Two mornings this week were spent at an elementary school in our area. It is a place that I’ve gone for the last four years in September to teach first graders about the Monarch Life Cycle as a guest speaker. I thoroughly enjoy going to this school to spread the word about Monarch Conservation. The teachers, one of whom is a personal friend, seem happy to have me and are enthusiastic about the presentation each fall.
This year, I was met by the music teacher who had obtained a grant for milkweed plants and starting a pollinator/butterfly garden at this school. She had questions that I was pleased and honored to be able to answer. We agreed to work together to increase the chances of success for this project. She planned to put the milkweed plants, obtained by the grant in the ground with the first-grade students that afternoon. She was excited and so was I. She asked me about milkweed seeds and where to obtain them. I told her that I intended to give each student a packet of common milkweed seeds that I had saved from last year’s harvest. She was thrilled that I could provide that.
Today, I did. Each child, 124 students, from seven individual classrooms received a packet of common milkweed seeds native to Wisconsin. They were grown in my home garden and the garden of a co-worker who had also saved seeds. During the winter, the seeds were given a cold-stratification period (a winter) provided by being stored in my garage. Milkweed seeds need this period of cold to germinate. These will be ready to sprout once they are sown in the garden.
During my presentation on the monarch life cycle, I talked to the students about how they can help the monarch population survive. One of the most important tasks is to plant milkweed and create habitat. The concept of habitat was new to most of these young students but they soon realized what it meant – food, water, shelter, and a place to rest and reproduce. I was able to make a connection of their basic human needs for survival to the monarch’s needs.
The point was made that during migration Monarchs still need habitat. Much of it has disappeared. Homes, businesses, parking lots, and monoculture now exist where the native prairie once did, where milkweed once provided natural occurring habitat for monarchs in the fields of mid-America.
I always try to include in these talks what people, even young first-grade students, can do to help monarchs survive. For Monarchs, it’s all about the milkweed! The students were encouraged and proud to know that they had already provided habitat by planting milkweed on the school grounds. By getting seeds, they’d be planting habitat in their own yards. They know they are old enough to help.
I also asked them to inform others. I encouraged them to talk about what they had learned from my presentation or from what they had observed by raising monarchs in their classrooms. I wanted them to go home, share some facts, and get a conversation going with the grown-ups in their lives or even with their siblings.
The monarch life cycle is a wondrous event that includes metamorphosis and a magnificent migration that is currently underway for the fourth generation of butterflies from the monarch breeding season. This generation, otherwise known as the Super Generation, migrates to Mexico! It is incredible that a creature, weighing less than a paper clip can fly that distance ( almost 2,000 miles from where I live) and reach a place they had never been to before.
I have been involved in Monarch Conservation for almost 20 years – it still inspires me to share the Monarch Life Cycle story with young, interested students. I truly believe it is our youth that will save our future earth if we plant the seed of environmental stewardship while they are young. The Monarch Life Cycle story is a great place to start!