Apr 17

Today’s Environmental Education Week guest blogger is Nikki, a Day Care Educator who is always on the look-out for incorporating real science into her daily curriculum. When one of her student’s parents brought a little caterpillar to school one day, Nikki saw the opportunity to teach her students science, both indoors and out, with the help of technology and ARKive. Keep reading for the trials and tribulations of ‘Fuzzy’ the caterpillar.

Using ARKive indoors and out to connect local species with related species around the world

The last week in February, Michael’s mom found a caterpillar near the fireplace at home. She brought it into school and I thought this would be the perfect science project for 2 1/2 and 3 year olds. We put ‘Fuzzy’ into a soda bottle and poked holes in the top. We also added a few leaves in case he got hungry. Within 3 days, ‘Fuzzy’ went into a cocoon. We checked on him daily and after about 3 weeks we thought ‘Fuzzy’ went over the ‘Rainbow Bridge’.

It was a Tuesday morning, the end of March, and I noticed a leg beginning to come through the cocoon.  Within moments, I grabbed the seven children in my class at the time, and we watched as ‘Fuzzy’ emerged into the Get Set classroom. Another little boy, Anthony, and his mom walked in minutes before. We all watched in amazement. I immediately freaked out, wondering what was in the jar.  It didn’t have wings and resembled a bee. Lucy was just dropped off by her dad who is an entomologist at Penn State University.  I ran down the hall to question him about the creature in my jar. He told me it was an Isabella tiger moth. He said within about 10 minutes the blood flow would hit his wings and they would expand. I raced back to my classroom and we watched at ‘Fuzzy’ became like “the beautiful butterfly, just like in The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” My co-teacher, Anthony’s mom, seven children, and myself, watched this phenomenon.  We helped him out of the jar and onto the wall on our playground.  The children watched in awe as we took pictures and bid farewell to our friend.

Well, my conscience got the best of me. It was hovering around 20 degrees and I feared ‘Fuzzy’ would freeze to death. My director found a butterfly tent and we transported our furry friend back inside.  I spent a good part of that day researching Isabella tiger moths and their relatives. Looking on ARKive, I learned there are a handful of moths related to ‘Fuzzy’ from the stripy Jersey tiger moth to the European cinnabar moth. I could easily envision an activity with the younger kids asking them to point out which parts of ‘Fuzzy’ were the same or different to his cousins on ARKive.

Photo of Jersey tiger moth on ARKivePhoto of cinnabar moth on ARKive

Then, the kids looked at pictures with me on my iPad of Isabella tiger moths and asked very mindful questions about how to take care of ‘Fuzzy’. We learned that he had only a few days to find a mate. He also may or may not eat. If he did eat, he’d like the nectar of a flower.Well, it’s March, so we crushed up a sugar cube, mixed it with water, and sprayed it onto artificial flowers that were placed in his tent. Everyday, we took pictures of him and would talk to him about what we were learning in school.  He learned about traveling to space which included watching space shuttle launches and landings. He also learned about Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh. Last Thursday, ‘Fuzzy’ peacefully drifted off. The children wondered where he would go now. We put him in a tissue and buried him in the ground so the worms would have some food too.  I explained the circle of life and told the kids, the next big worm we found, was probably ‘Fuzzy’. The kids are looking forward to the next big rain storm so the worms will come out and we can find ‘Fuzzy’.

In all of my years teaching, this was probably one of the coolest experiences with kids. We were able to watch every single aspect in the life cycle of at caterpillar and used ARKive to learn about species related to the one in our own classroom. Sure, we’ve read stories, but nothing will compare to the look on their faces, when witnessing the real thing. I’m looking forward to seeing what else we can find in our ‘backyard’.

Nikki, Day Care School Educator and Lover of Caterpillars

  • Heidi Swets (April 17th, 2013 at 5:59 pm):

    Nikki this is a jewel of a story, and is exactly the kind of thing that feeds the imaginations and the hearts of children, and is what we so desperately need in these times. We have taken feeling away from children so much, with all the emphasis on “performance” and “being able to compete in the global economy.” Chldren need to start exploring the world at this age through the heart and the senses. Keep on!