A few weeks ago, I was staying with dear friends in Door County. The family, a mother and father, and two daughters were deeply enmeshed in “virtual learning.” Mom was the teacher and dad went to work.

For some of the days during my stay, other children came and because they were in the same classes the numbers grew. I was an outsider and although my friend’s children knew me the other children did not. During my brief stay, there were different children joining in the “virtual learning” almost every day.

I realized that the goal of the visiting students was to provide socialization. That was what all the of the children missed the most. Each day classes began at 8:00. The students on their computers or iPad checked into class. Each day a backpack that was filled with the day’s work delivered early in the morning. At the end of the day the backpack was delivered to the pick-up spot at the end of the driveway to be filled again with tomorrow’s assignments.

Most of the days during my stay, I left and was gone for a large part of the time. The family I was staying with were engaged in a remodeling project so there were some distractions for the virtual learners. I knew the contractor and always visited for a moment before I left.

When I returned the second day of my visit the children were really fired up and cries of look what we have reached me before my feet hit the ground as I exited the car. I was pulled to a large glass container, sitting next to the under-construction porch. The glass jar had a cover. One of the youngest students with bright eyes filled with excitement announced that the contractor had found two salamanders. This was one of them as she lifted the glass cover and pointed to the dark shape, huddled in a corner.

I was mesmerized by the excitement in the children. Even though they were still playing outside they stopped what they were doing to tell me about what had happened for a part of their educational experience. They had built an environment for the salamander.

They had spent a considerable amount of time playing with and holding the salamander. The “mom teacher” said that they should let it rest. So, with great reluctance they put the salamander back in the jar and replaced the lid slightly open for oxygen.

The next morning before I left for the day, I was once again treated to a salamander show. The children went from bed to the front yard, then to the jar next to the porch to see if the salamander was still there and still alive. After they had checked on the presence and health of the salamander, they ate breakfast and began their day, checking in for “virtual learning.” Backpacks were checked for assignment sheets and the day began. As I was preparing to leave, I watched the faces of the children, two of whom were new that day. The new students had apparently been told of the salamander and were promised a look at the first break time. All of them were casting longing looks at the front door. They were all anxious for the first break and some salamander observation time.

As it does in September in Door County, it was starting to get dark when I returned home. There was lots of activity. The dad was involved in the “great salamander release.” They had selected a spot where there was a hole near the trunk of a small tree. Each child had a moment of touching and feeling the salamander, perhaps for the last time. The spot for the release had been selected and was now illumined by flashlights as the natural light was failing. With great ceremony the salamander was placed on the ground. The contents of the glass jar were carefully poured around the release point. The hole next to the trunk of the tree would be the place where their temporary pet would find a new home. The girls were full of questions: Would the salamander be all right when it snowed? What would it eat? Dad answered the questions as best he could. With somewhat halting steps and several backward glances the girls walked back into the house to get ready for bed.

Nature, an observant contractor, and parents willing to change the schedule, interrupted virtual learning with the mysteries of a salamander’s life. The members of the community taught six young children about salamanders and life.

I marveled at my friends, their patience and their love. I was impressed with the parents who had banded together to provide cooperative virtual learning. I was awed by the fact that in the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of closed schools, the resiliency of the human spirit interacted with the wonder of nature and everyone, from the youngest to the oldest learned about creation.

What at incredible gift we have been given.



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