Five Questions for Cambridge’s Monarch Nannies

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A family checks out the monarch butterflies still in their nursery boxes shortly before helping to escort them to the meadow for release on August 7.  Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

Why are Monarch butterflies so special? We recently asked five questions of Martine Wong, Fresh Pond Reservation (FPR) Outreach & Volunteer Coordinator, and her Cambridge Mayor’s  Summer Youth Employment Program (MSYEP) intern, Shewit.  On August 6th and 7th, amidst some fanfare—kids and puppets—Martine, Shewit and other staff and volunteers released most of the butterflies that they had helped raise, under the auspices of the Water Department of the City of Cambridge, over the course of the summer.

1. Why is FPR raising butterflies for release?

Shewit: We raise Monarch butterflies every year to educate people about and show the life cycle of the butterflies and to teach the importance of milkweed to Cambridge residents so they might plant milkweed in their gardens. Milkweed is the only plant [Monarchs] lay their eggs on and eat when they are caterpillars. The Monarch butterfly is now in decline because of milkweed plants’ reduction by pesticides and because of using land for other purposes such as for pavement and farming.

Martine Wong, left, with volunteer Lisa and MSYEP intern Shewit, at the Monarch Release event at Lusitania Meadow, Fresh Pond Reservation.
Cambridge Water Dept. staffer Martine Wong (left) with volunteer Lisa Recolta (middle) and MSYEP intern Shewit Yitbarek (right), at the Monarch Release at Lusitania Meadow, Fresh Pond Reservation.Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

Martine: There are several reasons we’re raising Monarch butterflies for release at Fresh Pond! We hope to teach people about the connection between shrinking butterfly populations and the importance of protecting wildlife habitat. We also want to show people that there are action steps they can take to protect them—you can plant milkweed and other native pollinator-friendly plants, and help to remove invasive plants such as Black Swallow-wort. Also, they are exquisitely beautiful and a joy to behold.

2. Once you received the larvae in the mail, up until this moment of releasing the full grown butterflies, what surprised you most about them?

Shewit: They eat a lot of milkweed leaves and they grow so fast.

3. If we want to help Monarchs live in our city as a whole, what can kids (and just anyone, for that matter) do to make it a welcoming place for them?

pupating and hatching of Monarchs at Fresh Pond
Visitors to Fresh Pond Reservation this summer could view Monarchs at the Ranger Station, in various stages of their life cycle.

Shewit: To make a welcoming place for the Monarch butterfly is to plant enough milkweed plants in the garden, without pesticides. Once the butterfly lays her eggs, the caterpillar continues living upon the plant until it becomes a butterfly—there is no need to change things or worry about it. OR, If the person does not have garden they can raise them in the cage.

Martine: Monarch butterfly caterpillars exclusively eat milkweed – they truly depend on this plant for their survival. A sea of pesticide/herbicide-free milkweed plants for adults to lay eggs on and for caterpillars to eat would be a great welcome, along with planting native pollinator plants that can provide nectar for adult butterflies.

4. What did you learn from other Monarch projects in the United States?

Shewit: I learned some interesting facts, such as monarchs do not have eyelids and they can see UV lights. If the monarchs are in a cage, they need clean space and food because their waste is too much.

The adult Monarch in its new habitat at Lusitania Meadow, Cambridge
An adult Monarch butterfly raised in captivity by the Cambridge Water Department gets accustomed to its new surroundings. Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

5. If we see a Monarch butterfly at Fresh Pond, will we know it’s one of the ones raised in captivity?

Martine: There’s no way of knowing if it’s one of ours! There are tagging programs for the purposes of learning more about their migration and biology. Perhaps we will try that out next year!

Monarchs are released from captivity by Cambridge's Monarch Nannies

The butterflies are released! Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Dept. Photo

More:

  • Find other resources about Monarch butterflies in general, and the Cambridge Water Department program in particular, on the Water Department’s Monarch Watch Page.
  • Read the Boston Globe’s coverage of the Cambridge Water Department Monarch Release on August 7, 2016.
  • Find out more about the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which partnered with more than 125 community organizations and city departments this year. Opportunities include many in sustainability and environmental fields, in addition to the internship offered at Fresh Pond Reservation and Alewife Reservation.

