Eight kindergarteners are collecting insects in the school garden. They’ve been instructed not to collect bees and wasps. Bees and wasps get very angry. They’ve also been instructed not to collect moths and butterflies. Butterflies have fragile wings.
One girl finds a grasshopper. It hops away as she bends down with her collection cup. “Uh-oh, it hopped away,” I say.
“That’s ok,” she says. She’s using her best impression of her mother’s reassuring voice. “I know how to get it.” She circles around the tree to sift through the mulch on the other side.
We find a red beetle on a milkweed plant. It’s one of the ones we talked about before we came outside. It’s red and its folded wings form an X on its back.
“That one’s poison,” one of the boys says. He’s right. We had talked about how the red color was a warning to birds not to eat it. It would have been perfectly fine to collect. But it’s poison, and they all move on. Except for the girl who’s still sifting through the mulch for the grasshopper.
We reach the end of the garden. They find a worm under a rubarb leaf. Here, finally, is a living something that can’t outrun, outhop or outfly them. Another of the girls pulls it out of the earth. Her face beams with pride as she holds it up.
“Is a worm an insect?” I ask her.
“Yes!” she says.
And of course it is. When you’re four and you’re in the garden collecting insects, whatever you manage to get in your collection jar is by definition an insect.