Making ripples and Butterfly Flights

Making ripples and Butterfly Flights

It’s a new school year. Filled with possibility, new relationships, and sweet growth for both the children and all the connected adults in their lives.

“Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before.” Loris Malaguzzi

When children learn from their heart and soul the importance of protecting and honoring the earth (even cuty kids), when they learn to wonder, think, imagine, and be curious of the world around them at a young age, when they experience the connection of all living things, they develop the empathy and awareness to make a difference. To be kind. To create solutions. To find metaphors.
And this is why we engage so deeply in the Monarch rescue effort. It is more than science.
It’s making ripples.

“I wonder if caterpillars play with their friends?” Olivia D., Kindergarten


“I wonder, how did they take such big bites (of the Milkweed leaf) with a tiny tiny mouth?” Lucy, PreK


After the caterpillar falls, because the cage is accidentally bumped, the caterpillar curls up. The PreK3 group gasps because they think it’s hurt.

Suddenly it stretches out on the leaf and starts moving.

“It’s not curled! It’s happy now!” Alonzo, PreK3


“Actually I see (the caterpillars) are the same. Same stripes.” Felix, PreK3


In these images Laurel communicates all her knowledge and wonder and understandings to me by tapping, and pointing, and expressing non-verbally. By “visually listening” I learned how enthralled and connected she is.


“I see they have black and white feet.” Lucy, PreK

“I see they have antenna.” William, PreK

“I see 4 antennae.” Lan, PreK


One Monday, when I arrived at school, I found that 3 of the caterpillars had escaped the cage. Two were found, but one disappeared. I told Mr. Moore the custodian about the missing critter, and hoped when he swept, he would find our missing caterpillar. I crawled under every table and chair. Eventually, I cam to the conclusion that the cat had either crawled away or had been vacuumed up by accident.

5 days later, Alexandra says, “Ms. McLean, I found something in the pony palace.” This is a play house about 25 feet from where the caterpillar tent is.

“What did you find?”, I asked.


I gasped. “Is it alive?”, I asked her.

“I think so.” she replied.

I put that caterpillar on a milkweed and low and behold, after 5 days of no food, it began munching away! It has since turned into a beautiful female butterfly. What a magical story!


“I wonder why it hangs upside down.” Nergu, PreK


Transformation of the caterpillar into the chrysalis is a rare thing to witness. This year, children, parents, and staff had the opportunity to watch this four times! It is such a grand moment of wonder and hope. For if this little creature can make such a spectacular transformation, surely we can too.


“I wonder how does it (the chrysalis) stick up there?” Will C., PreK

Here’s a brief video of the end part of the transformation. It is aptly called, the pupa dance.

Processed with Snapseed.

“I wonder how does it (the chrysalis) stick up there?” Will C., PreKimg_9816“I think the golden on it tells you it’s a special surprise.” Hope, PreK


Engaging in small groups with tiny miraculous creatures offers deep moments of observing, thinking, wondering, expressing, and caring. In these small moments were opportunities to focus on not only caring for the earth, but each other too. Listening while others spoke, engaging in kind language, sharing materials, and collaborating. These are not the small things, but the big things. The ripple makers, to spread goodness.

Here’s a wonderful link A Harvard Psycholgist shares 5 ways to raise them to be Kind


“I wonder, is there a mommy and daddy?” Josephine, PreK



Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each. – Plato

img_0649img_0684When one of the PreK3 children became frightened by the butterfly, the effect was catching. Soon I had four screaming 3 year olds. I quickly grabbed two Kindergarten children, Dale and Olivia, who were on their way to recess, and asked them if they would come in and teach the 3 year olds there was nothing scary, while I took the very frightened little one out to get a drink of water and calm down. The two stayed for a whole hour, even facilitating and helping the younger children make a great big butterfly mural. I really couldn’t have done it without them. When I thanked Dale and Olivia for giving up their recess time to help me out, Olivia looked at me and said, “No, thank YOU Ms. McLean for inviting us.” I almost cried.0cc5567f-54f3-4332-acda-a32442b7beb9

When it looks like you’re breakdancing in the atelier, you know something good is happening.! Embodying and engaging all senses makes one alive to the world.
Processed with Snapseed. Processed with Snapseed.

