Winter in the Woods, ZooLittles

ZooLittles: Ace’s Pet Tardigrade

December 4, 2022

One Friday morning at 9:00, one of my (admittedly favorite) ZooLittles walked through the door, cupping his closed hands together in the manner of one holding a precious, living, creature that might escape at any time. With big, blue eyes shining above rosy cheeks and his adorable, perfect baby-teeth smile, he walked right up to me as I scrunched down to meet him at his eye level. Ace always speaks with precision, enunciating his words more carefully than most 4-year olds, and he has been this way since I met him as a just-3-year-old. 

“Miss Tahlia! Do you want to hold my pet tardigrade?” 

Of COURSE I wanted to hold his pet tardigrade! I held out my own hands and, with UTTER seriousness, slowly setting the cage of his hands into the cup of mine, he carefully transferred his precious microscopic friend into my waiting palms. He explained how he had gathered some moss and from it extracted his tardigrade.

I held his invisible-to-the-naked-eye pet with the same level of care and seriousness he had used. “Wow! That is SO COOL! Ace, do you want to know two more names for tardigrades?” 

His eyes lit up even brighter than before. “YES!”

“They are ALSO called, ‘moss piglets,’” I explained, “and, ‘water bears,’ because when seen through a microscope, they look sort of like a gummy bear with 8 legs. But I love calling them, ‘moss piglets,’ because it is such a funny name.”

Ace’s grandfather, who had ushered him into the room and was standing by during this whole exchange, chuckled, and, with great fondness and good humor, shook his head and said, “Of course you know what he’s talking about! You two are such NERDS!” I grinned up at him, having entirely forgotten he was even there during this opening conversation just inside the doorway to our classroom. I have the impression that his grandpa may not always fully understand Ace, but he completely and utterly adores him and is greatly amused by his grandson’s unique and undeniable charm.

In a low murmur, Ace carefully repeated these terms, “Moss piglets. Water bears,” no doubt sealing them into his incredibly receptive and curious mind for future use. He is, hands-down, the most curious and delightful of any and all of “my” ZooLittles I have known over the past 5 years. Like most young children he is full of questions, but his questions are often of a deeper nature than those of his peers, and he listens attentively to my detailed answers, his inquisitive mind processing new information thoroughly enough to not only understand and remember it, but to be able to repeat it and explain it to others! His follow-up questions are logical and he waits patiently to hear the entire answer, never settling for the short, simple version. He needs a complete answer! We are a perfect pair because I need to explain things fully and in great detail, and he is a patient and attentive listener, fascinated by each new thing he learns. Each week it takes great intention for me to tear myself away from him in order to engage with my other nine, beloved, ZooLittles who also need and deserve my attention. 

As Ace prepared to begin divesting himself of his backpack, coat, and boots, he first needed a safe place to store his pet tardigrade. (Named “Tardy,” of course! In this, he is a classic 4-year old.) He verbally ran through his options: backpack? Coat pocket? Snow pants? Once Tardy was safely stored in his backpack, Ace joined the other children to play until our visual timer indicated it was time to clean up. 

After cleaning up, greeting each other in our Morning Meeting, and taking turns using the bathrooms, we began the long process of putting on all of our winter gear to go play and learn in the woods. Though most of our ZooLittles are accustomed to their parents and caregivers doing most of this process for them, we make sure to take the necessary time to teach them how to put on all of their gear by themselves. We understand that parents don’t always have the luxury of time for this, but we do and, in the long run, it will benefit parents when their child proudly puts on their own outerwear in record time! 

Ace decided to bring his pet tardigrade to the woods to look for some more moss for him. Once again he went over his options for tardigrade storage. He did NOT want to lose Tardy! Having witnessed Ace’s utter, emotional devastation over losing some of his goldfish crackers in the woods last spring, I took his concern quite seriously this time. I explained that tardigrades are really good at holding on. He could even ride buried in the fleece bib of Ace’s snow pants and would not fall off. Ace settled on his snow pants’ fleece pocket. And so, Tardy joined us for an hour of Winter in the Woods.

At the end of our morning as adults and ZooLittles gathered up their things to go home, I overheard Ace making sure that Tardy was safely stowed away while his grandfather patiently readied him to leave. Most young children forget to bring home visible items such as water bottles, mittens, random socks, and art work they created earlier in the day. Ace remembered to bring home his microscopic pet tardigrade. I couldn’t wait to find out if Tardy would join us again the following week.


A couple of weeks later, Ace and his mom brought me the most fantastic Christmas gift: tardigrade earrings!