By Becky Cook

Several years ago I was teaching in a college lab preschool where 3- and 4-yr-olds, as well as college students and supervisors, were joined together in a fabulous learning environment. Serendipitous and surprise happenings came along daily. I believe you will enjoy following me through the day which is now famously known as Mole Day!

On a frigid early spring day the children were outside making use of the playground and discovered a tiny frozen mole in the sand box. It was evident that the mole had died recently and was still in amazingly good condition. The little girl who made the discovery called to the teacher. Together they looked at the soft, motionless little animal, touching the sharp claws, rubbing its smooth fur, and examining the tiny squinted eye slits. The teacher was already aware of the particular child’s curiosity and spirit of exploration. It became a golden moment to foster that in the whole class.

The planned curriculum for the day soon took a back seat. The children were called to see and feel, hold and touch the little furry creature. Some asked questions, or gave answers to questions.

Someone located the school’s book entitled Where Is Mr.Mole? and read it to the children. Then she pointed out the anatomical structures and characteristics of the mole’s body which suited it to the underground environment. They were also drawn into a discussion about freezing weather and yet another talk about death.

One little boy suggested that burial would be in order and another located an empty 1-lb. Velveeta box somewhere in the classroom. The box became the mole’s final resting place, a wee coffin carefully padded and suited to him. And he was gently enclosed. [Incidentally, I don’t remember including a lesson on “gender identity.” To this day I’m not sure if the little critter was indeed a male or female.]

The whole group proceeded to the far corner of the playground. The teacher dug a hole and the little coffin with it’s precious contents was placed there. Some children helped fill the hole and everyone offered their silent respects to the small creature. They marked the spot with a special stone found nearby. Later when the group revisited the little grave they found the stone still in place!

This may have been one of the best days of the year for the preschool class. The day’s plan morphed into a whole new direction of exploration. It clearly reflects the whole philosophy of openness and creative recognition of the “teachable moment!” Today, educators call this INNOVATION! It involves meeting kids where they are in their technology driven lives and helping them emerge with way more than just the scientific facts. They gain beginnings of problem solving skills, using learning tools, and finding creative approaches to discovery. It’s a model for the future for all of us.

With a new school year on the horizon I’d like to think that school  curriculums (for all ages) provide openness and flexibility enough to take advantage of “Mole Days” and other serendipitous occasions to help steer young minds in new paths of learning! I’d welcome another mole event any day of the year!