Kindergarteners reboot their relationship with nature

“To Cattail Pond! To Cattail Pond!” several of the kindergarteners shout as they skip towards the Schuylkill Center’s serene, sunlit woodland opening at the edge of our forest, just a few quick steps outside our back door.  This is one of our most active sites on the property in the late winter and early spring when water is abundant and vegetation is emerging.

For our 5- and 6-year-old kindergarteners, it’s an ideal place to set the outdoor classroom scene. Given the overwhelming evidence of the many health benefits of learning outdoors, especially in the context of the current health crisis, the Schuylkill Center kindergarten is shifting to all outdoor classes.  This fall Ann Ward, a 30-year veteran in the field of early childhood education, will lead the class.

As a nature preschool, one that uses nature as the primary context for learning, research confirms that being outdoors improves physical, mental, and emotional health and development in children. 

Ann, and her co-teachers, embrace an emergent (child-led) curriculum rooted in the outdoors with the intent to create meaningful learning experiences that capture children’s passion while instilling a love for the environment.  A typical day includes child-led play in the understory of the woodlands or a hike along the banks of the ponds or streams that traverse our space here.  We bring materials with us on the trails including, writing paper, art tools, books, magnifying lenses and bug boxes, journals and  cameras; all with the intent to collect documentation of our day’s adventures. All of our “natural” learning is interwoven with the Pennsylvania kindergarten standards.

As Teacher Ann well knows, these “mindful adventure seekers are becoming lifelong stewards of the earth propelled by an innate curiosity.”  In this organic way, we enable these young minds the ability to build an intimate understanding of the natural world, one element at a time.  

Nature Preschool has honored the relationship between children and nature as the core of our mission since its founding.

According to Interim Director of Nature Preschool, Marilyn Tinari, “in both the preschool and kindergarten classes, the children are offered the gift of developing their emerging skills – in literacy, in learning, and socially and emotionally – through engagement with the natural environment on the grounds of the 340-acre Schuylkill Center.”  

Teacher Ann observes that “the majority of other schools have indoor programs where they need to take the student outdoors to learn or they take them on short field trips. What we’re doing here is essentially flipping that and our children will be spending all of their time outdoors this coming year.”  We incorporate all of the Pennsylvania standards into those activities so our children are growing physically and cognitively.

In terms of their sensory integration, playing and learning in nature is helping them develop fine and gross motor skills in a very organic way.  When they’re outside, children naturally encounter different types of surfaces as they’re hiking. At the Schuylkill Center, they navigate over logs, rocks and up and down hills; they adapt to changes in the environment, across different weather systems, and different seasonal experiences so their bodies are constantly engaged in vastly different ways.  

Our graduates of our state-licensed Kindergarten are raised to be stewards of the environment and how to find their place in it.  Ann observes, “they know how to engage with the outdoors without destruction, without conquest, without overpowering, and therefore their mark on the world is sustainable.” 

Our outdoor programming offers a rich and healthful alternative to traditional early childhood education, something that is essential now more than ever.

In the midst of natural and social crises, we have the opportunity to reboot and, reenvision our relationship with Nature and one another, starting with the education of our youngest citizens.

The Schuylkill Center Nature Preschool and Kindergarten will offer on-site programming outdoors for the 2020-2021 school year.  We will be following all required safety procedures as described in our COVID-19 plan (required by the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning, one of our regulatory agencies).  Masks will be required for children (over 2 years of age) and adults, cleaning and sanitizing, monitoring health (of children and staff)  and, as much as possible, social distancing.  Additionally, in order to reduce exposure, we will be working to create “pods,” small consistent groupings of 6 children with one teacher.

For more information about the Schuylkill Center’s Nature Preschool, contact Marilyn Tinari at marilyn@schuylkillcenter.org

Nature Preschool meets our pileated woodpecker

By Leigh Ashbrook

Editor’s note: one of the largest– and rarest– birds in the Schuylkill Center forest is the pileated woodpecker, our largest woodpecker with a wood chipper for a beak. We’ve seen them here this winter, and Nature Preschool has become enchanted by them. One of our teachers, Leigh Ashbrook, also a great birder, teaches about birds in the school, and writes about her students meeting them recently.

pileated chris petrakPhoto: Chris Petrak

Sixteen Nature Preschoolers are meandering along the Widener Trail toward the bird blind, flanked by trees of the second growth forest. Out of the woods on their left an emphatic Kukukukukukukukuk rings through the woods. One of the teachers calls out, “What do you think made that sound?” As the children turn their ears toward the source of the raucous call, the teacher then calls out, “We hear you, pileated woodpecker! Where are you?” Some of the preschoolers laugh, some repeat the question. The class is treated to the sight of a pileated woodpecker flying through the woods, long, slow wingbeats and its great size making it easy to find and follow until it disappears past Founders Grove. 

