I just returned home from a morning spent at our annual school Pancake Breakfast. This breakfast is more than a breakfast, it is really a celebration! We gather together each year on the first Saturday following our first week of school. We reconnect with continuing families, meet the new families, feel incredulous how former students and siblings of present students have grown and admire all the new babies who are our future students! Oh yes! We do indeed eat pancakes! Delicious ones in fact. This all has the same feeling as a family reunion. Which in fact, we are. We are a school family.
As I stood around, talking to children and parents, watching other children run around with gleeful peals of laughter, I was feeling an unusual amount of excitement and anticipation. The anticipation of new adventures! New discoveries! New relationships with friends and materials!
This year has a special tingling feeling to it! Three years ago Marta and Eva, the beloved teachers in Room 4, planted a butterfly garden with the help of their 2010 “Surfing Seals.”. Besides planting fennel to attract swallowtails, they planted milkweed which is the host plant for monarch butterflies. They also painted a beautiful mural featuring colorful butterflies and flowers. What a lovely invitation! Alas, we never had a butterfly stop and lay an egg. Our luck changed after a parent brought in another milkweed plant as food for some hatching butterflies in a classroom. (Thank you Brandy!) I planted the milkweed last June. We kept the plants watered over the summer break, and VIOLA! After returning to school after our break, we spotted the little, teeny, tiny caterpillars. We were thrilled! And we could not wait to share these precious creatures with the children.
Our first week of school was spent observing, drawing, and being amazed at the rate of growth. Although the children were very tender, we had to warn them that the caterpillars could not be handled. Holding them obstructs their breathing. I provided small decorative butterflies and models representing the stages of a butterfly that could be handled. We are also making our own little caterpillars out of paper- mache.
Meanwhile, “mommy” monarchs continue to deposit more eggs. We have been delighted by their fluttering, bright copper dance as they circled around the Garden Classroom for a delicate landing on the milkweed to lay one more egg.
As the week progressed our caterpillar “nursery” got demolished by the youngsters. (I purchased two more plants, so we have four milkweeds in all.) They nibbled the leaves down to the bare branches. Marta reassured me that we do not need to purchase any more plants and the plants we do have will grow back.
On Friday, we spotted our first chrysalis. It is a beautiful green with golden spots. We suspect there will be more on Monday. The caterpillars are starting on their individual journeys up the wall and down to the ground. I was able to watch a small group of Transition kiddos observing a caterpillar travel down a board and over the cement barrier. Barely two years old and these young naturalists were sharing their hypotheses on where it was going. One child said, “To work.” And of course, he was right! It’s GOT to be hard work to metamorphosis into a butterfly!
I read where it takes an egg approximately 30 days to develop into a butterfly. As is our practice, I will be refraining from giving this information to the children and have them record and hypothesize about their development instead. Although the children knew right off that these were caterpillars and they will turn into butterflies, I am hoping that I can have some conversations with the children where we can pursue their ideas, not just factual but also fanciful of how this process works. While the monarchs have given us an amazing opportunity for study, I hope they can serve as an opening to inspire deeper thinking, greater creativity and a chance to wonder and be amazed.
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
I am so glad that I had a chance to spend time with some of you at our Hanna Open House and Pancake Breakfast. It was such a pleasure to share with you the excitement of the monarch caterpillars. But really, the caterpillars only serve as another opportunity to touch the heart and mind of the children who enter the Garden Classroom. I’m looking forward to celebrating each and every day spent with the children in my “school family.”
With Joy and Anticipation!