They arrive in August, these small humans who have only been on this Earth for four or five short years. They are silly, curious and full of wonder, spouting words of wisdom and endless energy. Their small hands learning to correctly grasp pencils and crayons, they burst onto the scene, ready.
Some have spent their days at home, some have spent part of their days in a small group nursery school, and others have spent full days in preschool or daycare and now they come to spend six hours a day in my classroom.
The butterfly larvae arrive one spring day in a small cup, filled with nutrients that they devour continuously for days until they have grown enough and are strong enough to climb to the top of the cup and attach. Then the hard work of creating a chrysalis begins and we watch, enchanted, as these crawling creatures settle in and create their temporary home.
By December, the children have all had their birthdays and share the next few months in the magical age of five together. They are learning new things every day and, like sponges, soak it all in. There is the mysterious alphabet with symbols whose sounds link together to form words that can express thoughts. They learn counting, problem solving, and learn to find patterns and shapes in the world around them. As we learn together, we become a family, the classroom is our home, and our six hours together each day are filled with many emotions, smiles, and sometimes tears. Band-Aids (lots of them) magically fix the scratches and blisters earned on the playground; balls fly over the fence or end up on the roof as basketball stars are born; hips learn to hula hoop; and endless games of Kitty, and Family are acted out in the playhouse.
We wait anxiously as the five chrysalises hang, suspended by a small silk thread attached to paper lids that have been carefully hung in the spacious butterfly enclosure.
The children are mesmerized and for 10 days they huddle around the enclosure every chance they get, imagining what will emerge. Then one morning, we enter the classroom and a painted lady butterfly is waiting for us, still damp, resting from the hard work of metamorphosis. The other four soon follow and we spend the remainder of the week watching them flutter, drink from the sugar-water-soaked cotton balls, and rest, displaying their lovely wings.
By spring, the children have emerged too. They are more outgoing and are brave enough to sit on my chair in front of the class for their turn to share, contribute to class discussions, assert themselves when their feelings have been hurt, or when they feel a class rule— Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible—has been broken.
My aide and I watch them in awe of all they are now able to do. We are a little shocked when next year’s students visit. They are so small.
How have our kids grown so much? We realize that they are so independent and capable and, because it slowly sneaks up on us, it has happened without us realizing until we prepare for Open House, where they display their work, and we see all that they have accomplished. We are so proud of them.
One sunny Friday it is time to release our butterflies; after all, they can’t stay enclosed forever. They need to sample real flowers and fly free.
We take them to the school garden for a special science garden lesson about insects and before the lesson begins, our science teacher, Ms. Benor, opens the top of the enclosure and with a bit of encouragement, the butterflies fly out. The children are delighted as their butterflies linger in the garden, landing on flowers, allowing the children to get a few more close looks. It is a sweet moment as the children witness the end of the full lifecycle of butterflies.
After a few minutes, the children are off to look for other miracles of nature—the six-legged type that might be found in the garden or under a rock—because theirs is a world of endless learning.
On another Friday, soon it will be time to see our students fly off as they leave the safety and security of this classroom that has been our home together for the past nine months. With a brief summer hiatus, they will return and emerge as new, more seasoned kindergarteners or first graders. They know the routines of school; they’ve made friends that could last a lifetime; they are more grown-up versions of themselves.
The end of the school year is the sweet time of the year when we get to see the results of many lessons, the guiding hands, and the spark we have tried to instill. I will watch my students as they land in different classrooms each year and enjoy the sweet moments of witnessing their elementary school journey.
Then, I will welcome the new children in August and begin the cycle of my classroom once again.
Amy Weisberg M.Ed., LAUSD Teacher of the Year 2019—A mother with three grown daughters and a teacher with 39 years’ experience, consults with teachers and parents, as well as provides support for students. For more information: CompleteTeach.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.