Imagine being a guest instructor in front of an elementary school classroom full of energetic, enthusiastic, and often loud, young learners. Can you see the smiling faces on each wiggling student? Can you see the many hands in the air, ready to say hello and ask you questions (many that you never saw coming!)?
It may seem overwhelming, but as someone who does this frequently, I can tell you that it is a worthwhile experience. Each time I visit an elementary school, I am amazed and blown away by what I see while working with our community’s youngest – and dare I say most passionate – outstanding citizens and their educators.
When I am in a classroom, or welcoming students to Morven Park, I could be teaching one of several engaging, fun, and skill-building programs that we offer through Morven Park’s Center for Civic Impact. But most often I am helping students learn about an important local creature, the monarch butterfly, through Meadows, Milkweed & Monarchs – Oh My! our signature program for elementary students. We have provided this program for over 20% of Loudoun County Public School’s 2nd-grade students this school year.
This past summer at a workshop for local teachers, I met an inspiring 2nd-grade teacher who wanted to connect the wonderful world of monarch butterflies to her curriculum through a hands-on and real-world project. Our Meadows, Milkweed and Monarchs, Oh My! project does exactly this. Over the course of multiple lessons, both at Morven Park and in the classroom, students learn about the challenges facing the monarch butterfly (particularly those related to habitat loss). They explore how they can help by planning a waystation garden at their school and informing their peers about this important insect through a book they write and donate to the school’s library.
The teacher and I agreed to get started this fall and I visited them to introduce myself and the project to her class. The first step is to learn everything we can about the monarch’s life cycle, migration, habitat, and pollinating abilities. Students do this by “becoming a monarch” – wearing wings and seeing what the butterfly’s life is really like. For example, they learn about the important process of pollination by playing a game in which they take balls (similar to those you might find in a ball pit play area) and move them around to different flower buckets to simulate how monarchs and other pollinators move pollen around and help plants grow. Activities like this directly connect students’ hearts and minds to the project, so that they can find meaning and impact in their work.
I recently visited the students and teacher to facilitate the next step in the project – making plans for a monarch butterfly waystation garden that they will plant at their school. The students learned about great native plant choices they could include and then worked in teams to make a garden plan by considering factors like the flowers’ bloom time, or if the plants are considered beneficial to monarchs. I particularly enjoy watching their eyes light up when they see their garden plans (full of milkweed and native nectar plants) and begin to imagine all of the beautiful butterflies and other pollinators that will be coming to pay them a visit.
At the end of the school year we know that the students will feel empowered and will have realized they really could affect change in the environment around them. This confirm for us that the Morven Park Center for Civic Impact is making a difference and inspiring young change-makers. We hope that you also see the fantastic value in supporting students in this way, and will consider supporting our programs, or better yet, sharing this post with a teacher in your life to inspire even more young leaders and problem solvers!
Morven Park’s Center for Civic Impact relies on donors like you. If you would like to support us as we encourage the youth of Loudoun County to become effective leaders and confident and active members of society, visit www.MorvenPark.org/DonateNow to make a donation today.