The students gathered eagerly around their teachers’ closed cupped hands and leaned forward to get a glimpse of what they held.
“Can I hold them?” one student asked.
Instead, a small group of teachers opened their hands and released orange, black and white monarch butterflies. A sudden gust of wind carried the butterflies high into the air. They hovered above the school’s playground for a moment and then disappeared.
“Where are they gonna go?” Riverdale Nursery School and Family Center Director Susan Smelin asked the students.
“Mexico!” the group shouted, before breaking into a song with the chorus
“I’ll fly away.”
The butterfly release on Oct. 20 was the culmination of the school’s three-week study on the insect’s life cycle, diet, physical appearance and migration patterns. The lesson was part of the school’s social consciousness and environmental curriculum that incorporated subjects, including math, science and art.
Students watched and raised the butterflies from caterpillars; recorded their observations and hypotheses in small notebooks made of green construction paper; took the insects’ measurements and graphed their findings; read related books from the school’s science library; and created construction-paper artwork made of strips of monarch-colored paper.
Ms. Smelin said it was important that the artwork evolve organically. She said rather than give students coffee filters and clothespins and ask them to simply create a butterfly, as many schools do, students received monarch-colored construction paper strips. Hanging on the walls of classrooms, the final products looked like abstract, deconstructed butterflies with strips of colorful construction paper dotting a black background.
Esteban Ramos, 5, was eager to show off what he had learned about butterflies.
“They know how to fly away to Mexico and I know that they go in the chrysalis and I also know the J,” he said, referring to the shape caterpillars make before they enter the cocoon stage.
When asked if he was sorry to see the butterflies go, Esteban emphasized that it was for the best.
“If they stay here for long they might die,” he said.
Although the butterflies were kept in cages made of wood and wire mesh, they were sometimes released into a “butterfly tent.” Small groups of students armed with sugar-water were allowed to go in and hang out with the insects.
“They laid on my finger,” Sophia Ugalde, 4, said, adding that the experience felt, “tickly.”