During the month of February, Tūtū and Me Maui East explored “Insects in our Environment.” This is one of the most exciting units for our keiki as they get an up close and personal look at live specimens. On Maui, we are fortunate to have both crown flower and milkweed which are the host plants to the Monarch butterfly. Typically the simple act of picking a portion of these plants and putting it in an enclosure results in a science activity that shapes the curiosity and scientific inquiry of even our youngest minds. Often on the underside of the leaves of these plants is a tiny egg or even a live monarch caterpillar or pe‘elua.As the caterpillars hatch they get right to their work. The keiki explore closely using magnifying glasses to see what they are eating. They watch the caterpillars grow in the course of a two hour program from a quarter inch to a half inch in length. As they watch, our keiki make statements such as, “There’s a tiny one, and there’s a big one, now there are three caterpillars.” These are foundational math concepts that are the building blocks to more complex mathematics.
This process is further supported by the reading of, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. While this is read daily to the keiki, they are experiencing this process first hand. “Those caterpillars sure are hungry.” said one keiki.
After the caterpillars have fattened up, they climb to the top of the enclosure. They hang from a silky patch in a process called looping. This is the time they are readying themselves for their big change or metamorphosis. They hang down shaped like a “J” as several keiki point out. They hang like this for minutes, or hours before they turn into the chrysalis. Then suddenly they hang straight and in the matter of a minute or two they trade their striped skin for a green and golden-gilded chrysalis. There they sit and the keiki marvel at how beautiful they are.
After ten to fourteen days the chrysalis turns dark. This is when they are changing inside. Upon emerging the monarch puffs up her wings. This year one had just hatched and was therefore not quite ready to fly. This gave some of the children an opportunity to perch the butterfly on their finger. Some were a little afraid at first but the curiosity broke the fear and they held it bravely taking turns with each other. Finally the butterfly fluttered away happily to the applause of the keiki and caregivers, and off the children ran to the Dramatic Play Center to act out what they witnessed of a pulelehua’s miraculous transformation.