Along the Widener Trail is one of the locations here at the Schuylkill Center where hikers and birders can often find these marvelous woodpeckers.

Some of the locations that the pileateds tend to frequent are some of the very tall trees beside Fire Pond, and they will announce their presence with their kukukuk call, or perhaps their irregular, sonorous drumming on a dead tree. We have also heard the pileateds in the woods surrounding the Butterfly Meadow, working the loop of trees by the maintenance shed, the lower section of the upper fields trail leading to the ravine loop, and as far down the slope as Polliwog Pond. The most delightful sightings of this striking crow-sized woodpecker for our Nature Preschoolers, however, where they have been most visible and accessible to the young feeder watchers, has been at the suet feeders just outside the Sweet Gum classroom on the back side of the building. There the preschoolers are participating in Project FeederWatch, and both the male and female pileated woodpeckers have made appearances at eye level and even on the ground at times, amazing the children and adults. One cannot remain unimpressed by the sight of these marvelous birds! 

Celebrate Winterfest at the Schuylkill Center

By Mike Weilbacher

This Saturday– Groundhog Day, appropriately enough– the Schuylkill Center celebrates the reopening of our Wildlife Clinic with a family festival marking the day, Winterfest for Wildlife. Held at the Visitor Center on Hagy’s Mill Road and happening from noon to 4 p.m., the event includes nature walks, wildlife talks, face painting, wildlife-themed arts and crafts, storytimes courtesy of the Free Library, a bake sale, and more.

But the event kicks off at noon with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting. Since the Wildlife Clinic itself is typically closed to the general public as it is a hospital for ill and injured patients that need quiet and rest, the event occurs at the Schuylkill Center’s main building, where we’ll string a ribbon across our auditorium to be cut by clinic friends, marking the reopening of the clinic.

The Master of Ceremonies for the ribbon-cutting will be Kathy O’Connell, the award-winning host of WXPN-FM Philadelphia’s “Kid’s Corner,” one of the very few children’s radio shows in the country. Kathy, a long-time friend of the Schuylkill Center, will stay after the ribbon-cutting to meet and greet friends and engage them in wildlife-related activities.

Rebecca Michelin, our Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation, will present a slideshow on urban wildlife, and Ent Natale, an educator on the center’s staff, will lead walks looking for signs of local wildlife. In addition, the Pennsylvania Game Commission will be on hand to mark the day, as they are a key partner in the Wildlife Clinic. In fact, just this week clinic staff released a Cooper’s hawk brought to the facility by the Game Officer. (Since it was brought to us from the Naval Yard, our staff released it back at the Naval Yard.)

Since there are few patients on hand at the moment, small groups of visitors will be given limited-time tours of the Wildlife Clinic; vans will be shutting people back and forth from the Visitor Center to the clinic on Saturday. At Winterfest, visitors will be able to sign up for a slot on a tour at the event. Chris Strub, the clinic’s Assistant Director, will offer these tours while Rebecca presents wildlife talks at the Visitor Center. This will be the only time of the year when we will conduct this kind of tour at the clinic.

Cooper's Hawk

The Cooper’s hawk brought to the Schuylkill Center for rehabilitation by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. After successfully being rehabbed by the clinic’s skilled staff, the bird– a skilled predator of other flying birds– was rebased this week where it was discovered, at the Naval Yard.

It makes perfect sense for Winterfest for Wildlife to occur on Groundhog Day, the only holiday named for a wild animal. While folk legend holds that groundhogs– also called woodchucks– peek out of their burrows and look around that day; if they see their shadows, they scare back into their holes and we have six more weeks of winter. If the weather is overcast and there is no shadow, guess what: early spring. While scientific studies– yes, someone actually studied this– show no correlation between Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog, and weather patterns, there is a kernel of science embedded here, as male woodchucks have been spotted coming out of hibernation dens in early February to scout for the dens of females, likely getting an early start on the spring mating season.

With temperatures dropping back down into the single digits this week, let’s all guess that Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Saturday– and winter stays. But who knows?