Processed with Snapseed.

“I think caterpillars have different brains.” Gilly, PreK

“Hey butterfly, look at this picture. She cute, right?” Ryan, PreK3

Themes and discussions of freedom emerged, as the children vacillated between wanting to name and keep the butterflies and also wanted to let it go. It also allows children to think about their selves. Wanting to be totally free, but being a child and also wanted someone there, when they are afraid. Isn’t that what we all want?

“The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”
Paulo Freire, We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change

My deepest wish is that I can be an instrument in supporting your child/children to become themselves. Beautiful kind compassionate loving selves.

Here’s to a year of making lots of ripples, and butterfly flights.


Evidence of a Memory


The art studio butterflies emerged last week.almostout

The week was filled with the combination of color, light, form, shape, & projection all inspired by the two fluttering Monarchs that filled the studio with a special aura.


By Friday, it was time to set the last two magical creatures free.

The evidence of  this experience continues wholehearted.

colors onthewall


“For the child. . . it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused – a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love – then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response . . . It is more important to pave the way for a child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts that he is not ready to assimilate.” –Rachel Carson


Not a Remembrance


9/11 is huge for the staff at School-Within-School. We are located on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The staff, on that day, has memories of chaos and fear (from our 3rd floor windows, it looked like the capitol was on fire, because the smoke from the pentagon had billowed in alignment with this monument.) Because we have binoculars on our window ledges, this mirage was brought to us by a 5 year old who yelled out, “Mrs. Ricks, I think the Capitol is on fire!”


Parents came bursting in the school, in tears; the streets were filled with evacuated workers, while helicopters and snipers hovered close by.

I remember at this moment, coincidentally, we had gathered the children together, and they were all singing a Native American song, heya heyo, oblivious to the world changing around them.

In response, we created Kindness Day. In advance we have the Kindergarten children make a beaded bracelet for each new incoming child or staff member. They attach their name and symbol, and wrap the gift. On September 11th, we gather outside. The Pre-k Children make an inner circle and the Kindergarten children surround them.kindness day

Our music teacher, Rachel Cross plays the guitar, and we ask each pre-k child to turn and face a Kindergarten child. This year, the Kindergarten children sang, “I will be your friend.” Many pre-k’s sang along. If you are lost and you need a helping hand, come to me, I will be your friend…

Then, the moment they all were waiting for, Kindergarten children introduced themselves, and gave the handmade gift to the new friend in front of them.


Slowly the pre-K’s unwrapped their bracelets. Time almost stopped in this moment. Then the smiles glow.

After the ooohs and ahhhhs, they all joined in singing “Friends Friends 123, all my friends are here with me”. This year, we had the added joy of releasing 4 butterflies to fly off to Mexico. The children created butterflies by linking their thumbs and flapping their hands and chanted “Gotta go gotta go gotta go to Mexico.”  The butterflies literally danced in spirals upward until they were invisible to the eye.

Every year, I wonder, will this feel old?

Every year it feels new and rich.

Every year I feel tears brimming in my eyes.

Every year, I am struck by the excitement the Kindergarteners hold in their hearts in anticipation as they watch their younger friends unwrap the bracelet.

The returning Kindergarteners are humbled by this important task. Alumni students now in middle or high school often remind me, that this event is one that stands as a special moment in their lives.

Our 9/11 Remembrance is not that of our students’ remembrance. For them, it is Kindness Day. Sharing in a community moment of creating, giving, receiving, song and release. Faces captured in a photo at the moment the butterflies reached for the heavens exemplify the spirit of the day. One that will hopefully be their memory of 9/11, a memory that circles and spirals, just like those Monarchs, and  passed on, in kind.release

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