Monarch Magic

img_0031What happens when four monarch caterpillars are given to Schoolmates preschool? Monarch magic! Butterfly books are pulled out of storage and displayed on shelves.
Laminated photographs of the stages of metamorphosis are put on the table for the children to look at and put in the correct order. Yes, they know the correct order. Yellow, black, white, and green paints, crayons, colored pencils, and markers are used to cimg_0036-1reate representational artwork that quickly fill the walls. Magnifying glasses are placed near the caterpillar containers, and students are encouraged to observe our guests. The fingers are cut off bright yellow gloves and the Explorers add black and white stripes. Voila, finger puppets! And then we all, children and teachers, start singing songs about caterpillars, butterflies, and metamorphosis.

There is an egg, an egg that changes,
Into a caterpillar, that catimg_0024erpillar changes
Into a chrysalis, that chrysalis changes
Into a butterfly at last.
That’s what we call metamorphosis, metamorphosis, metamorphosis,
A certain kind of change, that is what it is
When it’s a metamorphosis!

Jeanie, Schoolmates owner and director, found a new song this year, that has become my favorite. It is sung to the tune of La Cucaracha. Jeanie came dancing into our classroom to teach us the song. Lots of fun!

caterpillar-in-j Caterpillar, Caterpillar
Crawling on your tiny feet

Caterpillar, caterpillar
Getting bigger as you eat!

Caterpillar, Caterpillar
Changing to a chrysalis

Caterpillar, Caterpillar

Doing Metamorphosis

Caterpillar, Caterpillarcrystalist
Letting summer days go by

Caterpillar, Caterpillar
Changing to a butterfly!

got-to-go-to-mexicoOne of the many books we read during this time was Gotta Go! Gotta Go! by
Sam Swope and Sue Riddle. This
clever book follows the journey of one caterpillar who knows img_0853
where she needs to go: Mexico. The illustrations and story are charming. The author and illustrator created a book that is fun, engaging and holds true to the science of the caterpillars’ mission. What a feat. After we read the book, children in caterpillar and butterfly character crawl and fly through the classrooms and playground saying, “I gotta go, I gotta go, I gotta go to Mexico!”
butterfliesJeanie coined the phase, “Monarch Magic.” She was so right. Four caterpillars arrived in the school, and “Abracadabra!” teaching opportunities galore. A firsthand experience with the incredible transformation from caterpillar to butterfly for each and every child. “Presto!” wonder, curiosity, investment, and knowledge. “Look, the caterpillar is making its J.” “He’s going to make his chrysalis.” “The chrysalis is getting darker. That means its getting ready to hatch.” “It’s hatchinggot-to-go-page!” “Now the wings have to dry. Then it can fly.” “It’s going to fly to Mexico.” These are all statements we heard from the preschoolers and the Explorers during the caterpillars’/butterflies’ stay at Schoolmates preschool.

When I told my mother about all the monarch caterpillars at Schoolmates, she reminded me about the caterpillar William and I found when he was two and a half years old. During a walk with my friend Danielle and her kids, we found two monarch caterpillars. She suggested we each take one home and watch them transform. “We just need to take some milkweed leaves with us. That’s their host plant,” she said. And so began my education into raising caterpillars.

William and butterfly
William and I moved the caterpillar into our apartment. We put some milkweed branches into a vase of water and then put the caterpillar on a leaf. We watched the caterpillar munch on leaves and crawl around on the plant. It was great fun! Danielle told us the caterpillar would attach itself to a branch, take the shape of a J, and then form a chrysalis. When it started to happen, just as she said it would, William was so excited. I was shocked and amazed. Part of me hadn’t believed this endeavor would work out. “Will it transform if its not in the wild?”  “Will it eat leaves that have been cut from a live plant?” These questions and more flowed through my mind. But of course, William had no doubt. That’s the joy of sharing natural wonders with children. They believe in everything. We, the grownups, tell them something will happen or that something is true, and they run with it. If you want to experience magic, watch life through the eyes of a child.

