“That’s amazing… all that way! I had no idea.” “I saw a Monarch Butterfly the other day.” “Look mummy, a caterpillar.” These are the phrases that we love to hear when engaging people; sharing our joy of monarchs and what we can do to help them.
There are a variety of ways that we interact with the public – some actively, some passively. We are often asked to attend events to promote pollinators and their habitat. We always have Richter boxes with preserved specimens, especially useful with comparing or pointing out a specific feature. If possible, we will bring some living specimens (livestock) and this is when we get a lot of engagement.
To provide other opportunities to engage the public and various generations, I’ve produced a cart with a variety of images and maps to help people understand a year in the life of multiple generations of monarchs. They are welcome to look at these images and ask questions. I let them lead their exploration.
For younger ones (and older if they want), there are a series of images that illustrate the life cycle of the Monarch. To engage these younger ones, I ask them to put them in order. If it’s a larger family group, I might get each person to choose a card and get them to stand in order – Total Physical Response (TPR). Exploring the life cycle this way has been very interesting, too, when interacting with non-English speakers since there are no words for them to read; a wonderful opportunity for them to participate.
I also have specimens of milkweed with caterpillars on them. We’ll count the caterpillars and with any luck, I’ll have a variety of sizes for people to see. It’s interesting to see the astonishment at finding a caterpillar that is smaller than the top of your little finger. We observe them eating and then discuss how they eat. It’s fun to compare the up and down motion of our mouths with the side to side motion of caterpillar mouths (and other chewing insects). Everyone that wants to can role play being a caterpillar munching on a leaf… discover how are we the same; how are we different.
The migration of the monarch from Eastern Canada to Mexico is pretty amazing and people are fascinated to hear about their journey, using maps to help explain it, many not realizing that it is the same butterfly that starts that journey in September and finishes in Texas in March after spending the winter in Mexico. We tag them and release them sometimes with the help of the visitors – some positive; some negative responses to having the butterflies placed on their hands or noses – with their permission of course. I always need to be ready to take it off before a hand swipes it away.
I love questions and one I often get is: “What can I do?”. Again, I have either living plants or images of plants that they can plant in their garden reminding them that they need to consider all life cycle needs. I’ll also tell them about some citizen science opportunities, such as Mission Monarch, a Canadian database of monarch and milkweed sightings. I’ll have a list of resources that they can take a picture of to find out more.
There are times when I have to be careful, especially with little ones who want to hold or grab the caterpillars, but on the whole it’s a matter of being vigilant, both me and the parents. I’ve also had to be cognizant of my enthusiasm not to get the better of me. Information is good to share, but they don’t necessarily need to know it all. I try to encourage questions, to help me focus what I want to tell them.
Learn, observe, report milkweed and monarchs that you see in your neighbourhood
The Butterflyway Project is a citizen-led movement growing highways of habitat for bees and butterflies across Canada
- Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies workshops
- Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA)
Great 2-day workshop. First day – learn all about Monarchs, ecology, care, concerns, status… Second day (optional)– experience integrated curriculum activities that can be used with a wide variety of age groups. For Ontario participants, you can apply for collector’s permit under TRCA umbrella licence. You will then be able to raise and tag monarchs.
Great list of resources and activities for grades Pre-K through 12 and offers activities that promote conservation of the Monarch Butterfly.
Great books to read with younger children
Karin Davidson-Taylor is a director for Pollination Guelph, which is a group of individuals dedicated to the conservation and development of pollinator habitat for current and future generations. We promote awareness and understanding of the role of pollinators in achieving local and global environmental sustainability goals and showcase pollinator projects that are a model for citizens and communities throughout Canada and internationally.