by Ann Lau Ward, Friends School Haverford
At Friends School Haverford, wonder awaits five and six year olds watching the tri-colored caterpillars feeding on Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed) in the black screen terrarium. Dangling from the tiny branch of a small stick, lime-green chrysalides, delicate and vulnerable, catch the eye of a curious 5 year old who observes the gold highlights of the rim of a chrysalis with a magnifying lens. She reaches out and gently touches the one nearest her. When a butterfly ecloses later that morning, a child’s earnest call reaches the ears of everyone in the room, “Come see! The butterfly! It’s coming out!” Though the metamorphosis of the butterfly is a transformation a million years in the making, it is the present moment in which children reside and it is in that moment that butterflies open their wings for the very first time.
In late August and early September, monarch butterflies in southeastern Pennsylvania join the southward migration of the species to overwintering sites in the oyamel fir forests of the Sierra Madre Mountains. From Canada, west to the Rockies and east to the Atlantic, monarch butterflies fly thousands of miles, turning the blue skies to orange as they funnel through Texas, crossing international borders in hundreds of millions. Protected habitat in the state of Michoacan sustains the monarch throughout the northern winter months; in the sanctuaries, the monarch will nectar, puddle, and rest for five months before spring returns and the northward migration begins. In the spring, the same butterflies that migrated to Mexico, leave the forests and fly north, mating pairs following the emergence of the milkweed, the host plant of the monarch caterpillar. The great-great-great grandchildren of this generation of monarchs will be the ones who will return to Mexico the following fall.
In the first two weeks of kindergarten at Friends School Haverford, our 5 and 6 year olds learn about the butterfly-tagging program sponsored by Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas (http://monarchwatch.org/). They learn how to tag the monarchs and how the wildlife habitat gardens provide all that the monarchs need during the spring and summer months. Every butterfly that leaves our campus takes flight with a tiny, numbered sticker on its wing; if the butterfly is found, the butterfly tag number and the location of the found tagged butterfly can be sent to Monarch Watch and added to the data base. With the help of volunteers who participate in the tag and release program across three countries-Canada, United States, and Mexico-more can be learned about the unique migratory behavior of the monarch butterfly.
After observing the butterflies in terrarium, Friends School Haverford kindergartners make observations of the butterflies as they nectar on overly-ripened bananas in their teacher’s hands and as well as on the flowers in the bioswale meadow outside the kindergarten classroom. Children are invited to feel the tickle of butterfly feet on their palms and demonstrate kind regard for living things by learning to hold a butterfly in their own hands.
As a butterfly is released at Friends School Haverford, kindergartners will bestow “whisper wishes” on the butterfly. Whisper wishes are the children’s hopes and dreams for the butterfly as it sets out on its journey to Mexico.
In the weeks that follow the butterfly release this fall, kindergarten will harvest milkweed seedpods and collect milkweed seeds to scatter in the habitat gardens in time for the northward spring migration season. Kindergartners also follow the journey of their monarchs to Mexico by participating in the Symbolic Monarch Migration (sponsored by Journey North; http://www.learner.org/jnorth/ ), a peer-peer pen pal project that mirrors the real monarch migration with a paper butterfly exchange between students and teachers in Canada, United States, and Mexico.
Edited by Andrea Dominic