William and I moved into a new house while our caterpillar was in chrysalis form. We planned to set the butterfly free in our new garden, which just happened to have milkweed in it. Perfect!

Posted in Environment, eco, kids, planet,, Explorers and teaching | Leave a comment

Friday Photo

img_0748

 This is a Queen leaf. It is taller than the others. The red is the crown and the yellow is the body. —Brayden

Posted in Friday Photo | Leave a comment

Early Morning Frost

 

The first frost of autumn sparkles on newly fallen leaves.

The first frost of autumn sparkles on newly fallen leaves. Dazzling!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Cycling out of Summer

acornEven when August was fairly new, signs of autumn were starting to appear. I have always thought of summer as the months of July and August—two months of the year boxed off with hot summer weather for everyone to enjoy. But this year, I began to notice signs of summer fading and autumn approaching in early August.

First, I spotted a newly fallen acorn on the trail while I hiked in the woods near my house. I spend the first months of the school year collecting, counting, and talking about acorns with the Explorers in my classroom. The exclamations sound like this: “Ann, looks at this huge acorn!”  “Look I found a double one.” “I collected about a million.” “I can hear them falling out of the trees.” For me acorns are an autumn experience. I don’t expect to see them on the ground in early August. Yet, there it was.

red-winged-black-birdsAnother favorite fall sight for me is the appearance of red-winged blackbirds in the wild rice of Pratt Cove, a tidal marsh in Deep River. The birds come to this cove to bulk up for their migratory journey south. (For the whole story of the red-winged blackbird and the wild rice read my post: Bon Voyage to the Birds.) On an early August day I walked past the cove and heard the familiar chatter of excited red-winged blackbirds flitting through the wild rice. As I watched the birds I thought, “But it’s August, what are you doing here?”

I have school-age children, which means I follow a school calendar. There is the school year and the activities that come with it, and then there is summer vacation—no school, summer programs, and a desire to use each long day to its fullest.

While watching the birds on that early August day, my thoughts shifted. I stopped seeing July and August as a suspended state in time. Nature doesn’t know about the school calendar. It has its own rhythm—a continual waxing and waning of natural events that is unconcerned with the activities and calendars of humans.

img_6073The number of birds in Pratt cove will increase as days shorten, nights cool, and autumn takes hold. The red-winged blackbirds will fly to warmer climates and wait out our winter. As the weather warms in the spring, they will return. And so goes their life cycle.

As the weather gets colder, more acorns will fall from the trees, the trees’ leaves will turn color and then join the acorns on the ground. The oak trees have their own cycle to complete and then begin again.

School started last month, the calendar fills with activities and commitments, and I take comfort in these natural cycles. The steady, predicable rhythm of nature grounds me as I navigate my busy, less predictable life.

Posted in Environment, eco, kids, planet, | Leave a comment

Back to School Hike

IMG_9352
Wadsworth Falls State Park in Middlefield, CT, was my choice for what has become known as The Back to School Hike. Three years ago I decided to celebrate the first day of school by taking a hike. As soon as Aurora and Stephen’s photos were taken and they were happily on the bus, I set off. The first year, I hiked alone in Chatfield Hollow State Park. You can read about that hike in the following post: Share a Hike. The past two years, I have had company for this annual hike—parents of students also celebrating the first day of school. I would welcome more hikers next year. So in 2017, as the summer ends and school supplies get purchased, check in with Barking Frog Farm for The Back to School Hike destination and plan to join us.

Along the trail, we spotted wildlife. Can you find a creature in each of the photographs below?

