The possibility of flight

A strange thing happened this September…no Monarch eggs or caterpillars were to be found on the Milkweed plants in the Peabody school garden. Every year, this is an important ritual. In fact most of the SWS teachers are part of the International Monarch Teacher Network.

I was truly disappointed.

Then, one afternoon, Margi Fineran (room 11 assistant teacher) asked me what the caterpillars were crawling all over the parsley in the children’s garden.

I did a little online research and came to the conclusion that they were Black Swallowtail caterpillars.

I took some in the studio. I was a little nervous. The Monarch life cycle I understood. I went to intensive trainings so I would not harm them, and in fact support their migration. With the Swallowtails, it was a whole new experience. However, it was just the provocation I needed to start the new PreK children thinking about looking closely, observing, and representing their thinking.


I took home those caterpillars every weekend. Of the four I took in, three went into a chrysalis. Instead of hanging from the top, like the Monarchs, the Swallowtails made a “string” around their waist to support themselves while they transformed.

To me they look like some kind of magical seahorse.

It was weeks before I noticed a change in their appearance, indicating it was almost time to emerge.

And then it happened.

Never underestimate the large effect a small moment can make.

Since I had no idea what to feed the Swallowtail butterflies once they emerged, each was released within 4-6 hours of it’s arrival. There would be no observational drawings for weeks at a time, as I did with the Monarch’s. I felt an urgency to release them so that they would survive.

Here is release 1:


For release number two, I asked for some help from Kindergarten friends:


For the final and third release, I asked my PreK friends for help:


There is such profound joy and exhilaration in releasing these small winged beings into the universe. It is the feeling of your heart swelling. It is a collective brief moment shared by all present. It feels like a big gift. When you are there in that moment time changes-as if nothing else exists, but the possibility of flight.

As I post these photos I am smiling.

Natalie left this image on the Buddha Board, a temporary water painting that evaporates. How wonderfully narrative it was of the fleeting experience.

Back inside school, looking closely and becoming observant continued to evolve as a project for the PreK’s. Now, I wanted them to use a new media, paint. This time, instead of using a live caterpillar, they chose from photos I captured during the field trip to the Arboretum. There were so many steps to take. Choosing the colors with thought and care and then following the many protocols for using the paints, brushes, easel and paint cart.  Children have such capacity to rise up to expectations when they are trusted to take on new roles and possibilities.

Ava’s representation


The next preK journey in looking closely, will be observing and using  diverse materials in a new way.

There is no discovery , awakening, or understanding without first possessing the ability to think and see and smell and hear and imagine through observation.

How often is thought unnoticed in a representation by a child? We as adults also need to be observant, and practice this skill, or we might certainly  miss something important.

These projects (all projects) and this journey continues. Being observant is in fact a life long journey. But let us celebrate and maybe even see something we did not before through the children and their work.

The Kindergarten children have been on another trajectory. Last year, I noticed how much the then PreK children reveled in transforming themselves. Their stories and play, use of scarves and materials during free-time was complex and innovative. “What if? “I asked mr Jere and Ms. Scofield, “The children designed, created and sewed their own costumes in connection to something in your classrooms?”

So, we brainstormed. Each class has a special story they have been dramatizing in multiple ways. In Jere’s class, it is Chicken Little. In Ms Scofield’s, The Bears on Hemlock Mountain. Using narrative, voice, movement and discussion, each class is deconstructing and acting out literature in a meaningful way.

I invited a costume designer as both a provocation and as an expert. Then, the studio work began:

Henny Penny design by Emma Clare


Carter designed a raccoon costume.

This project is truly challenging. The children not only have to draw themselves as the likeness of a character, but, they have to think about if the design can work realistically as a costume, based on the advice of our specialist Ms. Celestine.

Design for the character named Jonathan by Kiran


Jai designed a Chicken Little costume.

Chicken Little design By Zaire

Foxy Loxy design by Henry

Raccoon costume by Han

Each sketch and rendering offers multiple insights into learning.  In the studo and in connection with the classrooms, interdisciplinary and multimodal thinking is intentionally developed.

I am aware, that I have taken on a huge endeavor. Each child will be constructing these costumes…not me and not the parent.

Just like those Black Swallowtail caterpillars I took inside, there is a whole lot of unknown mixed with the known. I am indeed a little nervous. And like I did for those caterpillars, I intend on creating an optimal environment. I also will provide nourishment for growth (the kids are planning, talking, and  hands on learning how to sew independently.)

It is my deepest hope mixed with intentional work that those Swallowtail caterpillars that I knew little about in the beginning represent the metaphor needed for the emerging project work-  the gradual magic of transformation.

And with hard work, the possibility of flight.