Early in the fall, a procession of kindergartners dressed as caterpillars, butterflies, blue jays, woodland animals, and stinkbugs marches from the kindergarten building at The Park School of Baltimore to a nearby open meadow. For decades, the youngest learners at Park have begun their school year by studying the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and its metamorphosis from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly.
In early September, the students collect caterpillars from the many milkweed plants on campus, study them, and carefully write down their observations during each stage of development. They also read books to understand the insects’ remarkable transformation, and watch films that include interviews with scientists who study monarchs. The project provides a rare opportunity for students to learn about the Mexican forests where the butterflies spend their winters.
This activity culminates each October with the Monarch Festival, which includes a dramatization of the monarch’s metamorphosis. Students, faculty, and family members gather to watch as the butterflies are released and begin their journey to Mexico. The Festival celebrates not only the life cycle of these fascinating creatures, but also the turn of the seasons and the coming of winter. It’s the culmination of an interdisciplinary exploration that engages four- and five-year-olds in scientific observation, data representation and collection, mathematics, Spanish language and culture, conservation, and the presentation of findings.
The lessons and memories of The Park School Monarch Project stay with the children as they grow, and, like the monarch’s DNA, inform them for their next stages of life.