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Montessori in a Dene Kindergarten – Montessori in a Dene Grade One Classroom

Archive for May, 2010

Goodbye, Butterflies

Posted by mrsmelva on 28/05/2010

We set our butterflies free on Wednesday. It was a bit chilly and they were apprehensive about the wide open spaces. We set them free in a patch of dandelions on the playground. We set some free with the morning class and some with the afternoon class. Due to the cold, they didn’t fly off right away so I was able to get some fairly close up pictures.

in the pavilion, waiting to be released

the door is open, fly away to freedom

The butterflies slowly moved toward the opening at the top of the pavilion, but they didn’t fly away. I had to lift most of them out, then some would fly from my fingers, and some had to be placed on flowers. It was fairly cold and I think that is why they were so slow moving. In the afternoon they were a bit more active, but not a lot.

first "picnic", note the proboscis

resting on rocks

I like this picture since it clearly shows the three body parts and the patterning on the wings.

We will be planting flower seeds today to continue our life cycles study. On a sad note, our tadpoles did not survive. The two snails that were with them did survive so I sent them home with the student who had brought them in, so that she could return them to their home pond.


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Butterfly Observations

Posted by mrsmelva on 24/05/2010

I have photos of some of the children’s butterfly observations. Some children preferred to simply watch the butterflies, but others enjoyed doing some great detailed drawings. When I first suggested that they draw what they observed, there wasn’t much response. Then one day I took a clipboard, paper and pen and sat down to do my own drawing. When I had finished drawing I got crayons and added colour, going back to look at the butterflies as I added details. I left my paper out in view for a few minutes and then removed it. Even the children who started work while my paper was still there did not copy what was on my paper, but they did copy my approach of observing, drawing and going back to check my observations when adding details and colour. Here are a few samples of their work.

great concentration is needed for scientific drawings

concentration pays off in a detailed symmetrical drawing

two drafts on one page

butterfly eating from a piece of apple, note the proboscis and all the details in the butterfly and the apple

get comfortable, this could take a while, cross out what you don't like and try again

look carefully, there's lots to see

life cycle

several drafts

The children who chose this work tended to repeat it for a day or two and they worked carefully and really tried to record what they had seen in the butterfly homes and in the books that were on the book rack. I noted students going to books to check details as well as going back to the butterflies themselves. Last year I didn’t get any drawings like these, but I did have a student create this fabulous 3-D butterfly.

beautiful butterfly and beautiful artist

Sometimes a lack of preparation of the environment can lead to something wonderful. I had left some of these cups sitting on the chalk ledge with some paper punched symbols that had been prepared for a mitten lesson in the winter. One of the boys took one and began working with it at the art center.  Several children came to tell me he had taken it so I put them all on the art shelf and added another stack of the cups. This is what one student created. After she made her butterfly several others copied her technique but none could match her creativity. the angle of the wings is really well done. She was also very kind in showing others how to put their butterflies together and sharing her creativity.

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Our Trip to the Rapids

Posted by mrsmelva on 15/05/2010

When I first moved here from British Columbia and my middle years students suggested we go to the rapids, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. I was expecting rushing white water. Instead, I was shown this beautiful creek, meandering through fields and boreal forest and teaming with jackfish (northern pike) in the spring. The fish go upstream to spawn. Many are caught with a snare on the end of a stick and cooked over an open fire as a wonderful meal, but care is taken to make sure that plenty of fish still make it upstream to spawn and ensure a continuing supply of fish. These are the same fish that we were catching on the ice in winter. Our community school coordinator and our Dene language teacher arranged this outing for the students. It is close to the school, but too far to walk easily without taking up too much school time, so we went by bus. Some elders were hired to catch fish, build the fire and cook for the children.

heading to the creek to look for fish, but first we need some cautionary procedures so that no one falls in!

the elders had the fire going and food ready for the children after their nature walk

the beauty of clouds reflected in calm water

Look! there are fish over there!

fish swimming amongst the reflection of the trees

You need to have good eyes to see the fish and even better eye-hand coordination to actually catch one with a snare like this:

a wire snare on a stick

this fish was caught by a grade 6 student

In spring you often see older kids heading to the creek with a piece of wire, a lighter, a salt shaker and a potato in their pockets so that they can catch and cook their own supper. Families also gather for picnics plain and fancy but always featuring the delicious fresh fish.

