Butterflies and first grade go together. I don’t know how many people have told me that their children remember their first grade butterfly unit more than anything else in grade school. It is the process of seeing the caterpillars transform into butterflies as they emerge from their cocoons that create such remembrances?
I had the joy of engaging with a first grade and the Oliver Partnership School in Lawrence, Massachusetts as they took on a project with me to plant a butterfly garden in front of the school. The funding for the project came from the Canadian Fulbright Eco-Leadership Program and involved the school, the Gordon College service-learning office, and myself.
The first stage of the project was to populate the wooden boxes with a select group of plants from the New England Wild Flower Society. We did this on a May Saturday spring day. Students, family members, teachers, and Gordon College volunteers enjoyed digging in the soil and bringing some life to this urban site. We learned quickly why having the raised beds was important—the grass grows on a very thin layer of soil underlain by rock or rubble. Several highlights of the morning included: A parent who saw the enthusiasm and joy in her daughter when she planted and watered the flowers; A teacher who had never planted anything before in his life; Students and families who were transformed when butterflies were brought out of the cooler in order to be released; People on the streets stopping to find out what was going on.
In early June we had a second release of butterflies. All fifty of the cocoons, cared for by the first grade classes, produced butterflies. I couldn’t wait to go and visit when the teachers and students come outside to set them free.
Over the summer I have checked on the garden to make sure it is watered and weeded as it waits for the children to arrive in August. It is doing well.
This was truly the highlight of my year. I need to spend more time with first graders, all of whom now want to be scientists. I need more wonder at the world around me. And I’m thinking about what we can do next year to enhance our butterfly garden…