WILMINGTON — A teacher is continuing to install a sense of wonder while teaching her students.
Mary O’Boyle, a kindergarten teacher at Holmes Elementary, has been raising monarch butterflies in her classroom for 25 years. O’Boyle believes that teaching the life cycle of caterpillars into butterflies is an ideal activity for starting the school year.
She and her husband — Jim O’Boyle, park manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Caesar Creek Lake State Park — started raising monarch caterpillars “when we were in college, and we decided the timing was ideal for bringing this natural event into the classroom to kick off the school year.”
“The children are introduced to the caterpillars at open house, and over the course of the first four weeks of school they get to see the caterpillars grow and transform. The children get excited as they wait each day for the transformation to take place once the caterpillar has gone into its chrysalis,” Mary O’Boyle said.
The morning the butterfly emerges is always a day of great celebration in the kindergarten classroom. The caterpillars are nearly ready to embark on the big bold world. By the afternoon the wings are flapping, signaling that it is time to fly away. Mrs. O’Boyle gently removes the butterfly from its aquarium and out to the playground they go.
“It’s a good icebreaker,” she said. “Every day when the kids come into the classroom, the first thing they do is look for the caterpillars to see if they’re bigger or if they’ve changed into a chrysalis.”
She said a lot of times there are some kids who are bashful and unsure about school. But the butterflies give them something to look forward to every day.
The main thing she wants her students to take away from this is a sense of wonder.
“A teacher can tell you facts, give you information. But you have that sense of wonder — you’re going to go out and pursue it yourself and learn about it,” she said.
Even years later, when she comes across a student of hers from long ago, they’ll recall how they loved project. O’Boyle has even had parents tell her their kids will go on and on about the chrysalis and butterflies. It’s moments like these that remind her why she became a teacher.
“To help children learn,” she said. “Let them experience things that they might not otherwise experience. Sometimes we get very focused on the scores and curriculum and everything needs to be done — which is important — but I feel like this makes a connection. It’s a good memory for them.”