    Giant puppets of monarch and other butterflies (and a few moths) were part of the festivities and parade that escorted the butterflies to Lusitania Meadow at Fresh Pond Reservation, where they were released. Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.
    Giant puppets of monarch and other butterflies (and a moth or two) were part of the parade that escorted the Monarch butterflies to Lusitania Meadow at Fresh Pond Reservation, where they were released. The puppets were made by community members through the Cambridge Wildlife Puppetry ProjectKim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

Screen Wise Cambridge’s Snow Day Challenge: February 2, 2015

Make something using these items only:

  • 5-7 cylindrical household objects like cardboard tubes or water bottles
  • 5-7 rubber bands (hair bands are ok), and
  • 5-7 crayons or pencils.
photo of snow day challenge materials
Materials you can use for the Screen Wise Cambridge Snow Day Challenge.

Your creation can be a building, a human or animal figure, an abstract sculpture, a machine, a tool, a poem or story, in fact anything at all! Use the above items only. You can use scissors or other tools as long as you don’t add any additional items. i.e., no tape, no glue! (If you absolutely can’t resist using tape or glue, don’t give up—we’re still interested in what you make, but do try the real challenge first).

Post the photos of your finished creations (and a caption or description) to the Screen Wise Cambridge Facebook page or post them as a comment below. (Be sure to say if you have used tape or glue)

Also post your questions here if you have any. Multigenerational teams are welcome to participate, whether parent-child or not. There are no age restrictions.

Snowfall in the City

When children wake up with the outdoor world coated with even an inch or two of snow, the transformation of their world isn’t partial, as it is for the jaded among the rest of us, who’ve seen hundreds of snowfalls come and go. We have turned into the shovelers, the drivers, the schleppers, the planning-ahead experts.

Illustration from Under the Snow, by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by  Constance R. Bergum
Illustration from Under the Snow, by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Constance R. Bergum

A snowfall is a complete transformation, for kids. And so it is for the animals with whom young children are apt to identify. To follow and learn from children’s newness to snow, and extend their own scientific curiosity, have a look at Melissa Stewart’s book Under the Snow. It’s recommended for ages 4–8, but teaches and parents should consider it for twos and threes. The book takes us on a walk through different habitats—wetland, pond, forest, and others—and shows how different processes unfold under the snow in those different settings. Along the way, meet a vole, a newt, a chipmunk, and a carp.

The advantage of not thinking ahead to when the snow will melt, nor applying sand or “Sno-Melt,” means the very youngest children are open to the in-the-moment experience—to the eye-popping, swirling, tactile weirdness of snow.

Author Melissa Stewart (left) and I thumb through her book about animal adaptation in winter, Under the Snow (illustrated by Constance R. Bergum), at the Massachusetts Environmental Education Society conference, Spring 2014.
Author Melissa Stewart (left) and I thumb through her book about animal adaptation in winter, Under the Snow (illustrated by Constance R. Bergum), at the Massachusetts Environmental Education Society conference, Spring 2014.

There’s a nice “reader’s theater” script that goes with Under the Snow:

Narrator: Under the snow in a pond…A bluegill circles slowly through the chilly water.

Bluegill: Glug! Glug! I sure wish I had enough energy to catch that little bug.

Narrator: The waterboatman swimming nearby has a different point of view.

Water boatman: Thank goodness that big fish can’t chase me down!

Taking an animal’s point of view is a terrific way for kids to learn about the world.

Snow is a great open-ended toy, too; its rarity and serendipity makes it all the more so.

Postscript: I was lucky to meet Melissa Stewart last spring at the Massachusetts Environmental Education Society conference.IMG_7637 I’m enthralled with all her work. Feathers: Not Just for Flying is a recent one that hits that difficult sweet spot in nature education picture books.There are always  terrific authors at the MEES conference. This year it will be on March 5, 2015. Here are a few more folks I admire who were at last year’s conference:

Author and Illustrator Gordon Morrison with two of his works, at MEES Conference, Spring 2014.
Author and Illustrator Gordon Morrison with two of his works, at MEES Conference, Spring 2014.
Loree Griffin Burns, with her book Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey, at MEES conference, Spring 2014
Loree Griffin Burns, with her book Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey, at MEES conference, Spring 2014

Be Iridescent

There’s nothing better than wearing something with a little iridescence to bring out a smile on your face.

The Honk Festival’s parade will be graced by what may constitute a swarm of Wandering Gliders and Blue-Fronted Dancers, residents of our 162-acre urban habitat here in Cambridge, Mass.

If you’re a resident of the vicinity of Fresh Pond Reservation, in Cambridge, Mass. , join us in walking as Fresh Pond creatures in the October 13th Honk! Parade.

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Off Trail in the Peppermint Forest

It’s time for me to leave the sidelines.

It’s time for slow this-and-that. Slow Food. Slow Families. Slow Medicine, even.

Unplug. Be in the moment. Pay attention. But to what?

