Butterfly gardens make great outdoor classrooms for elementary kids. Students can study the specifics of botany, understand the importance of water to all life, and observe the entire life cycle of the butterfly. They also learn how different types of shelter are used by butterflies in different ways.
To create shelter in a butterfly garden, we plant a variety of large bushes and smaller trees as well as flowers. Some are used by the butterflies to hide from predators. Others are used as landing spots to warm themselves in the sun. Butterflies are cold blooded and need sunlight to get their day started. Placing these perches at eye level in the outdoor classroom makes it easy for children to observe stationary butterflies at close range in the early daylight.
To help children understand life cycles of organisms as well as ecosystems, have them study the caterpillar host plants we add for caterpillars. This will allow them witness how plants support different stages of life in different forms. There are a variety of species which caterpillars feed on. Some of these include oleander, milkweed, nettle, sunflowers, carrots, parsley, and snapdragons. Most of these grow in the Houston area too, so there is a great deal of variety here you can choose from.
Water is also very important to a butterfly garden. The plants obviously need water to survive. Butterflies also need water as well as nectar. Many people do not realize this, but they do sip water from wet leaves, petals, and small pools of standing water. If you want to give students a lesson in true ecology, make them responsible for maintaining appropriate water levels in their outdoor classroom. Something as simple as a mud puddle, (which children seem to instinctively love playing in), becomes a world of learning when they begin to see it in relationship to the flora and fauna of the surrounding environment.
Of course, the premier attraction of the butterfly garden is going to be the flowers that the butterflies land on. An interesting fact that students will be interested to learn is that butterflies cannot smell nectar. They select their food entirely according to the color and shape of the flowering plant. A great way to make the outdoor classroom really fun, and never boring, is to have students observe which species of butterflies are most drawn to particular species of plants. It is also a good learning experience for them to witness how wild insects make use of both indigenous plant life and garden flowering plants.
Fortunately for Houston children, we have any number of flowers we can use to create quite an eclectic ecological mix. Going on a field trip to purchase seeds for the butterfly garden is the start of a grand adventure in science and research. Students will have to find out which species of flowers bloom in accordance to butterfly life cycles and migration patterns.
They also should look for flowers that produce large, flat blooms that give the butterflies plenty of room to land. Finally, a good source of nectar is also needed to feed the insects. Sweet peas, geraniums, marigolds, pansies, coneflowers, and nasturtiums are just a few well-known species that serve as excellent nutrition for butterflies.
In an ideal world, students could build their own butterfly gardens as outdoor classrooms for themselves. They are not that hard to construct. However, most schools have other activities for children to pursue and only have a limited time available for actual construction. We will be happy to come to your school and share with your staff the details of the plants we create your garden with. This will allow students to visit the garden, locate the plants and associated butterfly species quickly, and learn at an accelerated pace during science class or recess.