Musings on DIALLS session Owl Bat, Bat Owl:
I left my Year One class just before lunchtime. My elder son had a high temperature and a cough and I had been called at school. “Sorry, lovely children,” I said, “I’ll be back in a couple of days.” That was around 11 weeks ago, and yesterday was the first time I had been back in my classroom with any children. Only 8 children, but I was able to teach again, in some fashion other than from through filming myself, my hands, my screen. To say I was excited (if not rather anxious), would be an understatement.
I had honestly meant to write this post around 13 weeks ago, when I had been on a DIALLS training session and was getting very excited about working with my teacher partner and her class in Israel (Shalom, Meital!). I wanted to share the experience of my class’ favourite DIALLS text – Owl Bat, Bat Owl (www.dialls2020.eu/library/owl-bat-bat-owl/) – which we had completed synchronously with another class in the UK (hello, Ashleigh!). However, since Lockdown (I feel like that word needs a capital letter now), I have been musing, but unable to write, especially given the conversations and thoughts that my class and Ashleigh’s class had had about this lovely text.
Owl Bat, Bat Owl, by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick is a thoroughly gorgeous picture book, and in summary, an owl family inhabits a tree branch and a bat family move in directly underneath on the same branch. The young of both families are naturally keen to make friends, but the parent figure is naturally wary, in fact making themselves and their young uncomfortable by squeezing themselves away – to isolate themselves, if you will. Do you understand my problem with writing about this during Lockdown yet?
Hearteningly, the uncomfortable situation is resolved when a natural event occurs that brings everyone closer together. The parent owl and the parent bat both lose their children due to a bad storm, but through this shared calamity, they eventually they help to rescue each other’s offspring. The offspring become firm friends, playing happily together whilst their parents have the space to have a good chat – one presumes about the shared stresses and joys of parenting.
The children in both mine and Ashleigh’s classes really struggled to see why the parents were so prejudiced against each other’s families. After all, they were both animals, they both lived in trees, they didn’t need the same part of the branch (one hung down and one gripped on top – “Not even their toes touch,” someone pointed out), they are both nocturnal, they don’t really share the same food – what on Earth was the problem with those silly adults.
We discussed why, in one of the pictures, the parent owl is shuffling her children away from the bats – away, in fact, from their own favourite part of the branch, making themselves more uncomfortable.
“Why don’t they give the bat family a chance?” asked one of the children.
“Maybe they had a bad time with bats before,” someone replied.
“But that was different bats. They need to try again,” said another.
“And the baby one wants to meet the baby bat one so why doesn’t their mummy let them be friends? It’s good to be friends. It’s kind.”
“’Cos the mummy one thinks they are different ‘cos they hang upside down and she doesn’t want her baby to do that but it’s not wrong it’s just different ‘cos they’re bats and that’s what they do but owls don’t but it doesn’t matter,” one of the little philosophers managed to say in one long breath (breathe, breathe, child!).
Ah – and this is why I love these texts and the conversations they spark – these little human beings don’t need to be told to be kind or unprejudiced. It is something they will perhaps learn from somewhere – I wouldn’t want to make my own judgements about where from.
The parallels, the bells that this scenario ring in relation to our troubled times today clash out in a cacophonous clang. We have riots in the USA triggered by ingrained, everyday racism. We have children living in detention centres without their parents, because their parents have had to leave war zones. We have human beings living not even 50 miles from the UK shore in refugee camps, unable to keep themselves and their families safe from this virus. The discourse around the UK leaving the European Union is often underlined in a narrative of “otherness”.
There has been a shared togetherness in the need to maintain Lockdown rules and to applaud our carers, as well as outrage throughout the country at those who flaunt the rules. I hope that our society may change as a result of the Lockdown – that, like the owl and bat parents, a shared calamity brings us empathy, tolerance and understanding. Have enough people realised that at the end of the day, we are all leaves in the wind to the whims of nature? Clearly, a person unshielded in a refugee camp or in a bombed city is more at danger than a person able to isolate in their own home, but we can only hope that, like the little human beings in my class, the adults in our country can also say (and I quote) “They are good together now. That’s because they were both worried for the same thing.”
At the very end of the book, my class, with their fantastic way of looking to see the little things, spotted that a spider family are just moving into the same branch as the owls and bats. With the optimism I truly long to share, the children voted that definitely, the adult owl and adult bat would be much more tolerant of the newcomers this time because they had learnt their lesson. Honestly, that made me quite choked up.
We undertook this DIALLS project to teach empathy, tolerance, mutual respect, collaboration, constructive argument and dialogue. Well, all I can say is, these children, at least for now, have empathy and tolerance in abundance. They see the difference far less than the similarities. I yearn that they be enabled and allowed to hold onto this empathy and tolerance and pass them on, for the sake of the future.
To finish, I have included some pictures that members of the class produced about what they thought the future held for the bats and owls after they had learnt tolerance. Can I just end by saying that I particularly enjoy the one that includes the spiders.