"Too often children are asked to save the whales, the rainforest, the Earth," says habitat educator Judith Levicoff from the Philadelphia area. "Although they're all important issues, they are overwhelming concepts to a child. Children live in the moment and need immediate results for their efforts. Butterfly gardens are a way that kids of all ages can think globally and act locally."
Wildflowers in a can would be the last thing a group of fourth graders in Clinton, WI, would plant in their schoolyard. They've set their sights on the return of the natives, the tallgrass prairies, that, says teacher Kim Lowman Vollmer, are more endangered than the rainforest.
A passion for preserving habitat for feathered friends inspired Elizabeth Jensen's K-5 students in Gunnison, UT, to dig into trees and shrubs. With their sights set on learning about birds' habitat requirements, they became keen observers, beginning with a hunt for bird nests.
Welcoming butterflies and caterpillars to your school garden
Eve Pranis, for NGA
Growing plants that attract butterflies is a sure-fire way of engaging children in the school garden, and it invites discoveries about pollination, insect life cycles, and the interdependence of insects and plants. The first step is understanding the different stages the butterfly life cycle.
"Our fourth graders were focusing on observing, listening to, and writing about the transitions and transformations that took place between winter and spring," reports Jericho, VT, teacher Denise Larrabee.
Watching pollination first hand is bound to draw inquiry out of your school gardeners."There's no question that teachers and students are equally fascinated when they have ample time to observe and investigate flowers and their pollinating partners," reports Lisa Wagner, education coordinator at the South Carolina Botanical Garden.
What if your students don't show an immediate interest in exploring plants? "Our connections with the creatures who live in our garden provided the hook that eventually led my second language learners to want to explore plants and their flowers more closely," reports elementary school science resource teacher Brandyn Scully from Los Angeles, CA. "Let's face it, busy insects are a compelling draw for most kids," she adds.