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Last year, my teaching partner, Paula, and I moved to a new school. Little did we know that our school would be situated in a very dense snail population. We thought that the rainy weather would bring with it lots of worms, but in fact, it brought along with it many snails instead. The same has been true this year. This year though, we found another upside to these wonderfully slimy creatures.

“Cuddling snails.” We live in a world where social distancing is a term that even our youngest learners know. As educators, we are forever trying to reinforce two metres apart. And so it made my heart melt a little more than usual when one of our students created snail partners for cuddling.

I have to wonder if children are showing empathy through their interactions and play with these slimy creatures.

The empathy did not end here. When another child came to join the snail play and wanted his own snail, one of our JK students, without prompting, got him one and even helped him create an independent space where he could observe his snail.

Then there was the creation of the Snail Hospital, when one poor snail got some sand in his eye. Such love for this poor creature, as a group of kindergarteners nurse this snail back to health.

A child accidentally stepped on this recovering snail, but burying the snail in the bushes and creating a gravestone for it were other ways to show empathy and exhibit kindness.

While we might need to stay apart from other children and adults, we can continue to interact with our natural world. Maybe we can even spend more time connecting with our world than we did in the past. I have to wonder if a little snail love and understanding might transfer to additional compassion for the other people in our lives. I always knew that snails were my favourite, but the cuddling ones might be the best ones ever. What do you think? How might interacting with insects and animals allow us to further support empathy in this COVID world? If ever there was a need for kindness, I think that it’s now.