Really, who doesn’t like butterflies? Every summer, Farnsworth Middle School students run a Butterfly Station that’s a great trip for kids. It’s open from Monday to Friday, 10 am to 1 pm, until August 13th. They set up an enclosed habitat on the school grounds so that you can walk among the butterflies, and inside the school there are butterfly displays, books, and crafts. It’s free, but they accept (and deserve!) donations.
I’ve taken the girls, and it can be a little bit hot and crowded (there’s no air conditioning at the school). My suggestion would be to pack a lunch, arrive at 10 am sharp to look around, and then go play on the playground (because, also, who doesn’t love a new playground?) and have a picnic lunch before lulling them in your air-conditioned car for the drive home.
Now, if you’re feeling slightly more ambitious, why not try to raise a butterfly yourself? It’s fairly easy, super-educational, and unbelievably wonderful to watch the transformation. Of course you can order those kits, but it’s much more rewarding to find a butterfly in the wild! And by in the wild, I mean, in random weeds anywhere. Perhaps this sounds intimidating. It did to me. Luckily, one August I happened to have lunch with friends at Jumpin’ Jacks in Scotia, and a friend who is a much cooler mom than I am (patient, super crafty, etc.) was there with her kids. And right there on the hill was a big bunch of milkweed, which is what caterpillars-who-will-be-monarchs eat. Pretty soon we’d found a baby caterpillar and some extra milkweed to take home. The lucky thing about milkweed is that if you break it, it oozes a milky-looking substance. So if you suspect a plant is milkweed, you can break a leaf to check it out. For the rest of the summer, M was identifying milkweed hither, thither, and yon.
Keeping the butterfly was easy, although I was definitely surprised by how much poop such a small creature can produce. Really, taking care of two children, a husband, and a cat takes me to about the limit of my caregiving abilities. Having additional biological functions to monitor and clean up was almost too much for me.
Oh, but the excitement when it finally formed a chrysalis! The chrysalis starts out opaque/green, then becomes iridescent and increasingly translucent. Click on the picture for a closer look. . . . Neat, huh?
And then when the butterfly came out! And we were fortunate to be home and aware when the butterfly emerged, which gave us plenty of quality time while the wings dried off before we were ready to set the butterfly free. We’re talking serious rapture here. It was a memorable experience.
If you’re interested in trying this out, there are plenty of resources online. This Mommy Blogger has a great post with photos about raising caterpillars to be grown-up Monarch butterflies. Or check out Monarch Watch, where you can learn tons, order caterpillars if you can’t find them on your own, or look at photographs of milkweed. There’s also Butterfly School, which has nice step-by-step instructions on raising butterflies.