The monarch butterflies have been flying through our area, and for me, that means school is fully in session. The ageless way to mark time is through the intersection of relationships, rather than the march of a clock: plant your corn when the dogwood trees have leaves the size of squirrel ears, and begin working on your school garden when the monarchs head back home to Mexico.
Butterflies are symbolic of education, because ideas can set you free. Creating an herb garden is the first step in gardening, a butterfly garden is the second step in creating a rich schoolyard or home learning habitat. Much is written about the symbolism of butterflies and education, and much is written about exactly how to create a butterfly garden. Little is written, however, about why we should devote ourselves to the study of native butterflies.
Creating a butterfly garden at school extends our sense of community; it is good to expand our reach to include animals, creatures, plants and winged things into our realm of care. It takes no stretch of the imagination to realize that all species now suffer from habitat loss, and schoolyard habitats can supply a meaningful amount of nectar and energy that makes the difference in whether birds and butterflies complete their long seasonal migration, or not.
Good teachers gravitate naturally to the school garden and already draw a number of science, math, art and english lessons from the metamorphic cycle of the butterfly, easy to do with the right plants just outside the classroom window. Butterflies are marvels of design, somehow managing to flutter through the most wicked of hurricanes, emerging battered but not broken on the other side. Studying creatures and applying nature’s elegant design to human products is a relatively new field of study called Biomimicry. Innovations derived from the study of butterfly wings are currently being applied to wind turbines, solar film and self-cleaning products.
Knowing where you come from is important to knowing who you are, and where you come from is shaped heavily by your environment. We are people of the oak trees, monarch butterflies and big rivers, we are different from people of the cactus, sun, and sand, or the people of the sea. This idea of knowing who you are, and where you come from, is called “Sense of Place.” Butterflies help us know who we are, and where we come from; imagine never seeing a monarch butterfly, hearing a cicada or catching a lightning bug, many people haven’t.
Teaching children about butterflies is a very easy way to develop a sense of place, deepen empathy for for an expanded community, and engage in the timeless study of good design. The monarch butterflies are heading south, and for me, it’s time to focus on setting new ideas free.