Speaking of spring and baby animals, this is also why the Wildlife Clinic is holding its public coming-out party in February. Gray squirrels will soon be having babies, and one of the annual rites of spring at wildlife clinics across the country is marking that time when people start bringing in baby animals (or calling us about baby animals)– and baby squirrels typically lead the parade, usually starting around Valentine’s Day (though baby squirrel season seems arrive earlier and earlier in the calendar).

So come to the Schuylkill Center at noon on Saturday, help us cut the ribbon and celebrate the re-booting of this critical area facility, the only wildlife rehabilitation center in Philadelphia and one of a very small handful in the entire region. Stay for some baked goodies, enjoy Rebecca talk, take a winter wildlife walk, bring your children or grandchildren for story times and crafts, and enjoy the day.

Then, consider volunteering for the Wildlife Clinic, joining the ever-growing group of great people who will help Rebecca and Chris take care of the thousands of injured, orphaned and baby animals that will soon come pouring into its front door.

Or go to our website, www.schuylkillcenter.org, to find the list of items the clinic is seeking to be donated to help it meet the needs of its wild patients: dog and cat foods, blankets, T-shirts, and more. There’s also an Amazon wish list of supplies you can have sent to us directly. It’s all in the wildlife clinic section of the website.

Spring is coming, in spite of this week’s freezing weather, and the Wildlife Clinic will be heating up along with the weather. We’d love your help in making this happen, by volunteering, by donating, or simply by coming to Winterfest to see what all the excitement is about.

Hope to see you here.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

Eduardo Duenas Reflects on Caravans and Life in Honduras

By Mike Weilbacher

While the Federal government remains mired in the longest shutdown ever (I am writing this on Sunday, so the fluid situation may change dramatically by the time you read this), a new caravan was scheduled to leave Honduras this week, thousands more beginning the long trek north to Mexico and the U.S.

This sad, hard, complex situation brought me to Eduardo Duenas, the Schuylkill Center’s Manager of School Programs, an educator on our staff who oversees a cadre of educators that help him teach school children on their visits here. A native Honduran, Eduardo has been in America for most of the last four years, the Schuylkill Center for the last two, and has permanent resident status with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He’s married to an American citizen, and they are raising twin infant sons.

And  he’s easily the biggest– or at least the most vocal– Eagles fan on our staff, bleeding Eagles green.

Eduardo Duenas

Of the caravans, Eduardo, who knows some of the people assembling in the current caravan, says, “I feel sad. These people don’t want to leave. They don’t want a car or a pool– they just want to eat, they just want their kids to eat. Seven out of 10 Hondurans,” he continued, “are eating only once a day, and foreign aid from countries like the U.S. is not getting to the people. They rather die trying to get into the U.S. than watch their kids starve. If they had most of the basic things they need, they would not come.” Joining a caravan, he says, for many is “pure necessity.”

He visited Honduras with his family over the Christmas break, some of his kin meeting his sons for the first time, and came back devastated– his home city of La Ceiba on the Caribbean coast “has never been so dirty,” and was surprisingly empty, almost a ghost town, as many of the Hondurans once there have left for elsewhere.

Like Eduardo himself. Born in Honduras’ capital and largest city, Tegucigalpa, he was mostly raised by his grandmother in a region called Valle del Aguán, literally, the valley of the Aguán River, a river Eduardo knew intimately. “I was happy there,” as a child, he told me. “I’d run to the river almost every day; I loved to fish, loved to swim. I caught snakes, I caught butterflies.” Like so many youngsters his age, he learned  how to make slingshots, spending endless hours aiming at poor unsuspecting lizards, an activity he now rues a little. Above him were the mountains, so between river and mountains were “animals of all shapes and sizes, birds of all kinds. I always knew I loved nature study down there.” (Today, as an adult on our staff, he has a great nose for finding turtles, snakes, toads and more on group walks.)

Eduardo Duenas

Valle del Aguán is also one of the most fertile regions in Honduras, its rich soil growing coffee, bananas, mangos, pineapples, and more. “But we made deals, stupid deals, with foreign companies for like 100 years for one dollar,” one of the reasons the economy is bankrupt– people don’t control land or agriculture.

