Biology, botany, gardening, farming, conservation, civics, entomology, math, science, language, art and history – that is what children will be learning this summer while engaging in these fun monarch-focused activities. However, they will be having so much fun they won’t realize how much they are learning.
I remember purchasing some bushes at a local nursery a few years ago. The staff assured me that butterflies would gather on them in the spring and summer and they certainly did. It was a beautiful sight.
But this year we are going beyond attracting butterflies.
We are participating in the Monarch Renewal Project and we are going to show you how you can participate too.
This is a simple and fun project anyone can participate in on a number of levels, is affordable and helps teach math, science, language, gardening, civics, biology, botany, and art. It also yields beautiful results. Who is not enchanted being surrounded by butterflies and flowers?
Did you know that Monarch butterflies are becoming endangered due to the pesticides and sprays used by homeowners and landowners?
The Monarch caterpillar belongs to a club of picky-eaters and is only able to survive on Milkweed plant. Unfortunately, most people do not feel milkweed is a beautiful plant. Farmers, landowners and homeowners kill the plants by the hundreds of thousands each year. And if anyone had any doubts as to if they wanted the plant around or not – its name does it no favors. The name, MilkWEED pretty much ensures its relegation to the category of “evil plants”.
Although the Monarch butterfly itself enjoys a large number of flowering bushes and plants, their babies (caterpillars) have been dying in great numbers due to a shortage of milkweed. When they lay their eggs, they look for milkweed and when the little caterpillars hatch they nibble the soft new top leaves first and then, as their hunger increases, they make their way down to the larger leaves.
Imagine what happens when they hatch and there is no food for them.
To overcome this human-induced tragedy there are a number of organizations that are asking homeowners and landowners to participate in the Monarch Restoration Project.
The Earthshooling Wildife Education lessons include a full syllabus on how you can create a homeschooling unit from this project.
There are a few levels of participation you can choose from. I am listing them in order of time requirement and expense.
- Stop spraying milkweed and encourage others to do the same. Identify milkweek in your yard, neighborhood and nature trains and take steps to protect it by putting up signs.
- Plant a butterfly garden filled with milkweed and other plants that butterflies enjoy
- Order caterpillars online, raise and release them into your garden.
- Order caterpillars online, raise and release them into your garden, and keep some in captivity so you have more babies born to raise and release. Continue this Monarch breeding process as a project.
- Choose any item 1-4 and blog about what you are doing to encourage others to do the same
- Choose any item 1-4 and petition the city, neighbor, local farmer or business to allow you to create a butterfly habitat on their property too.
- Choose any item 1-4 and volunteer for public speaking engagements to educate others on how to participate. Libraries and summer camp programs love this activity!
- Choose any item 1-4 and volunteer to get a local school, co-op or homeschooling group involved together.
Together we can make a difference!
Our syllabus shows you what educational activities and exact projects you can do each step of the way. This blog post is a partial excerpt from that syllabus.
Yesterday we started out with a project from the syllabus. We are going to participate at level 4A. So today we started creating the habitat for our butterflies and caterpillars by planting a butterfly garden.
Planting a butterfly garden is not as intuitive or easy as it sounds. We are working with an organization that is helping restore Monarch habitat for the DNR. The inspiration for their cooperation with the DNR was when they discovered that all the milkweed seed they had planted had not survived.
So how can you ensure that your milkweed and other flowers survive?
- To start with you need to choose a plot of land that is flat with good drainage. Make sure there are no other plants growing there. We used the area where our pool was sitting for two years. The pool had killed everything on this plot so we were starting fresh.
- Secondly you need to gently rake the area smooth and make sure all garbage and any stray plants are pulled up. You do not want to overturn the soil as this will encourage weed and plant growth from old species you do not want to survive on your new plot. This may also result in your seed being buried too deep, which is not ideal for the type of garden you are planting.
- Next, you will sprinkle the seeds over the area you have prepared. Remember – these are “weeds” and “wildflowers”. Typically these seeds are scattered by mammals, birds and the wind. By gently tossing these seeds over the ground you are mimicking that process. If you were to bury each one in the ground
like you would for planting peas or potatoes this would result in poor growth of your butterfly garden.
- Next you will gently rake over the garden again (see video below). This will allow the seeds to settle gently in the ground – not too deeply but also not too close to the surface. The mistake made by the DNR was that they sprinkled the wildflower mix but did not rake over it so some species survived but others, like the milkweed, did not.
- Finally, you need to make sure your seedlings are well watered. We purposely planted our seeds on Thursday, May 14th, because we knew it would rain the next day. Natural rain watering is ideal, of course. However, you can also use a sprinkler.
Gently raking the garden for the final time after the seeds have been planted…
Butterflies Garden Final Raking (Click on link to see video)
If you want to follow along with our project by participating in one of many ways download the Monarch Syllabus today and get ready for an enchanting, inspiring, meaningful and fun summer project!