In July of 2007, my life changed forever – by attending a workshop. I remember reading the flyer. “Best workshop I’ve ever taken,” raved one teacher. Really? I wondered how they could spend three days talking about one thing – the monarch butterfly.
My colleague, Kim Lance, and I had been raising monarchs in our classrooms for a while. She’d been doing it for years and had gotten me started by giving me a couple of caterpillars each fall. It isn’t too hard to do – just give them fresh milkweed every couple of days and wait for the magic! But we thought that by going to the workshop offered by the Monarch Teacher Network (MTN) of Canada we could learn a little more about what we were doing and maybe find a new activity or two to do with our Grade 1 students. What I found in that workshop turned out to be a lot more than information about how to raise caterpillars. I found leadership opportunities and the possibility of travel all over North America participating in many incredible experiences. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t gone to Ottawa for those three days.
Since that time, I have gone from having just one or two monarchs in my classroom to raising several hundred in a tent in my backyard each season. I bring them into my classroom and my students help me take care of them. Through a multitude of cross-curricular activities, they become experts on these little creatures that capture their hearts. I am able to teach them about the monarch not only through science activities, but also through literacy, math, art, music and social studies lessons. Through the tagging program run by Monarch Watch, we become citizen scientists, participating in real-life scientific research – tracking the monarch migration every year. Through a project called Journey North, we connect with students in Mexico by sending paper butterflies to be cared for over the winter months. In the spring we receive paper butterflies from students all over Canada and the United States, as well as notes and pictures from the children in Mexico.
As my students help to clean containers, feed caterpillars, tag adults and release their butterflies to head south to Mexico, something else happens that leaves me in awe every year. My students develop a love, compassion and appreciation for nature in general. They want to know about other caterpillars, other bugs and other living creatures. When the school board rebuilt our school a couple of years ago, we had the opportunity to plant a butterfly garden right behind my classroom. My students had a direct hand in creating that garden and still