He left Valle del Aguán after high school, moving to the larger coastal city of La Ceiba so he could attend university. After an ill-fated stint in law school, he finished a degree in ecotourism, where he could be closer to the animals he loves. He tried making a life in Honduras– he has been a tour guide for ecotourism companies, a fisherman (snorkeling with a spear to catch fish), a landscaper pulling weeds and planting trees, even a street musician and artist; he has tried many things. But after he was pulled over by the police and detained in jail for a full day for no reason, he decided to leave Honduras. “I had to explain to my mother in 2012 that I didn’t have any opportunities in Honduras,” he said.

He went to Costa Rica, where he enrolled in a La Salle University program that led to dual  degrees in environmental management and sustainable development. There, he met his wife, a native of Villanova who worked for a company that had offices in Costa Rica. They married in Honduras in 2013, and she soon pushed to live in the U.S., as she thought their chances of making a life were better here.

“But I don’t want to go to a place that doesn’t like me,” he said about his first reaction to America, but ultimately agreed. “I applied for a visa,” he remembered, “but it took more than two years to get an answer.” To his great relief, he has only received support for his being in the United States.

In 2015, he and he wife spotted a pair of baby owls in the middle of a road. Using cell phones, they discovered that the Schuylkill Center ran a wildlife clinic, and were able to rescue one– the second was sadly struck by a passing vehicle as they were getting out of their car. He volunteered for the Toad Detour program, became a Trail Steward, and is now a full-time educator.

So while his journey is uniquely his own, it echoes the tragedy of the current situation in Central America, that thousands of people from Honduras feel their best chance for survival is a dangerous trek north. As the latest caravan starts its long walk north, my thoughts are with Eduardo, his family, his friends, and all Hondurans.

 

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

Autumnal Stream Walk

By Lauren Bobyock, Communications and Environmental Art Intern 

It was the perfect fall day to get a little lost in the woods. There are two parallel streams running through the valleys at the Schuylkill Center Meigs and Smith Runs and that day two teams of staff and volunteers set out to learn more about them. On an artistic and scientific mission, we began this journey to contribute to our latest environmental art gallery exhibit by Stacy Levy: Braided Channel.

Stream Water Gathering

Stream Water Gathering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stacy Levy is an environmental artist with installations all over the world including the Schuylkill Center (read more here). Levy’s vision for Braided Channel includes multiple video screens that display a sample of her site-based works in action. Additionally, she organized this gathering of water samples to construct a “water library” of sorts to tell the story of these local streams. Our findings unearthed details about Meigs and Smith Runs that we never would have understood without delving further into them.

Stream Gathering

We began near Hagy’s Mill road and followed both streams down to the Schuylkill River Trail, taking a water sample approximately every 130 feet. Both teams began this journey with a bit of bushwhacking to find our starting points. It quickly turned into a lot of bushwhacking with the realization that we literally had our skin in the game! Our spirits high, we sojourned on, delighted to spend several hours in the woods. The time passed quickly as we filled our backpacks with Ziploc bags of water samples as we drank in the splendor of the forest and stream.

Stream Gathering

Stream Gathering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With 340 acres to explore, it’s easy to overlook our two stream corridors. Especially since most of the streams are off limits except for two access points on Smith Run for educational purposes; a condition of the conservation easement on the property.  There is no trail to Meigs Run. Ravine Loop offers ample opportunity to enjoy a view of Smith Run, although we ask visitors to remain on the trail to avoid damaging these sensitive habitats.

With special permission from the Land and Facilities Department we were able explore these unique sections of the property for the exhibit.  Our walks led us to note some important discoveries about these streams and the land surrounding them. We found four-foot high clay banks, gravel bars, and massive bedrock carved by the continual flow of water. Old deer fencing from abandoned restoration projects lay upon beautiful open hillsides. We experienced changing elevations and temperatures as we moved from forested canopy to open clearings. We met crayfish, frogs, and even a snake along the way. Our discoveries included sites of mass erosion, crumbling stone foundations, lots of moss, dams, and boulder-sized quartz rocks. All of our findings led us to a deeper understanding of the hydrology of the forest and we documented it for Stacy Levy’s display.

Stream Water GatheringStream Water Gathering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stream Water Gathering

Stream Water GatheringStream Water Gathering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was much to note on our journey and our efforts were an important contribution to Levy’s exhibit. Braided Channel is open in the gallery now through February 2nd. Stop in to see the water samples and learn more about our discoveries!