On our walk the Dene language teacher focused mainly on the creek and the fish but also pointed out features of local trees and plants.

noting features of a tree along the way

children were warned not to grab this very thorny plant

The children were shown a fish and its body parts were pointed out, named and described in Dene.


looking into the fish's mouth

another view inside its mouth

After our walk we returned to the campfire to feast on fish, potatoes, hot chocolate, tea, bannock and jam.

potatoes and tea

The potatoes are cooked directly in the coals of the fire and they have a delicious smoky taste.

fried bannock with jam

a fish waiting to be cleaned and cooked

the insides of the fish were also shown to the children and explained in Dene

sharing with the seagulls

sharing with each other

We had a wonderful time with lots of learning. The next day in class I had the children draw and write about the experience. I have made a deal with our Dene language teacher when she plans these field trips to put me on the schedule before she posts it for others to sign up and to always put me in the same spot on the schedule so that I can do follow up in class. When she does these trips she cancels her regular schedule and everyone signs up for a double block so that there is enough time for a quality experience. Because our teacher prep time is when our students go to Dene class and gym, most teachers do not go on these field trips, but I find that being there with my students is really worthwhile. I take pictures and use them in discussion the next day before we do our follow up activity. Sometimes I put a thumbnail picture on each student’s writing paper. I also use pictures from these experiences to make matching cards and in the future I plan to make some three part cards in English. Following that I hope to collaborate with the Dene language teacher to make three part cards in Dene.

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We Have Wings!

Posted by mrsmelva on 14/05/2010

Wednesday morning as we gathered at the rug for Oh Canada, a very quiet boy said quite loudly, “Teacher, a butterfly is out!” We all went to look and this is what we saw:

first butterfly, one emerging, and many more to come

After Oh Canada, I reminded the children that they needed to be very carefully when approaching the chrysalids and butterflies. Then I returned to preparing apples for breakfast, and collected some cores for the butterflies. The children were very careful and respectful and watched often throughout the day as a few more butterflies emerged. The same boy who noticed the first butterfly came to me a little later to tell me that he could see the proboscis, saying, “The butterfly, its drinking the nectar from her, her pro – her long tongue,” gesturing the shape of a proboscis as he spoke, so I provided him with the word and he repeated it. Back when we first got the caterpillars he had taken a piece of paper and curled it like a proboscis and put it on the end of his tongue and then came and told me about how butterflies eat. I asked how he knew that, and he said he had seen it on t.v. I then directed him to our book racks and invited him to see if he could find a picture of a proboscis in a book. He spent quite a long time looking at the books and found several pictures. He then proceeded to teach several others about how butterflies eat and soon almost every student had a paper proboscis. This resulted in the need for a quick lesson on hygiene and not sharing one’s paper proboscis with one’s friends!

the first butterfly finally spreads its wings

first meal, and blood that is shed during the emerging process

The butterflies really like the apple cores and they also like the sugar solution I made for them. I soaked sea sponges with the sugar solution in this container, and put it in a little feeder that I bought in the pavilion. I don’t see the feeder available at the supplier’s website anymore. I will post a picture of it in the future, but don’t know if it is still available. I will move all the butterflies into the pavilion when a few more have emerged, but I am trying not to open the lid of this container too often so that I don’t disturb the other chrysalids too much.

a student approaching the pavilion for a closer look

inside the pavilion 1

inside the pavilion 2

It is very difficult to get pictures inside the pavilion, the white mesh tends to reflect and  the camera picks up everything behind the pavilion too.

more careful observation

I invited the students to record their observations of the butterflies. Here is one student’s work:

a butterfly and a chrysalis

note the details being added to the wings

I will try and get a clearer picture of her work if I can. She added very careful markings to the wings, and made many trips over to observe the butterflies while working.

Unfortunately, there was an accident and our tadpoles did not survive. I am not sure if we will get more or not. I think it might be better to scout out some of the pond areas and plan a little field trip rather than bringing in creatures that will probably not survive.

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Still Waiting for Wings

Posted by mrsmelva on 08/05/2010

Almost all of our caterpillars have formed chrysalids now. I moved some of the chrysalids to the mesh butterfly pavilion and some to the top of the plastic butterfly house. I took the two containers of caterpillars out of the house, there are still a few caterpillars in them that have not pupated yet.

Chrysalids and caterpillars in the pavilion

In this picture you can see the chrysalids and a few caterpillars. One caterpillar is hanging in the j-hook and will pupate shortly, the others are almost ready. I took this picture on Wednesday, by Thursday all of these caterpillars had formed chrysalids. Notice the shiny gold spots on the chrysalids.

Close up of chrysalids

You can kind of see the butterflies forming inside. The students have been fascinated watching this whole process. One student brought us a bucket of frog spawn. We now have several tadpoles swimming in the bucket, along with a couple of snails and a water beetle. I guess we are waiting for legs as well as wings, although my previous attempts to keep tadpoles until they became frogs were not successful.

While waiting we have been busy in the classroom with our regular activities. Here are pictures of a couple of students working on the metal insets with great concentration.

