Perfect timing

Ten beautiful butterflies emerged from their chrysalids inside the net tent this morning providing a fabulous experiential lesson for the preschoolers. They are absolutely gorgeous, and very wise!

The first day of school we found caterpillars devouring the leaves of our sunflower in the school garden.

The second day of school we collected the caterpillars inside a bug box.

The third day of school we fed the caterpillars in the bug box more sunflower leaves after we looked at the butterfly eggs on the leaves with a magnifying glass. We got out the butterfly books and tried to learn what these caterpillars might become.

The fourth day of school the caterpillars crawled to the top of the bug box, hung upside down like the letter j, and made their chrysalids. These caterpillars were writing the lesson plans!

After the three-day weekend, the lessons continued.

The fifth day of school we tried to dismantle the bug box so the butterflies could emerge into our class butterfly tent made of netting and wire. The screws were too rusty, so we cut away the screen, and put the whole bug box into the tent. We tried to be very gentle. The students chose to do work about the life cycles of butterflies and sunflowers, and every other insect project and puzzle in the classroom.

The sixth day of school we waited and wondered when or whether we might see butterflies. We talked about artists; how they observe, analyze, document, research, interpret, and add imagination. We observed the remaining sunflower plants, then made drawings.

The seventh day of school the first butterfly emerged just as the students were arriving. It hung very still for awhile, then slowly began moving its wings. The other nine emerged over the next hour and a half. They crawled around on the net as they gained strength. They visited the blossoms and sugar water, and began to fly around the tent.

Then a butterfly escaped and flew right onto a student's cheek! It was caught gently, and released out the door. Another escaped during storytime! We put a strawberry basket over it, then released it.

Two more got out, and one flew into the restroom. The lead teacher and at least a dozen curious preschoolers jammed into the two-stall restroom to rescue the butterfly. We took it to the playground to release, and it flew two circles around the kids. The caterpillars wrote the lesson plan, and the butterflies gave the demonstration!

The eleventh butterfly did not survive. It seems to have emerged missing some essential parts, fallen to the bottom of the bug box, and died. We will retrieve the wings, and save them in the class insect center. We will have to talk about death and survival in another caterpillar lesson plan, and answer questions for awhile. That is a gift, too.

All the parents came to our back-to-school meeting this evening, and got caught up in the butterfly excitement. Again, the timing was perfect. The class experience became a shared family experience.

Tomorrow morning we may have six checkerspots to release from the tent out on the playground. Or we may find that some have escaped, and are flying around in the school. We will hold open the doors and sing, "Glory hallelujah!" What a blast into the school semester!

Many preschoolers have already viewed hours and hours of marching penguins, crocodile hunting, meerkat family feuds, animal rescues, Galapagos tortoises, shark specials and poison dart frog features. Most first graders know they should worry about rain forest devastation and melting polar ice. Not many of them have spent significant time chasing fireflies, watching roly-polies, holding ladybugs, or looking for caterpillars. Nature is something they see at its most extreme and distant on television or computer programs. It's not wiggly or warm or wondrous or personally experienced in the grass near their toes.

It's likely to rain tomorrow. The kids expect the tornados of the Storm Tracker videos, with a hurricane, tsunami, or a West Nile virus epidemic. Rain is for sitting on the front stoop and smelling the change in the air, for listening to the approaching thunder, for noticing the light as it becomes more greenish-gray, for twirling about in the yard as the first drops cool your arms and forehead. Rain is for washing away the sidewalk chalk and for wondering where the butterflies go.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

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