Butterfly school – LCPS Kindergarteners rear and free monarchs

LITTLE CURRENT—It was the day the junior and senior Kindergarten students of Mrs. Volpini’s class had been waiting patiently for—the big release of their orange, black and white-winged friends.

Janet McCarville, the JK/SK designated early childhood educator (ECE) in the classroom, loves butterflies and she’s keen to pass that passion on to her young charges. Wearing a butterfly print shirt in honour of the big day, Ms. McCarville explained to The Expositor that she has been specially trained by the Monarch Teacher Network of Canada in the rearing and life cycle of the butterfly and has a keen eye for their eggs too.

It was Labour Day weekend in Providence Bay when the ECE was searching through milkweed that had inadvertently been trampled through the stream rehabilitation program by heavy equipment at the mouth of the Mindemoya River. She was on the hunt for the milkweed tussock moth. Taking the new shoots that had popped through the machine tracks, it was later that she discovered she had more than she hoped for, for there, on the underside of the leaves, were nine tiny, football-shaped eggs, the eggs of the monarch butterfly.

Ms. McCarville said she gifted two of the eggs, kept one for her family, gave one to another class at Little Current Public School and shared the rest with the Kindergarten students. The eggs were quickly adopted into the classroom family with open arms, becoming an important part of the curriculum with the eventual release of the butterflies a much-anticipated event.

The students got a first-hand look at the life cycle of the monarch butterfly, the winged beauties that have spent much time in the news as of late, with worried scientists and members of the public expressing their concern over a near non-existent showing of the butterfly this year in our climes.

The eggs hatched into larvae (a caterpillar), formed a chrysalis on the underside of the milkweed leaves provided in their new home for their grand metamorphosis and, last weekend, emerged as monarch butterflies, much to the delight of the children. (The milkweed plants are all-important to the insects’ life cycle as the leaves are the only food the caterpillar feeds on during this active stage in the butterfly’s development.)

Once the wings of the butterflies had well and truly dried, which took about two or three days after their emergence from the chrysalis stage, Ms. McCarville supplied them with a tracking number in the form of a little round sticker. This way, if anyone nets the butterflies, they can track them online.

While the last of the butterflies was tagged, the children watched, crossed legged and happy on the floor before the smart board, which magnified the monarch to larger than life.

While the children watched, Ms. McCarville helped the butterfly unfurl is proboscis, a tongue-like apparatus, and encouraged it to drink from the 4:1 water sugar concoction she had at the ready.

“And why is Ms. McCarville doing this?” Mrs. Volpini asked the class. “To fuel her (the butterfly’s) tank?”

“Yes!” the class responded enthusiastically. “Why?” the teacher asked. “So she can go to Mexico!” they replied.

Ms. McCarville explained that butterflies cannot eat and fly at the same time, and so was able to let go of the monarch’s wings while the butterfly fueled up.

After the sticky meal, the insect then had her feet washed to avoid sugar crystals from forming.

The ECE then read the last of a book the children had been reading over the course of the metamorphosis, where the monarch, stretching her newly-formed wings, flew to Mexico, making plenty of new butterfly friends upon her arrival.

Ms. McCarville said she has had a love affair with butterflies since she was a child, noting fond memories of hunting for eggs with her mother at her grandmother’s house.

Following a practice of the ‘goodbye butterfly song,’ the students made their way outside as three of the butterflies were brought outside, one by one, to be released. Three students were randomly selected for the release, and they were Greyson Case, Harmony Pitawanakwat and Ella Tasse.

As the butterflies flew from their cupped hands, the children bid them adieu, singing “goodbye butterfly, goodbye, au revoir, papillion, au revoir and baa ma pii, memengwaa, baa ma pii” in all of Manitoulin’s official languages.

For a video of the butterfly launch, visit Facebook.com/ManitoulinExpositor.

Alicia McCutcheon