Featured Activity: Butterfly Migration

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Rebecca Wadler, this week’s Educator of the Week, shares a fun activity that inspires young kids to think about the larger world around them by studying monarch butterfly migration. Read more about this activity and other ideas for teaching young students about the world.

Activity: Butterfly Migration
Grade Level: Pre-K
Time Commitment: ½ Day

A lesson I did this year with the Pre-K and Head Start students was about monarch butterfly migration. We started with a book, Gotta Go! Gotta Go!, about the little caterpillar’s need to get to Mexico even though he’s not sure where that is or how to get there. He eats, makes a chrysalis, becomes a butterfly, and heads to Mexico. We talked about how far it is to Mexico. I asked them how long they thought it would take to get there. We talked more about the butterfly migration, why it is important, and what is happening now with the butterfly migration.

Then, the kids were given butterfly puppets to decorate and we all went out on our own migration around the school. We flew to “Mexico” around the school. We stopped to rest and drink and then we made it back home again after the migration. Ideally, I would love to find a preschool in Mexico where I could send the butterflies to “migrate” for the winter and have the students there keep them and converse with the kids throughout the year and then send them back to us when it’s time to migrate back to the U.S.

Rebecca teaching her butterfly migration activity at the Izaak Walton League of America in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Photograph by Dawn Merritt

How did this activity impact your students?

This is a great way for Pre-K students to start thinking about their place in the world. Having the students go on their own migration around the school gets them outside exploring and playing in nature. They were looking at plants and trees they never noticed before. They noticed butterflies that they never would have looked at before. It allows them to be creative and use their imaginations.

This is usually the first lesson I do with the students since the migration occurs at the beginning of the school year. Then, at the end of the school year when we review all the things we explored, one of the first things they say is, “we went to Mexico!” To me, that means this lesson stuck with them and had an impact on them. They can find Mexico on the map and they know about the great journey the monarch embarks on.

Examples of students’ butterflies with the book Gotta Go! Gotta Go! Photograph by Dawn Merritt

What is one simple activity to get students to think about their world?

For the young students I work with, it’s all about developing a sense of wonder and excitement for how big the world around them is. I encourage teachers to just take their kids outside and let them explore. To a small child, that little patch of trees at the back of the school is as big as the Amazon rain forest. Give them the opportunity and that joy and wonder and excitement will come.

Do you have a favorite book that inspires your teaching?

The Last Child in the Woods and the other writing of Richard Louv are very much the inspiration for the movement to get kids connected to nature and the world again.

Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you in your life or in your teaching?

“We will not fight to save what we do not love.” – Stephen Jay Gould

Rebecca Wadler is the conservation education associate at the Izaak Walton League of America in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She has worked in conservation education for the past 13 years with kids of all ages. She is passionate about educating young people about the importance of conversation and protecting the planet, and she enjoys encouraging kids to get outside and explore and connect with nature.

Looking to teach butterfly migration to older students? Check out National Geographic’s Monarch Butterfly activity for grades 5-10.

orange nominateDo you know of a great geo-education activity? 
Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week! 

The Educator of the Week series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

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