We’re sad to report that Fluffy, one of Albany Preschool’s pet guinea pigs, has died after a short illness.
Fluffy and his best friend, Oreo, were adopted as a bonded pair about three years ago. They were cheerful classroom residents who the children enjoyed greeting daily. We often brought them out to play in the soft grass, and celebrated their (estimated) birthdays every Earth Day.
When Fluffy first fell ill, the teachers let the kids know that Fluffy was not feeling well. At circle time they reported daily on his condition: that he was going to see the doctor, that he was taking medicine, and that the medicine was helping a little bit. Then the medicine stopped working, and there was no more medicine that the doctor could give him.
Fluffy became visibly ill, and died in Teacher Susy’s arms on March 15, about a month shy of his fifth birthday.
Parents and teachers alike spoke to the children about Fluffy’s death, and about the fact that he was not coming back. Many had questions–where did Fluffy go? Will he come back? Can I see him? Some expressed emotions–I am sad that Fluffy died. I miss him. Will Oreo be all right?
As sad as we are about losing Fluffy, we’ve used this experience to open discussions with the children about death. Young children deal with death quite differently than adults. For many APS students, this was their first experience with the death of somebody they knew. Teacher Nancy remarks, “While adults tend to project loss (could he have had a few more good years?), but to be relieved that Fluffy is no longer suffering, young children live in the present. Having less of a concept of time, they don’t carry baggage from the past (“I forgot to be nice to Fluffy!”) and don’t project grief into the future (“I won’t be able to play with him next year.”)” This simplicity makes the preschool years a natural time to start talking about death and loss.
Children process death differently. Teacher Nancy noted that some have reported it very matter-of-factly to returning visiting children who might not know: “You know, Fluffy’s dead.” It’s reported solemnly and urgently, very much a need-to-know news update. Others might play-act illness or death; their thoughts about death come out naturally in their process of play.
What do you think? We’d love to hear your comments below.
Resources for parents
Children’s books on death:
City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems
The Tenth Good Thing about Barney by Judith Viorst
The Berenstain Bears Lose a Friend by Stan, Jan, and Mike Berenstain
I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm