The Ants Go Marching

The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah. 

The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah

The ants go marching to the rice, mmm mmm mmm it is so nice

Don’t forget to pick up all your rice.

    This is one of the many songs that that I have joyfully sang with my kindergarten students this year. I adapted it from the original to help teach my students how the ants will come into our classroom if we don’t pick up our rice that falls onto the table or floor. Songs have been a great resource for working in an ESL classroom. However, this post is inspired by quite a unique experience of ants, and a deeper lesson than the importance of clean up after our meals. The ants in my story today are not the small black ants that rush toward fallen rice and crumbs, but rather big red ants that seem to fearlessly chomp down on whatever they can reach, including out feet, legs, arms, necks, anything. Their bites are ferocious and painful for children and adults alike. Whenever I come across them at school, I do my very best to avoid them and encourage my students to stay clear as well. 

    Today was the first day this term that I accompanied my KG3 students (5 years old) to Muay Thai. This class is a wonderful opportunity for students to climb and generally attempt new challenges on both the physical and mental level. It’s not the boxing practice that comes to mind when you hear Muay Thai, but more a preparation for this traditional Thai martial art. Usually the children climb trees or preform various obstacles that to most westerners would seem terrifying and even dangerous for children. Todays task was for the children to walk along a rope above the water. There was no one to hold their hands or catch them if they fell. It was just the water below. 

    After some preparation from the Muay Thai teacher, the children head over to the starting point in which they need to climb a tree to reach the rope. I am initially so excited for this activity, I think such challenges are a great opportunity for students to gain strength, coordination, and confidence. However, that feeling came to an abrupt halt when I looked more closely at the tree that the children needed to climb to get to the rope. It was covered in red ants! My first thought is, oh well, I guess we will have to do a different activity today. Then the teacher climbs up onto the tree and encourages the children to start climbing up one by one. I am assigned to help the children get up on the tree and I can’t believe that this will work, I am sure that none of the children will climb up onto a tree that is covered with red ants.

    Before I know it, without any help from me, the first child has climbed up onto the tree and is making his way onto the rope (which also has red ants.) The next few students struggle a little. They don’t know where to put their hands, and they are naturally concerned about the ants. Another two make it onto the tree and to the rope, despite the ants. One of my students who is a native English speaker comes and really struggles. It is clear that he wants to get to the rope and walk over the water, but doesn’t know how to manage getting through the swarming ants. I try to help a little and pick up a leaf to see if I can brush away a particularly big clump of ants carrying a dead bug. The teacher stops me and reminds me that it’s ok, the ants are a part of nature. She wants the children to experience the ants and not rob them of the opportunity to overcome this challenge. The teacher looks at my student and offers him a lot of support and encouragement. She says to him, “look at the tree and not the ants, if you focus on your fears, that’s all you see.” She also has the other children encourage him and with this support he makes it up and over to the rope. 

    He, and all his peers, make it all the way across and then many of them do it a second time. Even though they know about the ants, they are confident and feel that they can do it. I spend most of my time in awe as I watch the bravery and perseverance of my students. They have surpassed what I thought they were capable of and challenged me to rethink my own ideas of what children can overcome if they are given the chance and the proper supportive environment. On our walk back the children reflected about what they had just accomplished. My student who struggled says to me, “Today I was so brave. I climbed over the water and saw the trees, not the ants.” He knew that he had accomplished something special and it had a real impact on him. I wonder how this experience will influence lifelong changes in all of the children.

    This experience was incredible for the children and it was also wonderful to be a part of as their teacher. I am still not completely convinced that it is a good idea to climb trees that have so many red ants and then onto a rope with them marching one by one over the water below. I am all for facing our fears and rising to new challenges, but my instincts struggled to accept my role of helping students climb the ant covered tree. At the same time I also learned that I was focusing on the fear, the ants which scare me, because I don’t want to suffer their stinging bite. Was I putting this fear on the students unknowingly? Was I stopping them from a valuable experience? These are still questions that I am working on. I think the next step for me is to climb that tree for myself and see what it is like before I impose my fears on my students. Until then I will learn from the courage and strength of my students, who continue to be, some of my greatest teachers!

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