The Journey Begins! Learning About Fluttering Monarch Butterflies

Brendan Frost, 11, “flies” through winter on a monarch butterfly bicycle over frozen Lake Harriet in Minneapolis.

Itching to travel for spring break this year? It’s not just you. Consider the monarch butterfly: It’s common for these beauties to spring into flight through different migration corridors of the country and head north this time of year.

To get inspired by the life cycles and travel itineraries of monarchs, kids in the Twin Cities landed this month at a family event on stark and frozen Lake Harriet to learn and interact at the Monarch Butterfly Migration Shanty (think ice-fishing house) as part of a family-focused Art Shanty Village. Wearing decorated helmets, they rode “monarch-winged” bicycles on the ice. Painted to represent butterflies, thick canvas wings were attached to bicycle handles and available to all. “I’m flying like a monarch,” exclaimed 11-year-old Brendan Frost, as he imagined his flight from the Mexico to Canada.

Inside the shanty, heated by a wood-burning stove and decorated to represent where monarchs overwinter, kids in wool hats and scarves colored paper butterflies and “tagged” and clipped them to fir-tree sculptures as they learned about pollinators and the migration of these wondrous creatures.

Here are three ideas to begin your own monarch adventure:

Attract monarchs to your yard:

As you plan your summer garden, add milkweed to attract monarchs. Poke a sign in the ground saying, “This is a butterfly-friendly yard” to encourage other neighbors to do the same.

Raise monarch butterflies:

Observe firsthand the wonder of how a caterpillar emerges from a chrysalis as a brilliant orange, black and white butterfly. Insectlore.com is a resource many teachers use for ordering caterpillars and supplies. Or, check out books from your library or online about how to find caterpillars and eggs in your own garden habitat this spring.

Send a butterfly greeting to a special friend or relative:

Take a photo of that monarch that landed in your garden and print it. Or, find images of monarchs and draw your own. Attach the photo or cutout drawing to the front side of a folded sheet of cardstock or heavy construction paper. Inside, write a message.

Maybe it will be a story dictated by your child about the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly in school or in your home, or this lovely poem, attributed to Nathaniel Hawthorne:

“Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

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Donna Erickson’s award-winning series “Donna’s Day” is airing on public television nationwide. To find more of her creative family recipes and activities, visit www.donnasday.com and link to the NEW Donna’s Day Facebook fan page. Her latest book is “Donna Erickson’s Fabulous Funstuff for Families.”