on death and dying

At our centers time meeting I was picking clothespins out of the bag, calling children, and asking them where they wanted to work, when Pumpkin raised his hand and waved it around urgently.  I thought he was going to tell me which center he wanted to work at, to which I would have replied, “honey, wait until I pull out the clothespin with your name on it, and then I’ll ask you where you want to work.”

“Yes, Pumpkin?”

“Teacher, I don’t want to die!  I don’t want to die.”  He shook his head and then looked at his lap.  Yikes.  Not what I was expecting.

“Oh, honey, you’re not going to die for a really really really long time.  It’s going to be okay.”  I had to keep pulling out clothespins and calling names, but finally I got to him.  “Pumpkin, where do you want to work?”

“Art.  But I don’t want to die.”

“I know, it’s scary to think about.  Come here, honey.”

He stood in front of me.  “If I die my mom and dad and brother won’t have me around anymore.”  He looked like he was going to cry.

“Do you know someone who died?”  He nodded.  “Who?”

He mumbled.  “Who died?” I asked again.  He pointed.  It was a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Oh, you’re talking about Dr. King?!”  He nodded again, and this time really looked close to tears.

“Do you want to sit on my lap?”  He nodded, then got on my lap and sighed.  “Pumpkin, it was really sad when Dr. King died.  But I don’t usually think about that.  I like to think about his life.  Did you know that he was a daddy?  He used to play with his kids, and read stories to them, and tuck them in at night.  And he did a lot of wonderful things for us.  Remember how we talked about how black people couldn’t go to the same schools with white people?  And they had to sit at the back of the bus, and they had to drink from different water fountains and swim in different pools?  That was terrible, and mean.  Dr. King helped change that.  He made this world a better place, and that’s what I like to think about when I think about him.”

Pumpkin grinned, and hopped off to go to math to make a snowman and count the buttons.  Zoom!  He was all better, and I was overwhelmed, once again, by what a privilege it is to be a preschool teacher some days.

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11 thoughts on “on death and dying

  1. What a great story. I stopped mentioning MLK’s assassination several years ago because that was the part of the story the kids tended to focus on.

    I agree that teaching preschool is an unparalleled privilege, especially when we get to have these kinds of conversations with the children.

  2. I am a new preschool teacher (as in… a week hired new!) I just found your blog! Can you tell me what you use to put the clothes pins on to dictate where children go? My program requires an hour of free choice time and it’s stressing me out!

    Love the story. : ) I recently read a book about MLK to a KG class that did not include the death part. However, they all told ME that part of the story anyways!

  3. Susan, I just searched my blog and can’t find my post about my centers time pocket chart, so I’ll try to explain it instead. I have a pocket chart with picture cards that identify the different centers (blocks, art, math, sand, etc.). Next to each card are some sticker dots. Blocks has room for four people, so there are four dots. The reading corner only has room for two, so there are two dots.

    I have a bag of clothespins with the children’s names written on them. I pull one out of the bag, read the name, and ask the child where he/she wants to work. He tells me, gets his clothespin, and goes over to the pocket chart to put it on a dot next to the card for the center where he wants to work.

    I let them change centers when they want to, but they have to go move their clothespin, first. If there’s no room where they want to go, they have to find a different center.

    Does that make sense?

  4. I had a similar conversation with the kids today when reading a book about Abraham Lincoln. In the book it said the mom passed away. Oh jeez, “did she have a fever?” ” how high was it?” ” Was she throwing up ?” Oh man I had to back pedal and really sort things out. I hope no nightmares happen tonight.

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