Is not a nice reality in any context. Working with a young child who has a dying relative is not something any teacher wants, but it happens, often.
Mainly it's confusion that they are experiencing. They see the worry and fear on the faces of those they love; routines are disrupted – time off work, Nana in hospital and not at usual her place... all scary stuff to a three-year-old.
Talking about death freaks many teachers out. It goes way over into the personal values territory and requires a deeper commitment to both the child and their family than is often the norm. What do you believe? God, fairies, re-incarnation, worm-food, nothing? Do we keep it fluffy? Pass the buck? Does death scare you?
It scares me. I've watched my Grandparents and Father die and I don't really want to go there. I could cry watching the news some nights.
Death in the context of ECEC is a different kettle of fish with no direct emotional connection with (in this instance) the person who is dying. Yet my role is primarily one of being a child's emotional base – primary care is integral to Pikler and (in my opinion) best practice. There is no denying that we have a special relationship, but I'm not Mum or Dad. I hold children, cuddle them if needed, but I don't kiss them and the 'love' I feel for them is vastly different than that I feel for my own children.
Over the years I've collected a few children's books on death. Wolf Erlbruch's Duck, Death and the Tulip is probably my favourite, but not one I read to/with young children as it's a little too abstract on one hand, but blunt on the other – plus the pictures are a touch scary. I do however recommend Beginnings and Endings with Lifetimes in Between by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen, and Old Hu-Hu by Kyle Mewburn. Both are brilliant in different ways – fiction and non-fiction are obvious distinctions. Old Hu-Hu has a dry humour throughout as our hero journeys through confusion, loss and sadness to realising that Old Hu-Hu is with him forever inside. Very easy to identify with. Beginnings and Endings is very matter-of-fact, but in a gentle poetic way: we all live lives, some are short like butterfly's, while some, like trees, can be for a very long time.
These two books are new favourites here. Mum has bought copies for home. I hope they help. I hope the pedagogical focus we have on building strong relationships above any 'teaching' provides just that little bit more support for this child - and those that will inevitably follow.