A life cycle lesson: Caterpillars, butterflies help students understand growth

Gary Stotler, 7, of Toms Brook, looks over this monarch caterpillar on a milkweed leaf inside his third grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Wednesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

Caterpillars and butterflies are helping teach students at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

On Tuesday, Jessica Marrow, a third-grade teacher at the school, brought to school about 180 monarch caterpillars she collected on Monday at her grandmother’s farm – enough for her class and about 10 other classrooms.

Gavin Stotler, 7, of Toms Brook, held onto a leaf with a caterpillar on it, nervous it might crawl on him.

“It is going to turn into a chrysalis and then a butterfly,” Gavin said.

Marrow said she walked around the classroom with a small caterpillar on her finger.

“It was so small,” said 8-year-old Dakota Rice, of Strasburg.

One of the measures on the Standard of Learning tests for third grade is life cycles, Marrow said.

“It is real science in their classroom,” Marrow said. “It gives them an opportunity for them to see it. It is one thing to teach it and another for them to witness it.”

The students learn that an egg does not instantly transform into a full-grown caterpillar, which does not instantly form a chrysalis and then a full-grown butterfly.

“We teach them they grow and develop just like them,” Marrow said.

The lesson is also teaching the children about the environment and resources.

Milkweed may be considered a weed and not a benefit to farmers, but it has value in that it is a food source for caterpillars, needed for their survival, she said

“So we have to find a way to make it all work,” Marrow said.

Mateo Bunch, 8, of Strasburg, looked over the many caterpillars in the mesh terrarium. More and more were moving to the top, anchoring themselves to the mesh roof. They were preparing for the chrysalis stage.

Marrow told Mateo they would all stop what they were doing and watch when the caterpillars start to form a cocoon.

“It happens fast,” she said.

Mateo pointed out a chrysalis hanging from the top; two others had fallen to the floor of the terrarium.

“I think they will be OK,” he said.

The students are interested in witnessing the caterpillar’s change into a butterfly.

“You can hear them eating the leaf,” David Mablin, 8, of Strasburg, said when asked about what the students heard when Marrow had all the students get quiet.

He has started to look for caterpillars and cocoons while outside.

“I saw a cocoon at my friend’s house,” he said.

And when the caterpillars develop into monarch butterflies,  some will be released outside of Sandy Hook Elementary School while others will be transported back to and released at the farm, Marrow said.