The “movement” to simplify has, in a way, come full circle. I like those nice two-word concepts, above. Actually, two-word concepts is about all I can stomach these days. A life of slogans has an appeal. As I’m getting older (and harder of hearing) a barrage of verbiage isn’t cutting it any more. Leave me alone, garrulous adolescents, repetitive whining little ones, and radio mavens.  Even noncommercial radio is turning me off with the pitter-patter of its patter, so I’m turning it off. And online petitions? Here’s the checklist as it exists in the back bar-room of my mind. The list gets the same treatment as any sequence of paragraphs did in my 1979 journalism class—the whole piece has to stand on its own when the bottom paragraphs get lopped off:

  • Child #1 CHECK
  • Child #2 CHECK (If there is a third, fourth, and fifth, and so forth, they all get checked off, too)
  • Spouse (if applicable) CHECK
  • Job    CHECK
  • Making Meals CHECK
  • Paying Bills  CHECK
  • Laundry NOT SO MUCH
  • Sleep, Hygiene, Doctor Appts, Downtime—that whole shebang SURE, BUT HIGHLY VARIABLE
  • Furthering Social Justice, Doing Unto Others, Understanding Afghanistan, Change.Org Petitions, Reversing Climate Change…

Wait a minute, what was that last one? Should that even be on my list at all, even at the bottom?

See, I think, in all of this urgency to be “slow” and to return to the basics, something else basic is missing. Not something, two things.

You can’t be “Slow” if you’re trying to make ends meet.

Not slow in that aged cheese, hand-packed lunch for the kids sort of way, not if getting to work, keeping up with bills or getting work is out of reach.

You can’t be “Slow” if it’s a shortcut to the sidelines.

In Chutes and Ladders, and in Candy Land, you have NO CONTROL over your destiny. Are these the games we want our kids to learn? Because they need to learn the cardinal rule that you have NO CONTROL over whether you get socked with the “Plumpy” second-rate hard candy or end up shacking up with “King Kandy” at the Candy Castle.

Off Trail in the Peppermint Forest. Who needs a path when the path that's been charted by others leads to malaria in northern climes?
Off Trail in the Peppermint Forest. Who needs a path when the path that’s been charted by others leads to malaria in northern climes?

I like aged cheese and hand-canning and growing my own parsley just as much as the next person (on the cheese front—maybe more, sorry to say). But as I’m bushwhacking through the vines of parenthood (think Little Shop of Horrors) and feeling sorry for myself way too often for the emotional and physical ramifications of being a “mature mother”—a phrase I never use even in my own head because it’s simply an awful euphemism, but I’ll use it now anyway because SLOW JOURNALISM at this moment means just-in-time-ranting, aka unedited and unexpurgated and the mature mother thing is an epithet—I’m unable to lop off that very last thing with my wicked cool mom-ninja-machete.

That last thing on the list is so—I don’t know, so—overwhelming as to be farcical. It’s like World Peace. Yeah, I’m going to work for world peace—by grabbing my kids who are screaming and trying to maim each other over something someone took from someone else’s room when the rule is you can’t go in someone else’s room without permission.

No, that last thing had to do with global warming, had to do with not only the messed-up politics in the country but the entire economy and actually the entire planet. Mother Earth.

I wonder what her list looks like.

The Host-Parasite Thing, with Many Digressions

Image copyright University of Montreal
Did you know? Ladybugs, aka ladybeetles, can be parasitized by wasps.

Ideas and facts aren’t bad just because we acquire them via social media. As a parent and self-teaching nature club guide* I’ll take what I can get from the Internet. Here’s an example. So am I a host or a parasite in the digital food chain?

*I’ve been calling myself a “leader” of the club I started for elementary kids. but that’s because, in addition to “teacher,” it’s what the other spunworgs** seem to expect. But I think I’m ditching that. “Leader” is  girlscoutspeak. (Let me tell you sometime about my research on the scouting movement in mid-20th century Botswana. But not here.) Point is, I actually don’t lead the kids; they tend to lead me.

**I hope my twelve-year-old never outgrows her capacity to speak backwards. She’s been a happy contributor to our family-specific lexicon. I bet you’ve got an FSL, too. You do know adolescents have always been a fundamental contributor to language change, throughout human history, don’t you? You may love or hate particular neologisms (I got me some humdingers I love to hate), but do not a Luddite be on slang as a whole.

Mother Nature’s Child to Play in Somerville

Somerville Climate Action, Rep. Denise Provost and The Growing Center present a free film:

MOTHER NATURE’S CHILD

Mother Nature’s Child explores nature’s powerful role in children’s health and development through the experience of children of all ages.
The film marks a moment in time when a living generation can still recall a childhood of free play outdoors; this will not be true for most children growing up today. The effects of “nature deficit disorder” are now being noted across the country in epidemics of child obesity, attention disorders, and depression.

