glass and some books with butterflies, caterpillars and cocoons in them. I told him that the caterpillar inside the cocoon is now called a pupa; over his head I'm sure but we should never underestimate a children's ability to take in information. Lachlan was free to go to the table and explore the items. He enjoyed looking through the books and at all the different types of cocoons. I talked to him about how I was imagining what our caterpillar might look like once he emerges from the cocoon and becomes a butterfly.

A week went by and we patiently watched the cocoon. If Lachlan gave the jar a little shape, the tail end of the cocoon would react and wriggle. Two weeks approached and it was time for us to prepare for Christmas. We always go out of town and we intended to bring the jar with us so we couldn't miss the butterfly make its grand entrance into the world. Among all the hustle and bustle, we forgot. When we got to the beach house we wondered what would happen to our little friend- would we arrive home with a beautiful butterfly sitting on the twig or would it be dead or would we get lucky and it still be in a pupa state?

Well, I wish I had a beautiful happy ending for the story but I don't. We arrived home and I went to the kitchen to look in the jar. I was very happy to see that the cocoon had busted open; but where was the butterfly? I looked all around the jar and saw nothing. I inspected the cocoon again and it looked like possible there might have been a little bit of something inside but I couldn't tell because it was all dried up. A sad ending to such a hopeful story for a toddler. I didn't bother to show Lachlan. He don't think he'd understand what happened and he'd only wonder where the butterfly was and probably get frustrated. Thankfully since we'd been gone for awhile on holiday he forgot all about his cocoon and hasn't asked for it so that is where we are leaving it. Perhaps we'll find another caterpillar this summer and try again or next year will come around and Lachlan will be a bit more mature to try the experiment on his own and contemplate the results whatever they may be. It was a fun science experience for him though and it was wonderful for him to be able to make the connection from his book to the real world of mother nature. The joys of learning! Hopefully better luck for us next time...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Railway to Sucess

Lachlan is a drawer. He's like his father; as soon as the drawing tool is lifted, the wheels start churning and something is brought to life on paper. The moment Lachlan picked up his first crayon, at about 12 months, he looked like he was in his element; holding it, moving it across the paper- it all seemed to come so naturally to him. From then on we have always left paper and markers or crayons out for him to access. He naturally seemed to have a respect for their purpose and with this respect he left his artwork on the paper, not the walls or floors, thank goodness! However, if you give him permission, I think he'd use anything as his canvas; sidewalk chalk and our driveway bring him much joy and a paint brush and a tub of water make him happy as he paints the house, deck, dog, fence, etc outside. In front of his very eyes he watches his creation dry in the sun and quickly begins creating once more.

I believe it was around 17 months when Lachlan began drawing 'purposeful' drawings (though aren't they all purposeful to development?) Perhaps I should say recognisable. He started with circles. Most children before the age of 24 months will begin to draw in circular motions as it is a natural movement. At 17 months, Lachlan was far past this point. He had moved on to drawing complete, closed circles; something he practiced repetitively for weeks. I remember the first one I witnessed which he drew on a magnetic sketcher. I was so amazed and proud. He looked at me as to say, "well, yeah!" He must have been doing it awhile before I noticed. A few months later he moved on to triangles and squares and 3 weeks ago I was amazed when he was writing on the sidewalk and said, "Mama!" I looked over and after he was positive I was watching he drew a crescent and said, "Muuuun"(moon). I don't know why I am always so amazed; but I'm his mom and at the same time I'm a developmental specialist and I know that he is making connections and drawing representations beyond what I would expect for his age. On this note, it is also important to remember that all children develop at different rates and by six years of age the majority of them arrive to this year at about the same developmental level. So while it is fine to recognise that your child may be 'ahead of the game' for his age; it is important not to create a pre-molded image of what 'you think' your child will be like when they are six. Instead, focus on your child's uniqueness and be excited about what excites them!

Railway Tracks, 21 months
It is common knowledge in our household and circle of friends that Lachlan adores trains. How many boys don't at this age? For months Lachlan has demanded that we draw him trains and train tracks and now particular passengers on his trains. He'll tell me to draw; "mama," "daddy," "woof-woof," (dog), etc. Before we know it we have a whole string of trains covering an easel. Lachlan also likes to draw his own objects to the scenery. He will draw a wavy line and say, "Sssss" for snake. He'll add flowers and tell me that is what they are by saying "Mama!" and then giving them a nice sniff with his nose. Yesterday he was drawing in his sketch book and I was sitting next to him watching. He likes to make a few strokes and look at me to ensure that I am sharing in his work. (he's quite the demanding artist I must say!) I watched him as he drew two vertical parallel lines and then began to connect them with a series of horizontal lines. I continued to watch to see what he was doing. I could tell that he was being his usual self; drawing very purposefully and thinking about each stroke. As I watched him draw I began to think to myself that it looked just like something I had drawn him about 3 hours earlier on his mega sketcher. When he came to a pause I said, "wow! Lachlan. I like all your lines." He stopped, looked at me and said, "Mama!" and then took his finger ran it across his picture and said, "choo! choo!" My hunch was correct, he had drawn railway tracks! It was the first time I had seen him draw something purposeful with so much detail and it was a delight that he could express what he was creating with me. " That looks, like a nice railway, Lachie." I said. "Would you like a train to place on it?" He began to do his deep laugh which means, 'oh! yes!' I took out a foam train sticker and he held it in his hand and moved it up and down his track. He was delighted in his accomplishment, as was his mommy.

I think the important lesson to get out of these experiences is to listen to our children. It could have been easy for me to say, "Hey! You drew a railway!" What if Lachlan hadn't drawn a railway? What if it was a rainbow or a lizard? My suggestion might have altered his thinking and changed his conceptualization of  what a rainbow or lizard could look like. By blurting out 'that's a railway' the child may think, 'well I guess it can't be a rainbow or lizard.' And with that thought, a bit of creativity and imagination is lost--and for me and the child, a bit of sadness is created. Creativity and imagination bring things to life and when life is documented it has meaning; to the creator and to the observer. So I encourage you to encourage your children with some delicacy and respect to their creative process. As they say, "think before you speak" for words have meaning and your child counts on those words to help make sense of the world around him. As I've said in previous blogs it is best to hold our tongues and wait to see what they will offer. By using provocation, asking questions, we can provoke a response. We should never assume anything. Talk about the details of their picture or ask them to tell you about it. With children Lachlan's age it is more tricky as they have a very limited verbal vocabulary. If you give them the chance though they might surprise you and lead you to the right thought. With Lachlan it was by using his finger as a train to show it goes on the track and making the simple sound, "Choo!" Another child might have gone and picked up a toy train and put it on the tracks. Children are innovative and will show you this if you let them.

Well, it is late on this side of the world and our little artist is sleeping which is what I should be doing too. I know that another day full of creativity and imagination awaits me. As many of you know, being a parent can be exhausting but somehow I know Lachlan will stir up energy inside me tomorrow and remind me what it is like to be a child. That is where this pregnant mommy with a toddler finds strengths and motivation. Thank goodness for that! Until next time, goodnight. Choo! Choo!