Very Hungry Caterpillars
In April I wrote a column about life cycles and suggested ways of exposing children to nature at a young age. I recently attended an education conference in Portland, Oregon, and was reminded that skills are not learned in isolation, or at one time. Instead, they are learned during many experiences that continuously build upon each other, and that we must revisit experiences often to cement learning and allow children to grasp concepts easily and naturally. This month I would like to revisit life cycles using the monarch butterfly.
For more information
Opal Public Charter School and Opal Museum School (serving children ages 3–11 years) are programs of Portland Children's Museum in Portland, Oregon. To learn more, visit www.opalschoolblog.typepad.com, and www.portlandcm.org.
Visit www.maryalicemonroe.com to learn more about the monarch butterflies.
How many times have you read Eric Carle's “The Very Hungry Caterpillar?” What if the next time you read this book you went outside to find your own egg to grow from caterpillar to butterfly?
No matter where you live, you can find eggs because monarch butterflies are in all 50 states – they are the only insect that migrates like a bird or a whale. Finding your own eggs is a simple, inexpensive, healthy way to exercise, spend quality time together and learn. And don't worry about hurting them. The monarchs' eggs are hardy enough to withstand gentle handling until you can get them from yard to container. Just remember that when you find your egg, transport it on the leaf so the caterpillar has food.
The best place to look for eggs is on the bottom of milkweed leaves. If you don't have milkweed in your yard, you should consider planting some. Not only will you learn about the life cycle of both caterpillar and plant, but you will be helping the monarchs survive and flourish.
“Most people don't understand how critical the milkweed plant is to the monarchs' survival, says Mary Alice Monroe, local author and monarch butterfly expert. “The milkweed is the monarch host plant, which means it is the only plant the female monarch will lay her eggs on, and it is the sole food the caterpillars eat.”
Mary Alice hopes her readers and others will all plant milkweed and nectar flowers in their back yards and flower boxes. The Children's Museum of the Lowcountry took Monroe's advice and now has five milkweed plants in the outdoor garden – all of which have eggs. The Museum invites you to come explore the eggs on the milkweed and feel free to adopt one to take home and nurture.
Once you have your egg(s) you will want a safe home for them to grow. The Opal School at the Portland Children's Museum has built a beautiful netted tent that kindergarten and first-grade students can all get inside of to experience the metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to butterfly. They are allowed to observe butterflies emerging from the chrysalis all while being inside the tent together. Talk about being one with nature!
If you can't build a tent, you can still create a safe comfortable environment using any container with ventilation. Think recyclables – drink cups with lids (straw hole mandatory for air), two-liter plastic bottles with holes cut for ventilation, anything with enough space for the new butterfly to spread its wings!
Robin Berlinsky is the director of education at the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry, adjunct professor at the College of Charleston School of Education, Health and Human Performance and is the owner of niki leigh spa parties. She has taught in the Charleston County school system and has three children. For more information, contact Robin.Berlinsky@gmail.com.