I found myself having a familiar conversation the other day. At Schoolmates, we have a resident peacock. His name is Pickles. Pickles belongs to the farm behind the school and is free to roam. He often roams toward the school. He sits on the railing and looks in the windows, he greets parents and children at the entryway, he roosts in the trees above the playground and on the school roof, and he walks along the fence that surrounds the playground.
On this day, Pickles was walking along the fence line of the playground. When the children saw the peacock, they all went running toward him. Pickles quickened his pace and the children quickened theirs. Then Pickles was gone. “What’s the difference between chasing and following?” I asked. “Chasing is running after something,” a chaser replied. “And what usually happens when you chase someone or something?” I continued. “They run away,” answered another chaser.
I have had this conversation many times. I am thinking of one time in particular: Aurora was chasing a Monarch butterfly. It was late summer, lots of flowers were in bloom, and the butterfly was happily flying and landing and drinking and flying some more. She wanted to catch the butterfly, and she chased it all around the yard. I gave her my speech about following vs. chasing. So much can be learned about the animal, insect, bird, etc., while following and watching.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with chasing and catching things. Kids love to chase and catch lots of things: chickens, frogs, bugs, friends. If it can run and be caught it is likely to be sought after by children. It’s part of childhood and comes with its own kind of learning.
But I think it is valuable to understand that each behavior has its own intention, and the intentions are different. Chasing and catching is about possessing and containing. Following and watching is about learning and understanding the natural behavior of the one in the lead. As my class runs up to Pickles they miss the opportunity to watch and see where he is going and what he planned to do before he was chased by five kindergarteners. So when looking, exploring, and discovering with children, you may want to consider talking with them about their intentions, ideas, and plans.