What 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 create 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 caterpillar 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!
Crawling on your tiny feet
Getting bigger as you eat!
Changing to a chrysalis
Letting summer days go by
Changing to a butterfly!
One 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
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!”
Jeanie 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 hatching!” “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 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!