IMG_9360

IMG_9364

Posted in Creature Feature, Environment, eco, kids, planet, | 1 Comment

The Explorers Search for Spirals

IMG_9212spi·ral – winding in a continuous and gradually widening (or tightening) curve, either around a central point on a flat plane IMG_9090or about an axis so as to form a cone

The Explorers were making spiral after spiral as part of a spring art projectIMG_8258 in our classroom. As part of my preparation for the appearance of spirals inside the classroom and outside on the trails, I looked up the definition. Someone was going to ask me, “What’s a spiral?” I wanted to be ready with Webster’s answer. In the spring we have fun making spirals and looking for spirals. One of my favorite parts of my job is to hike down the blue trail and find out if the ferns have started doing their thing – “their thing” being to emerge from the ground in a tight spiral and then unwind to greet the sun. Here is a sampling of this year’s spring spirals.

IMG_9140

IMG_8239

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_9040

IMG_8248IMG_8180

IMG_8252

Posted in Environment, eco, kids, planet, | 1 Comment

Friday Photo

IMG_8368

Rocco leaned down to look at the moss.
In a hushed voice he said, “It sparkles.”
Then he reached out and touched the stars.

Posted in Friday Photo | Leave a comment

Seeing Red


IMG_2135.JPGMy friend Jeanie and I took my son Stephen and his friend Sam for a hike. At the beginning of the hike, I noticed a plant with a red stem growing on the edge of the trail and stopped to take a picture of it. As I did this, I mentioned to Jeanie that I was collecting pictures of red. Stephen and Sam ran up to see what I was doing. Jeanie said, “She is taking pictures of red in nature.”

For the rest of the hike we heard:

“Mom, here’s something red.”

“Miss Ann, this is red.”

IMG_8097IMG_8132 “I found more red.”

“This is red, isn’t it?”

They found acorn centers, new leaves, seed pods, and more.

I could feel their excitement as we stopped, leaned down, and investigated their red discoveries. And when I took a picture of the new red item, their sense of accomplishment was visible.

Next time you take children into a natural setting, give them an assignment—look for green, red, yellow, look for spheres, triangles, squares, look for things that are soft, hard, mushy—and then enjoy their discoveries.

IMG_2137.JPG

IMG_8129IMG_8288

Posted in Environment, eco, kids, planet, | Leave a comment

Happy Earth Day!

IMG_8161

“I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful — an endless prospect of magic and wonder.”  — Ansel Adams

 

Posted in Friday Photo | 1 Comment

Skunk Cabbage, it’s here!

skunk cabbageI love skunk cabbage. It is one of my favorite signs of spring. As a child, I would carefully navigate the edge of brooks and swamps, making sure not to step on skunk cabbage plants. It was fun to be a bit scared of the potential stink, though the fear of the smell was worse than the smell itself.

Each year, as the light changes and the air warms, I watch the wet ground for my old friend. First to appear is the waxy, deep-red and green hood-like spathe, which contains the plant’s flowers. Then, the tightly furled leaves emerge out of the wet earth like dancers who lift and twirl to greet the spring sun. In a short time, the brown disappears under a canopy of giant bright green leaves.

During the early days of spring, I hike where skunk cabbage grows. I hike alone, with family and friends, or with the Explorers—the 4- and 5-year-olds in my class at Schoolmates. When we arrive at a patch of skunk cabbage, everyone leans down to get a better look at the odd-looking plants. Usually a game of “spot the skunk cabbage” will start soon after we begin to see plants. “There’s some skunk cabbage. There’s some more skunk cabbage.” Kids like to say the name. A stinky plant named for a stinky animal. What could be better?
During a hike to a cedar swamp near Schoolmates, Skylar, one of the Explorers, was in line behind me. As we walked through the swamp on a boardwalk, skunk cabbage all around us, she made up this poem.

I see skunk cabbage,DSC_0186
yucky skunk cabbage
moss and skunk cabbage.

I don’t like yucky skunk cabbage.
It looks pretty, but it doesn’t smell nice.
                                                   By Skylar

skunk cabbage (click here and listen)

The Nature Institute – Skunk Cabbage

National Wildlife Federation – Skunk Cabbage

 

IMG_7868lots

 

Posted in Environment, eco, kids, planet, | Leave a comment