What’s Jewish about butterflies? Or spiders or potato bugs?

By Leslie Hurd, Kofim teacher, and Amanda Laden, Kofim teacher

The Kofim class of three-year olds has always been a curious bunch, full of questions and ready to search out the answers.  Since our school uses a Reggio-inspired, emergent curriculum, following the students’ interests and using those to construct learning opportunities, Amanda and I were hopeful that a class exploration of animals might lead us toward the National Zoo. The kids’ interests, however, were steering us in a much different direction:  down.

As we walked around our neighborhood, the creatures that most captured the kids’ fancies were at ground level: bugs! As adults, it is much easier to see what is at our own eye level and above; for these kids, a shrub with a spider web tucked inside IS at eye-level and is an absolutely amazing thing! The Kofim were into bugs.

Kofim sketching on their Bug Hunt

Kofim sketching on their Bug Hunt

Kofim on a bug hunt

Using magnifying glasses on a Bug Hunt

We amassed a collection of clear containers (with lids) that were good for creature collecting. Working together, the Kofim collected dirt, leaves, and the occasional potato bug. Having no fear of these creepy-crawly critters, many of the Kofim helped each other ease into the “new territory” of picking up bugs with gentle hands, watching them crawl up and down arms, and then either placing them in a container or back into its hole. Ants and potato bugs were the ones we brought back to class most frequently, to inspect before putting them back outside “to play,” as the kids put it.

Kofim looking at a bug book

Using the Big Bug Book to identify the bugs

One day, a classmate brought in a jar of caterpillars for the kids to observe. Five caterpillars in a jar crawled around as the kids watched and asked questions: “Why don’t they have legs?” “How can they see?” “How can they eat?” “When will it be a butterfly?” Using The Big Bug Book, we looked up caterpillars and read about many different kinds. We also began to focus our creature searches toward areas with lots of flowers, where we would be sure to spot butterflies or moths. The kids were familiar with the idea of making a chrysalis from the ubiquitous and beloved The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but they had never seen it in action.

Drawing and painting bugs

Drawing and painting bugs

Over the course of the next seven days, the caterpillars grew to be enormous “baby monster caterpillars,” before crawling up to the top of the jar, hanging upside down, and making their chrysalises. We ordered more caterpillars (InsectLore.com), so the kids could watch the process a second time.

Releasing the butterflies

Releasing the butterflies in Arna's Garden

As each set of caterpillars metamorphosed into butterflies, the children were transfixed. They told kids in other classes about their pet butterflies, so we soon began entertaining visitors from all over the school. After keeping each generation of butterflies for roughly a week, we went out as a class to release them in Arna’s Garden in front of the J. As each one flew away, we said “Goodbye, Butterfly,” adding many of the languages we had represented in our class:  shalom, parpar (Hebrew), au revoir, papillon (French), adios, mariposa (Spanish).

Kofim at the MNH Butterfly Pavilion

The Kofim visit the Butterfly Pavilion

Not done with butterflies yet, the Kofim Class and their parents jumped on the S4 to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s Butterfly Pavilion. We spent the morning watching a tarantula being fed, holding GIANT grasshoppers, and walking through a flower-filled greenhouse with butterflies fluttering above and on our heads.

As teachers, it is our job to impart knowledge to the students, to shrink it down in a way that makes it accessible to the kids. The kids are teaching us in reverse, by magnifying their own wonder in these so-called “little things” and sharing it with us.

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