Stream Water Gathering

Bodies of Water: Dance at the Schuylkill Center

By Christina Catanese

 

This weekend, the Schuylkill Center will be presenting Remembering Water’s Way by Dance Exchange, the first site-specific dance event that the Center has commissioned in over a decade.

Dance Exchange is a DC-area arts organization that has been one of the Schuylkill Center’s LandLab artists in residence over the past year.  The goal of the LandLab residency is for artists to engage audiences in the processes of ecological stewardship through scientific investigation and artistic creation. So we tasked these performers to also create art-based installations that prevent or remediate environmental damage, and it’s exciting to see how they have responded to the challenge.

Dance Exchange’s work engaging individuals and communities in dancemaking and creative practices is driven by these four questions:

Who gets to dance? Where is the dance happening? What is the dancing about? Why does it matter?

When Dance Exchange was selected for this residency, I was excited to discover what the answers to these questions might be in the context of our work connecting people with nature.

The culmination of Dance Exchange’s research and artmaking will take place on October 13th and 14th with animated hikes through our grounds that follow the story of water. Exploring ponds, streams, erosion-prevention efforts, and impacts from recent storm events, these hour-long experiences will weave together performance, installation, science engagements, and more. Think guided nature walk punctuated by performed dance in the landscape, with led opportunities to interpret information (both scientific and sensory) into your own body and in collaboration with others.

One of Dance Exchange’s core beliefs is that anybody can and should dance, which is why the dancers not only perform for the audience, but get everyone moving. (Even those who claim to have two left feet.) The artists guide us through ways to embody the scientific concepts that we’re learning about. They also value intergenerational exchangeso all ages are welcome! This walk will give people across generations the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding ofand connection totheir local environment and community. Through this immersive experience, participants will activate their senses and observation skills through an artistic and ecological approach to discovery. Activities are designed to move participants along a path of recognition, appreciation, and stewardship of the environment. There will even be ways in which the performers will contribute to our land restoration work through the performance.

The title, Remembering Water’s Way, comes from a recognition that the land has a memory of how water has flowed through it, and an acknowledgement of how we can reconsider our relationship to the land to be guided by water rather than trying to fight it. Over the course of the walk, many stories of water will be explored (locally on the Schuylkill Center’s grounds as well as in the context of our regional watershed), including the impact of recent rains and ever-more intense storms that our region has experienced this summer.

As a dancer and choreographer myself, I’m excited by how we can use our bodies in nature to reframe and activate a site. By positioning human bodies in the landscape and experiencing it with all senses, perhaps we can start to see and feel ourselves as slightly more connected to nature, rather than separate.

So, my answers to the Dance Exchange questions so far are 1) everyone; 2) anywhere; 3) information from many realms outside of dance; and 4) because it helps bring us closer to that content, and to each other. But you may have your own answers (and more questions) after experiencing their work.

Please join us for Remembering Water’s Way this weekend. The walk will be offered four times over the course of the weekend, at 11am and 2pm on both Saturday, October 13 and Sunday, October 14. The guided walk will descend some elevation; good walking shoes are recommended. Keep an eye on the Schuylkill Center’s website and social media for any weather-related changes.

Into The Woods

Into The Woods

By Ben Vlam

I spent this summer serving as a Fellow for the Alliance of Watershed Education, representing The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. I’ve been coming to the Schuylkill Center for camp since I was six years old, and I worked here as a CIT/Aftercare Counselor for five summers.

What made this experience so different, other than the actual content of the work, was my awareness and appreciation of what the Schuylkill Center offers. I realized how alive and harmonious this place is and it definitely kept me on my toes, whether I was be sawing through dead trees to move them off the trails, tracking down camp groups for photos, or designing a interpretive signage.

There are a few things I can attribute to the success of The Schuylkill Center. First of all, the staff play a crucial role. This is a place where people really care about each other and the work they’re doing. People were invested in my work and I was invested in other people’s work. You make memories here that last a lifetime.

Another important aspect is the property itself. I walked these trails quite a bit while I was planning, writing about, and filming videos of a watershed loop. I found myself taking breaks just to sit at the ponds and listen for different kinds of animals. When I recorded my videos, (check them out here) I just placed the camera down and let it record. I didn’t need to look for specific things because so much was going on around me. Frogs hopping, dragonflies buzzing in and out of the shot, pollinators stopping at flowers.

The last thing that really clicked for me this summer is how all the trails are really connected. Despite me being sort of a lifer, this is the first summer where I really learned these trails like the back of my hand. Knowing the twists and turns, I’ve realized how much of they eventually feed into each other, like tributaries. I found myself at peace and relaxed.

