The youngest students at Warren County Christian School got a chance to spread their wings from day one.
The students began an interdisciplinary unit on monarch butterflies on Aug. 24.
"On the first day of school, the kindergarten, first and second grades at WCCS went to the edge of the soccer field and collected eggs and larvae for the monarch butterfly from the milkweed that grew there," teacher Khlare Bracken said.
Photo submitted for publication
A student holds a monarch butterfly tagged at Warren County Christian School.
Each student kept a jar with milkweed, the tiny eggs and eventually the caterpillars. Looking for the eggs was one of Vicki Root's favorite parts of the unit.
"We put aluminum foil on the top of each jar to keep the larvae from escaping and poked holes in it to give the larvae air," Bracken said.
The caterpillars eat the milkweed, Tasha Ferry said.
In fact, that's all a monarch caterpillar will eat.
Milkweed is poisonous to many birds and animals, Bracken said. The food passes along that trait to the monarchs.
"If a bird eats them, they will get sick," Landon Moore said.
After the eggs hatched, the larva wandered around inside the jars eating for about two weeks, Bracken said. They then wrapped themselves in cocoons on their way to their last form.
"After the chrysalis formed, we had to wait another two weeks for the butterfly to hatch," Bracken said.
With the creatures not doing anything interesting for that time, students had time to work on other portions of the unit.
"While we waited we read books, watched DVDs, made art projects of the milkweed, larva, eggs, pupa and butterflies, and made books that coincided with the progress we were making through the unit," Bracken said.
Lilly Little enjoyed learning about the monarch's life cycle and especially enjoyed watching them break out of the chrysalises, she said.
"After the pupae began to hatch into adults, we took them from the jar - carefully having them walk onto a pencil and put them into an insect house which is made mostly of mesh," Bracken said. "Their wings need to dry completely before they are released or they will not fly properly."
Amiera Dansk had never seen a monarch butterfly before the project. Ferry said the adults were "pretty."
Eliana Beatty pointed out that monarchs don't just look good, "they have a job to do helping the environment."
The students were able to carefully handle the butterflies at certain points during the unit.
Gracia Clark said she liked holding them because "their feet tickled," she said.
The class participated in a University of Kansas tagging program, affixing tiny water-proof sticker tags to each adult butterfly. According to information from the program's website, young children are often better at getting the tiny stickers to stick in the right spot than are adults with much bigger fingers.
The students had to keep track of the tag numbers, the release date and location and other information.
Learning how to keep the chart was Alexander Ferry's favorite part of the unit.
The information recorded included the sex of each butterfly - 14 females and seven males.
Gaven Havle explained how to tell the difference. "The girls have thicker veins in their wings and boys have a black dot at the bottom of both wings," he said.
"We then took them outside and the person in whose jar they hatched released them," Bracken said.
From Youngsville and everywhere else east of the Mississippi River, monarchs fly to Mexico, she said. Those hatched west of the Mississippi fly to California.
Root said the butterflies "can fly really far."
"They fly nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico if they take that route," Bracken said.
The students learned about some other insects - particularly bees and ants - during the unit, and even involved some culinary arts. The culminating project was making, decorating, and eating butterfly cookies. None of the students claimed that eating the cookies was the best part of the unit, but Havle did say he enjoyed baking them.
Learning about the butterflies was good, but the students liked simply having them around.
"We got to spend time with them and took care of them and were friends with them," Beatty said.