Last fall, we went to a local park for a nature hike and a close look at wildlife before winter set in. Most of the wildlife we saw were insects and spiders. We saw some squirrels and some faraway birds, but mostly what we saw was bugs.
I had the kids pretty primed for our insect investigations. We had done a lot of looking closely at all kinds of animals so far and had many classroom visitors - which we dutifully released after spending a little time observing and learning from them. We had hatched mosquitos, watched butterfly larvae metamorphose, photographed bird prints on our playground, looked closely at our wonderful eastern box turtle, Angelo.
One of my little guys had these clear plastic goggles of which he was pretty proud. He wore them everywhere. He played dodgeball on the playground with them to protect his eyes from dirt (not that anyone ever had a problem with flying dirt). He wore them to traffic circle a time or two because you just never knew about rocks and cinders coming out from under car tires. You get the picture. They were cute on him and he liked them. I figured he'd grow out of them or they would begin to chafe or something.
So, off to the park for some "insectigations". We had our clipboards, white paper for sketching, lined paper and pencils for taking notes. We were ready. My little buddy had on his goggles, of course. He wasn't going anywhere without them. When I asked him about the goggles on this day he said, "You just don't know about wild flies."
"Oh, what do you mean?" I asked.
"Well, you wouldn't want any wild flies to land in your eyes and lay eggs in there, would you? The fly eggs might hatch and then you'd REALLY be in trouble!"
"You're right, of course. I wish I had a pair."
"Really? Because you could wear mine if you want to."
"No, that's okay. You wear them. You thought of it first."
Over the past few weeks a little girl in our room has been having stomach aches. Every day she would complain. "Mr. O. it really hurts today," she would say as soon as she walked in. Her mom is very aware of the problem. She had been to the doctor several times about this issue and they are trying different medicines.
Now it seemed to me that there were patterns emerging about this stomach pain. It would hurt when she first got there every morning, just before math, and just after (not before or during) recess. Hmmm.
I didn't doubt her pain. It was real, but there were definitely patterns emerging. She would be laughing and carrying on at lunch, playing hard at recess and, as soon as we came in, her stomach ache would reemerge. I asked the school nurse about this and she mentioned somatazation, or changing anxiety into physical symptoms. She told me that coaching the child into not talking about her discomfort so much would probably lead to less physical pain. Made sense.
I noticed other children doing this too. One can never tell when someone else's pain is real and I didn't want to take any chances but all of this outloud talk about pain was taking on momentum. "Mr. O'Keefe, I've really got a headache... My foot hurts from running so much... This hangnail is killing me." It was catching. Several kids were beginning to share their aches and pains. Often I responded with something like, "Really? I've got a little headache too. What a coincidence," or, "Yeah? I get stomach aches too. I hate that," and just moved on.
Second graders are like that. Sometimes the momentum that is a part of who they are is very positive. The science area may take over exploration time and we have many wonderful observations reported. Or chess may become the thing to do for for a while and you could walk into the room and see five or six chess games at once during exploration. At other times, less desirable things take over - like talking about pain.
So we just had to ride it out. I tried to give sympathy but not send kids to the office; let kids know I cared but not call parents unless it was obviously very necessary. I was walking the line.
So the other day, the little girl who had been discussing her stomach aches so often, was holding her stomach but didn't mention anything to me. A step in the right direction, I thought. I kept an eye on her but I didn't want to bring attention to it by asking how she felt.
We were cruising through the morning and I had not given it much thought when she walked up to me with her eyes open wide, her cheeks slightly puffed out and a panicked look on her face. She was waving a wrinkled piece of paper around frantically. "What's wrong, honey?"
She pushed the paper at me, eyes wide. I just throo up in my moth! she had written.
"Well go in the bathroom and spit it out," I said. "And rinse your mouth out." Why hadn't she done that in the first place? I'll probably never know.