If it can creep, crawl, jump or fly; you can bet that it has the attention of my three and six-year-old. My daughter is notorious for having pet worms that she names and carries around the yard; while my son is more interested in frogs and toads.
Each of these interests has provided an opportunity for my kids to learn about nature through observation. For example, my daughter has learned that earthworms tend to surface after a large rainfall and my son has learned that toads are slower and easier to catch than frogs due to the design of their legs. While these may not seem like big ideas, they are in fact important as they are age appropriate concepts that each of them has learned under their own terms while interacting with their natural environment.
Their most recent fascination is with what they found in a patch of milkweed at the end of our driveway. A few nights ago as we were out for a walk, the two of them noticed something crawling on the milkweed. As we stopped to take a closer look, they found at least five Monarch caterpillars moving about the leaves. My three-year-old observed that they were different sizes; this observation provided an opportunity for us to reflect back on the book the ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ and how the caterpillar had to eat and eat and eat to grow, and then eventually turned into a butterfly. Every night since then, we have had to return to the patch of milkweed to check on the caterpillars to see if they have transformed into butterflies yet.
As our schedules fill up with activities, it is all too easy to miss out on these small opportunities to enhance our children’s lives. It would be so easy for us to skip a night (or two, or three…) of observing these small creatures, but then we may miss out on seeing the amazing transformation that can occur. Similarly, if we are so busy that we simply move from one event to the next, we risk missing out on these small moments with our kids, opportunities to teach them but also to spend quality time with them. Like the caterpillars eat the milkweed to grow, our kids are devouring knowledge from the world around them to enhance their minds and we don’t want to miss the moment that they spread their wings.
Remember in the big scheme of things it is about quality of opportunities and not quantity. These nightly checks of the caterpillars only require about five minutes before going inside for the night, yet they are having a huge impact on my kids and on me. Both of them are learning about monarchs and life cycles while gaining life skills like observation and inquiry and I have the opportunity to see their minds grow.