As a new teacher, I eschewed "kits." I'm a do-it-yourselfer at heart, usually frustrated whenever a professional needs to be brought in. I would cut my own hair if I could. I would perform my own appendectomy. So when we were looking at electricity during my first year as a teacher, I went the whole nine yards, assembling a lemon powered clock from copper wire, zinc-coated paper clips, pennies, foil, and a dismantled LED display clock. This monstrosity took three interconnected lemons, and after a lot of fiddling, it worked! The kids and their parents let out a genuine "whoop" of eureka when we finally could read those numbers on the watch's tiny face.
I might have run with the home made lemon clock for one more year, but it wasn't long before I broke down and bought the kit. In fact, I now own two of them. It's a lot tidier, less fiddling, and it works every time, which means we don't get the eureka whoop, but the basic concept of an electrical circuit is much clearer.
Along the same lines, I've always avoided the butterfly kits. I'm not really sure why because I'm sure not going to succeed in creating a do-it-yourself chrysalis, but this year Calder's grandfather Dick, who apparently loves to peruse educational product websites in his free time, asked if we would want a couple and I said, "Yes."
For nearly a month, both the Pre-3 and 3-5's classes have been watching these creatures grow from their larval stage all the way through to painted lady butterflies. We have 6 of them now in their "viewing chambers," with perhaps two more still to emerge from their chrysalid.
All the way through the process, they've been in a place where the kids could see them, albeit a little out of their reach because there are lots of admonishments in the materials about "delicate stages." I bridle at that a bit, but at the same time, they're living creatures and I'd rather them not suffer the fate of some of the worms from our worm bin who are occasionally handed to me by 2-year-old hands with the word, "broken."
And at each circle time, from the larva stage through butterfly, I've been slowly moving around the group, giving them a chance to get a close up view, a time during which the children make their observations, ask questions, and make connections that we can all talk about. In the 3-5 class in particular, the kids have demanded their butterfly time, calling out, "You forgot the butterflies!" when I've tried to skip them, inadvertently or otherwise. We've also, spent time each day, reviewing what we've seen and/or what we expect, using the poster-sized chart that came with the kit to prompt us.
We've been doing it together, me leading them through the "story" of both what has happened and what we predict will happen, leaving blanks for the group to fill in: "Before we got them they were . . . Eggs! By the time we got them, they were . . . Larva! Then they ate their food and grew into . . . Caterpillars! Once they were big enough they made their . . . Chrysalis!" (At this point, many of the kids say "chrysalid" since we've learned that's the plural form.) "And when they're inside their chrysalis, they're call . . . Pupae! Then they come out of their chrysalis and . . . Their wings are stuck together!" (This has become one of the "official" stages because it's on the chart.) "Then they spread their wings and are . . . Butterflies! Then they lay eggs and the circle starts again."
We have a song with hand gestures indicating the caterpillars, chrysalid and butterfly stage, maybe every preschool does, that goes:
Fuzzy, fuzzy caterpillar.
Crawling, crawling by.
Don't you know that someday
You will be a butterfly.
Don't you know that someday
You will be a butterfly.
The 3-5's class now sings a version that has no rhyming or rhythm that includes the egg, larval, pupae, and wings stuck together stages. The old version no longer makes it.
I've used this as a chance to talk about the other classic nature story of metamorphosis: tadpole to frog, which we've looked at through pictures in books. At the same time, we've been talking about the life cycle of plants. We kneel down and pretend to be seeds, covered in dirt. We feel the rainwater and the warm sun. Then we sprout using our hands over our heads, palm together as if praying. We get our first leaves, spreading our hands apart. Then we grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, slowing emerging from our crouch into a fully standing position our "leaves" still over our heads. Then we get flowers, our palms blooming toward the sun, fingers spread wide. Then we grow fruit, our hands forming into fists. And inside the fruit are seeds, and we return to our crouch going through the process again and again, often until we're breathing hard, shouting together the words I've italicized here.
We talk about how all of these stories are circles; "nature circles" we call them. We talk about the other nature circles, like the seasons. In the 3-5's class, the kids are sharing other examples of the nature circles. Dennis recently saw and ostrich egg at the zoo and told us about that nature circle. We've shared the nature circle stories of worms, of bunnies, of dogs, of dinosaurs, and even of space aliens as we've sat there together, the butterflies from the kits now living creatures feeding off orange slices over my shoulder. As the children think of other nature circles, they tell them to me throughout the day, excited to share their eureka moment.
And, of course, we've noticed one other circle story, one that isn't exactly from nature, but isn't exactly man-made either: the electrical circuit we made to run our lemon powered clock, a circle that wasn't so clear in my DIY version.
We will never go a year again at Woodland Park without those butterfly kits. I'm a convert.