It’s Not Goodbye; It’s Transformation

Written by Shlomit Ovadia of JCC Denver

Last month, JCC Denver’s Early Learning School (ELS) concluded the school year with a new annual tradition: releasing butterflies into the world, symbolic of the growth the children had undergone throughout the school year. 

“It’s a way of punctuating the year in celebration, but also a shared way for us to learn together through this experience,” explains Garden and Technology Specialist Josh Rifkin, as all ELS classrooms get to partake in this living metaphor of transformation.

Back for its second year, the annual butterfly release began several weeks prior, when 100 Painted Ladies caterpillars arrived at the ELS. During that first week, the children observed the fuzzy insects as they prepared for dormancy.

“We always notice this sort of instant empathy from children about the weaker caterpillars, the smaller ones who don’t seem to be as mobile as the others. We like that they are given this opportunity through nature to express empathy and cultivate that emotion,” Josh adds, “which is a stepping stone to social justice.”

Over the following two weeks, ELS students witnessed the caterpillars form chrysalises. “There is this common misperception that butterflies go into cocoons, but those are for moths. Now our kids are going around correcting adults,” Josh says with a laugh.

child holding butterflyNot only does ELS track these magical insects, but students, teachers, and staff get to reflect on their own, year-long experiences. Doing so in tandem with these tiny crawling creatures’ journey, or Masa, serves as one of the seven core Jewish values emphasized in ELS’ progressive vision curriculum.

After the Chrysalises had formed, staff carefully transported the gray, tissue paper-like rolls into small enclosed netted cages displayed in every classroom, where the butterflies would hatch and flutter around for another week, fed by slices of orange and plant stems.

“A big piece of this for us is trying to capture the thinking of kids as they’re watching this and trying to understand what their theories are, and to support those theories,” says Josh, continuing:

“It was very exciting to see the classroom bond over this moment of wonder that the kids can now describe,” as the butterflies unfolded diaphanous wings from their soft shells in magnificent colors of red and orange, sometimes during class.”

On Friday, June 5, the JCC Denver Terrace was teeming with activity, as children danced in crafted cardboard cutout wings, holding flowers in bright magenta, white, and pastel orange provided graciously by the King Soopers on Leetsdale that the butterflies would eventually land onto.

Together with parents, friends, and family, ELS Judaics Specialist, Stephanie Leen, led the happy group clad in summer ware and perched on blankets in a series of song and dance, together as one community, as adults enjoyed hot coffee and freshly baked goods. When the time came, groups unzipped their butterfly nets and watched in wonder as the tiny creatures fluttered up and around, landing on flowers, fingers, and shirts, with kids squealing in delight.

It’s difficult to watch these special creatures in action and not be simply amazed. Butterflies represent so many things. Yet, at the core of it all, the butterfly’s metamorphosis is an event we can all relate to, as beings who are constantly growing and changing into newer versions of ourselves as we are propelled deeper into our own futures and destinies.

“It’s important that we provide children with opportunities to see the cycle of nature, whether that be through the composting with worms we do, or work in the garden, or the planting that happens in the classroom,” Josh ends with. “If you give kids a relationship with nature early on, they will someday be stewards for it.”