The life cycle of a butterfly at SCIS garden

The friendship garden at Shanghai Community International School, host to 26 custom-built cedar boxes, is purposefully designed to engage children in nature-based learning. 

While thousands of riders pass daily through the Metro lines that run under the ECE campus of the Shanghai Community International School, children are engaged deep in play in a little oasis tucked away in the back of Building B.

Welcome to the ECE’s friendship garden, host to 26 custom-built cedar boxes, is purposefully designed to engage children in nature-based learning. 

With the guidance of the early years coordinator, Stacey Poncia, children and teachers explore the gardens, engaging all five senses through carefully planned plantings. 

Boxes are open for children to dig for worms and bugs, harvest organic fruits and vegetables, while others host herbs that children are welcome to rub, smell, and taste. 

Spring is an extraordinary time in the garden with jasmine in full bloom and the succulent taste and smell of mint, rosemary, thyme, and lavender. 

The life cycle of a butterfly at SCIS garden

The children at the Shanghai Community International School understand and respect helpful insects such as spiders, worms, and pill bugs.

In this garden, children learn to plant seeds, compost food waste and create new soil, and develop and understanding and respect for helpful insects such as spiders, worms, and pill bugs. 

They water the plants with care and are in awe and wonder about how the garden changes from day to day. How jasmine climb and weave their way up a lattice, or the cucumber vine seems to magically produce a new leaf or tendril that wraps its way around the support poles. They learn to be patient as they wait for carrot seeds to take root and begin sprouting their tiny green leaves. They seek, find and count the dozens of tomatoes ripening on the vines.

Wonder, joy, excitement and satisfaction are just some of the emotions shared by our youngest SCIS students. 

Last fall, students from the garden club helped Poncia transplant a small lemon tree and enjoyed a few tasty, but sour treats before the winter break. It was with great joy that the same tree doubled in size this spring and children enjoyed snapping juvenile leaves to fold and smell the sweet lemon scent. 

Little did we all know that butterflies had laid eggs on those same leaves, and 10 very hungry and very large (two inches!) caterpillars had eaten all but a few of those leaves, overnight! Alexis Egan and her PK students happily adopted the caterpillars carefully transferred them to bug boxes to investigate how they moved and consumed lemons leaves. 

Within 48 hours, seven of the caterpillars began to change shape and color and the class was delighted to have seven green and brown chrysalises. 

Egan and Poncia researched the caterpillars and discovered they were most likely the larva to the Swallowtail butterflies and would go through a complete metamorphosis within 10-12 days. 

The students patiently waited and observed and on May 27, and all seven butterflies emerged from their chrysalis. 

Students from all grade levels from nursery to grade one came to see the beautiful butterflies, each unique in its markings. The children in nursery, preschool and pre-k classes joined together later that afternoon to release the butterflies back into our gardens. 

It was an extraordinary experience to be able to witness, with our children, the complete transformation of these magnificent insects. 

(Article is written by Alexis Egan and Stacey Poncia. Alexis Egan is PK teacher and Stacey Poncia is early years ?coordinator at SCIS.)

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