Metal insets, concentration, preparation for reading and writing

Metal insets, concentration, preparation for reading and writing

Here is a picture of some language work.

cvc word puzzles on egg shapes

I found the link to the puzzles at My Montessori Journey and she got them from Kelly’s Kindergarten. I think I will put this picture in the tub so that the students can check their work. Or, I may just print another set and not cut the eggs apart so that they could be used like three part cards. I will have to think about both ideas and make up my mind. When I do I will let you know.

Later I will post some pictures of our field trip to “the rapids”.

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Waiting for Wings

Posted by mrsmelva on 01/05/2010

The book and the larvae in their shipping container

We read this wonderful book by Lois Ehlert and discussed the pictures as well as the idea that the caterpillars were waiting for wings and so were the gardeners who had planted all the colourful flowers. Then I provided the students with white paper and markers for printing the title, black construction paper for a background and a wide variety of coloured paper to create their responses to the story. They used glue, scissors and markers to create many butterflies, caterpillars, chrysalids, and flowers (and some hearts).

work in progress, 2 butterflies and a caterpillar

more works in progress

adding details to a caterpillar

There was a lot of discussion amongst the students about their work and a lot of sharing of ideas, not direct copying, but definitely getting inspiration from each other’s work.

Abstract interpretation

This student had a very abstract interpretation, but he definitely picked up elements from the book in his choice of colours and in the zig zag lines. He worked diligently, with great concentration perfecting his cutting skills and deciding on the placement of the pieces.

most of the afternoon students' work (a few weren't finished when I took the picture)

Most of the morning students' work

Another abstract interpretation

A more representational interpretation, clockwise from lower left, chrysalis, flower, egg, butterfly, caterpillar

homework - thumbnail picture of the book cover and instructions to talk about the book together and draw or write about it

I displayed the completed homework on the same bulletin board as the art. There was a wide variety of detail in the responses, but overall it was well received.

homework, making connections because "Together we dream, believe, strive and succeed"

And now for “baby” pictures of the actual caterpillars!

Half the babes, we have two of these containers full, to allow for natural selection

The little black dots are shed skins, as the caterpillars grow they shed their skins, the last shed will be the chrysalis forming. The cream coloured stuff is their food mix, which comes from the supplier. The little round yellow balls are foss – that’s poop, but with a fancy name. The kids really found that part interesting.

closeup of foss, shed skins and 3 babies

trying to escape

We open the containers for closer observation everyday, and although I gently push all of them down with a clean paintbrush, some very quickly climb back up to the top before I get done showing the kids the few on the lid that I am taking around the group.

observing the caterpillars during work time

We keep the containers in this larger one. On Friday I put some paper towels in the tops of the small containers as some of the caterpillars looked as if they might be ready to pupate. If they do, I will tape the towels with the chrysalids attached inside the larger container and some in the pavilion shown below.

waiting for wings, the butterfly pavilion and a student studying one of the butterfly books

Along with the pavilion, I have a butterfly life cycle puzzle, duck life cycle puzzle, two butterfly books and a duck book on this small table. I have many other life cycle books on the book racks shown on the left. The “big idea” for this inquiry is life cycles. I also have some life cycle picture cards. I made a set of each and mounted them on a long strip of construction paper, and then another set for matching. The strips can be joined with binder clips into a circle to demonstrate the fact that the life cycle goes round and round in a circle. I got the cards from sparklebox just click on minibeasts and you will find lots of neat stuff to print for teaching about life cycles.

student working with the butterfly cards and strip

butterfly life cycle puzzle

Then he moved to the life cycle puzzle. I have had this puzzle for more than 20 years, and have a duck one just like it.

chicken life cycle strip clipped into a circle

Sorry that this picture is so blurry, I took it in a hurry while writing a sub plan. I wasn’t sure if my directions for clipping made sense so I snapped a quick picture to show what I meant. I include pictures in my sub plans to help explain things and to show where stuff is in the classroom. I hate being gone, and hate writing sub plans but sometimes it is inevitable. With the sub, the children made their own chicken life cycle pictures as a colour, cut and glue activity from sparklebox. I will set out butterfly ones for them to do as a choice activity next week. They did the ones with the sub as a whole class activity as that works best with subs. There is also a frog set that I will be putting out in the near future. I have a stamp set of the butterfly life cycle and the frog cycle to set out soon, and some inflatable models that I hung from the ceiling in my old classroom, the ceiling is much lower in this room so I will have to think about what is best to do with them this year. Somewhere, not sure where, I have the small models of the life cycle that are shown on the page at the supplier link above. I hope I find them soon, will be looking in a couple of tubs and boxes tomorrow.


This student made this proboscis during work time. After he made his, several students made them. I did have to have a discussion about not sharing your proboscis with your friends (they were putting them in their mouths and pretending to sip nectar)! This was a completely spontaneous extension of the work we had done as a class.

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