Housed within The Community Synagogue’s Early Childhood Center, the ECC Summer Camp Program offers children ages two through five the opportunity to spend the summer playing and learning in a fun and safe environment.
The 12-acre property affords children room to “spread their wings” splashing around in the water play area, enjoying sports classes with FAST Athletics, theme weeks, arts and crafts and celebrating Shabbat on Fridays all summer long.
Amidst the usual hustle and bustle of camp life, this summer, campers in the summer program have been protecting the lives of some very special insects – monarch butterflies. Summer camp head teacher Amy Rubinstein has spearheaded the effort to adopt tiny caterpillar eggs and babies and to help keep them safe until the butterflies are ready to take flight.
Throughout the summer, Rubinstein captivated the children in her camp group as they watched the minuscule caterpillars grow, transition to the chrysalis stage and finally emerge as monarch butterflies.
“The children are fascinated by how small the caterpillars are when they start out and they are eager to check on them throughout the day. They happily take on the role of ‘caretakers’ and embrace each transformation with genuine compassion,” said Rubinstein.
Local monarch enthusiast, Tanya Clusener, has been gathering eggs since May and has thus been keeping the summer camp children busy observing the daily changes happening right before their eyes.
This season of “monarch mayhem,” as Clusener fondly calls it, is working with the Monarch Watch Tagging Program (www.monarchwatch.org) to help them track the butterflies that are released this season to help study migration patterns.
For young children sharing in this project, Clusener talks about how the children feel an “ownership” of the butterflies, which “creates a long-term commitment and connection. Butterflies have a calmness and stillness about them that they impart on children and they find a connection with these monarchs on a totally different level than adults.”
Clusener is passionate about the monarch tagging process, which involves waiting for the newly emerged butterflies to dry for three hours before they can be tagged. The monarchs are individually tagged in a specific location on the wing, using a combination of four letters and three numbers.
Clusener has a following of monarch fans who help foster the caterpillars at all stages of development. Clusener said, “one of the biggest reasons I do this is to bring people together who wouldn’t have otherwise met. The butterflies allow people to connect through a shared interest in these butterflies.”
Since May, Clusener has collected over 2,100 eggs and close to 80 butterflies have been tagged to date.
Every day during camp, the children run inside to see what happened overnight inside the butterfly and caterpillar enclosures. At first, the over 50 caterpillars housed in the camp building were barely visible to the naked eye, requiring the children to use magnifying glasses to even locate them.
Day by day, the children could watch the different stages of the butterfly lifecycle happening before their very eyes. The excitement on their faces and the feeling in the air was palpable.
The children practiced important skills, like patience, as they waited and watched. They learned how to be gentle and to be quiet while observing the transformation that was taking place. The average attention span of a three-year-old child is roughly six minutes. This summer, the children spent roughly eight to ten minutes a day watching, waiting and discussing their adopted monarchs with their friends and counselors.
On release days, the children waited patiently outside on the grass as the butterflies took their time deciding when to take flight. When asked about where they thought the butterflies were going, the children had a variety of answers, from favorite local locations to places far and wide, like Mexico.
The Monarch Tagging Program, with the support of caring adults like Rubinstein and Clusener, provides young children the ability to talk about the monarch migration all year round. In the winter, the teachers talk with the children about where the summer butterflies may be and how they are doing. They can share pictures to remind the children of the magic of the summer when the monarchs were just tiny caterpillars and how they transformed into the beautiful butterflies they are today.
The addition of the Monarch Tagging Program to the Summer Program at The Community Synagogue provided an additional layer of wonder and excitement to the children and teachers in attendance.
At the end of a busy summer day, parents reported back to the camp about discussions they were having with their children at home about their special caterpillar project at camp. This very special camp initiative is a memory that will hopefully remain with the children long after the summer months fade away.