I guess my big takeaway this summer was really to be thankful for everything you have and to try and live without regrets. I’m incredibly thankful for the Schuylkill Center for existing, my co-workers who are now friends, and for the opportunities during this fellowship to teach, laugh, sweat, and most importantly, learn.

I guess my only regret is that this didn’t last longer.

 

 

Watershed Fellow writes Eco-Drama as Summer Project

As a fellow for the Alliance for Watershed Education at the Schuylkill Center, work has felt more like an adventure. Every day I experience something new. From planting trees to picking wineberries, this summer gave me the opportunity to explore my passion for the environment. I got the chance to combine some of my favorite subjects: art, nature, theater, and education. I gained a wealth of knowledge as I supervised campers and taught them what I had learned. I employed my artistic skills as I tracked groups on trails, photographing their expeditions. I also aided Kate Farquhar and laura c carlson in installing their works of art. From helping these creatives, I was exposed to new insights that showed me the distinct overlap between the arts and the environment. The theater that I experienced was a product of my own desire to fuse drama and nature for my Watershed capstone project.

My project began as a survey of the area surrounding the Schuylkill Center. I went online and in-person to find and persuade people to take my survey. The findings illustrated the demographics of the area as well as individual sentiments about nature and diversity. No one had a negative association with either word and the respondents saw both as necessary. I used this information along with my own abilities to inform the second half of my capstone project. While surveying, I began to create a play about watershed education. It is called How the River Flows: an Eco-Drama and is part of an entire packet that seeks to teach and encourage people to put on this performance about nature. This packet will be available at the request of local schools so that they will be able to put on a contemporary play without being charged for the rights. This will promote watershed education in an affordable way that is relatable to people who do not see themselves as environmentalists.

From my two and a half months at the Schuylkill Center, I have learned lessons that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

  • Art is everywhere. It is not just on paper; it surrounds us.
  • Creativity is sometimes the best tool that you can use. It can come in handy when you least expect it.
  • Being practical does not limit your scope of the world. The effectiveness of pragmatism is beautiful because it allows for efficiency

I want to say thank you to the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education for gifting me with this valuable knowledge that I will carry on into my future.

 

Thinking Like A Butterfly

By Mike Weilbacher

It’s high summer, which brings with it erratic weather patterns, fierce storms, rising tides, raging stormwater pouring through our communities, and other climate change concerns. As someone who worries about climate change, I have stumbled upon a powerful way to change the world.

We need to think like butterflies.

Consider the butterfly–born as a humble, often ugly caterpillar. A living weed-whacker, caterpillars plow through living plants, mercilessly devouring leaves, hell-bent on defoliation. Tent caterpillars ravage the Schuylkill Center’s cherry trees every spring; gypsy moths ravage whole landscapes. Last year, I planted a stand of dill to attract black swallowtail caterpillars, since that’s one of its host plants. The plan worked: the dill raised about 15 caterpillars, but was a skeleton when the caterpillars were done. Not one living leaf remained.

The caterpillars crawled away, hung upside down, and transformed into chrysalises–their body parts magically melting inside their shells to rearrange as completely different body parts. And a wickedly different creature emerged, the adult.

 


2018_Butterfly Count

 Monarch butterflies are exquisite botanists, the females laying their eggs only on members of the milkweed family. Caterpillars ingest the leaves, using toxic chemicals in the leaf’s milk to make them taste terrible—their protection from predatory birds.  

 

While the caterpillar devoured everything, the butterfly has no mouthparts whatsoever for eating solid food. As if making penance for the sins of its youth, a butterfly drinks its world, using its coiled straw of a mouth to sip nectar. When the butterfly flits from flower to flower, it pollinates each in turn, allowing it to make seeds. That’s the key: while the caterpillar takes from the world the resources it needs for survival, the butterfly gives back, turning flowers into seeds that grow the next generation of flowers. Caterpillars devour, but butterflies pollinate.

And they don’t just pollinate the zinnias in your backyard. They pollinate the native plants that sustain entire ecosystems; there would be no milkweeds without the pollinating work of butterflies. More importantly, pollinating insects like bees and butterflies enable so many flower trees to make fruit. Oranges, cherries, grapefruit, grapes (and therefore raisins and wine), apples, lemons, limes: all are produced by pollinating insects like butterflies.

For millennia, humans have been caterpillars, taking from the world the stuff we need to live: food to eat, water to drink, lumber to build homes, coal and oil to power our lives. Living on a finite planet on limited resources, we’re running out of stuff to devour. For us to live sustainably, it’s time we grew up. Metamorphosed. Transformed into butterflies, giving back to the resources that sustain us, metaphorically pollinating the world and making seeds.

Thinking like a butterfly means conserving water, switching to renewables, buying electric cars, radically recycling everything, growing our own organic food, protecting biological diversity, cooling the climate, consuming less stuff, ceasing suburban sprawl across whole landscapes, and so on.

Protecting biological diversity means inviting your nonhuman neighbors into your yard: growing milkweed plants to nurture populations of monarch butterflies, installing bat boxes to support troubled bat populations, keeping your cat inside so it doesn’t kill birds, planting native plants everywhere you can, and more.

Thinking like a butterfly also means getting to know butterflies. They are remarkable, delightfully colorful creatures, extraordinarily adapted—and vanishing. We’ve got a butterfly event happening soon at the Schuylkill Center—come help us count them. And we’ll continue the conversation about thinking like a butterfly.  

 

Annual Butterfly Count

Thursday, July 5, 1 pm, $3/person

Help our staff count the butterflies in our forests and meadows in an annual effort orchestrated by the North American Butterfly Association. To register, call 215-482-7300 ext. 110 or email scee@schuylkillcenter.org.

Children Need Nature: Tiny Worlds Terrarium

Children Need Nature is a monthly blog column from our Nature Preschool program. Read more posts here.

When children have access to natural spaces and time to explore these spaces beautiful things happen. With nature’s diverse textures, scents, tastes, sounds, colors, and shapes, young children find playtime in natural settings compelling and aesthetically inviting. As mindful adventure seekers propelled by innate curiosity, children eagerly seek nature’s loose parts (the leaves, the flowers, the pinecones, the shells, etc.) and use them in their play. In this way, young people build an intimate understanding of the natural world, one element at a time.children_need_nature

From fairy houses in the woods to shelters in the brush, children love creating tiny worlds.IMG_3583

Creating a Tiny World Terrarium is a fun project to do with young children. They can build a tiny world in a jar with soil and plants sourced in familiar places and add special treasures to the mini-landscapes, too. As tiny worlds are constructed, questions spark discussions about nature and children are inspired as storytellers, imagining what life would be like living in the tiny world.

Our Nature Preschool Sugar Maples (afternoon program) created Tiny World Terrariums with layers of stone, charcoal, soil, moss, and tiny plants. We brought our terrariums to life with special eye-catching treasures such as tiny clay butterflies and snails, coins, shells, and marbles. A sprinkle of glitter keeps it glittering all year! * Biodegradable glitter is best.

Materials:
-Extra large jar with snug-fitting lid
-Terrarium charcoal
-Small rocksIMG_3632
-Soil
-Tiny/young plants, moss
-Spray bottle with water
-Natural materials (bark, shells)
-Children’s “treasures”
-Glitter (if desired) * Biodegradable glitter is best.

 

Steps: 
-Gather materials you need for the project…
-Layer small rocks on the bottom of the jar.
-Create a layer of charcoal above the rocks…IMG_3573
-Add a generous layer of soil above the charcoal.
-Add tiny plants to the layer of soil. Spray gently with water.
-Add moss.
-Decorate the tiny world with treasures.
-Spray again until top layer of soil is wet and soft.
-Whisper a special message to the tiny world, add some glitter (* biodegradable glitter is best.), and seal with lid.
-Set your tiny world in a sunny place where you and your child can observe change over time.   (P.S.You do not need to add water unless you cannot achieve the humidity that your plants need; condensation should form on the inside of the jar and effectively “rain” on the plants when sealed and set by a sunny window. If your plants look dry and condensation is not visible, open your terrarium and spray with water before sealing for a second time).

 

 

About the author: Ann WardAnn Ward is a teacher with Nature Preschool. As a compassionate early childhood educator and passionate advocate for children and nature, Ann has over thirty years experience in early childhood education and a Masters of Education in Early Childhood Education degree from West Chester University, where she graduated summa cum laude after completing action research in early learning and loose parts nature play. Ann is also the founder and lead educator of Winged Wonders Education, a live monarch butterfly educational program reconnecting people with the natural world one butterfly at a time.