Discussion of how to keep city kids connected to nature will follow the film.

Weds. MARCH 27, 7-9pm
FREE

ARTS AT THE ARMORY MEZZANINE
191 HIGHLAND AVE.

Fire Up Your Engines: Screen-Free Week Starts April 29th

Giant Bubbles for Health. Photo by Harald Bischoff
Giant Bubbles for Health. Photo by Harald Bischoff

Screen-Free Week (April 29–May 5, 2013) gets a lot of flak, not to mention wolf-crying from some parties. Is it a slippery slope towards the denial of digital citizenship if we suggest kids should spend less time on computers, tablets, and e-readers?

There are many good arguments for children to be educated in technology and that schools train kids to be good digital citizens. Technology, screens, media—it’s part of our landscape now, and equipping our kids for survival means giving them that skill set. However, “advergaming,” dopamine-induced calm, and using ipads to fill kids’ downtime doesn’t hold any benefit for them (perhaps, it does, though, to overstressed parents and caregivers). Daydreaming, running around, and real-life play has a developmentally functional role.

Turning off our phones, ipads, gaming devices, and televisions for a week—filling the downtime with uptime instead of screen time, is a way to model connectedness for kids. The other kind of connectedness.

Is Screen-Free week a haven for Luddites and anti-technology, granola-crunching, bread-baking, wooden-toy-pushers? Well, I may be a card-carrying member of the last three of those groups, but I’ve also been networked and tweeting for a good long while. I’m never going back, but I am vigilant about screen-time in my household.SFW-logo-with-2013-date-and-website

This TEDxRainer talk by Dr. Dimitri Christakis is a good introduction to research on how TV and video exposure affect the development of attention skills in children. His lab found that the more cognitive stimulation kids received by age 3 (reading, museum visits, singing to kids), the better their ability to pay attention at age 7. TV and video had a correspondingly negative effect on later attention skills. For every hour of TV watched per day before age 3, there was a 10 percent negative difference in attentional skills at age 7.

Need more reasons to consider going screen-free and talking your school, household, or significant other into joining you? Here’s an excerpt from the Institute of Medicine‘s Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Policy:

Major federal government initiatives have concluded that screen time is related to weight outcomes, and to adequacy of physical activity, but do not limit their definition of screen time to media that contains food advertising. The CDC’s Task Force on Community Preventive Services recommends behavioral interventions aimed at reducing screen time based on “sufficient evidence of effectiveness for reducing measured screen time and improving weight-related outcomes”. They define screen time as “time spent watching TV, videotapes, or DVDs; playing video or computer games; and surfing the internet.” In identifying research gaps, they point out that important research issues remain, including that “additional research is needed to identify how screen time affects health outcomes”. One of their research questions is “What is the mechanism for screen time being associated with weight-related outcomes?” (Community Guide, 2010).

Healthy People 2020 positions screen time as a direct competitor with adequate physical activity in children from birth to 12th grade. Key physical activity objectives recommended by Healthy People 2020 (HHS, 2010) include: increase the proportion of children aged 0 to 2 years who view no television or videos on an average week day; increase the proportion of children and adolescents aged 2 through 12th grade who view television, videos, or play video games for less than 2 hours a day; and increase the proportion of children and adolescents aged 2 years to 12th grade who use a computer or play computer games outside of school (or nonschool work) for less than 2 hours a day.

The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics)(2001) recommends limiting children’s total media time to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day and discouraging television viewing for children younger than 2 years of age. Yet, a recent study suggests that more than a third of health care providers fail to discuss television guidelines with parents (Spivack et al., 2010).

Although the committee thought it was reasonable to assume that the relationship between screen time and obesity found among 2 to 5 year olds is likely to be similar in the birth to 2 age group, there was insufficient evidence about this relationship for the committee to make an obesity prevention recommendation for the younger age group. The committee notes, however, that there is evidence unrelated to obesity (e.g., about cognitive development) that has led others to raise concerns about any screen time in this age group. Thus the committee believes that discouraging screen time in this age group may be important for other reasons, as noted by AAP (2001).

Full document here: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13124.

You can find a slew of suggestions for Screen-Free Week organizing and activities at screenfreeweek.org. Consider a granola-making party for your neighborhood gang of rascals (then tweet about it the following week).

Of Crows and Kids

“Children are beautifully adapted to learn about many possible worlds.”
from The Wisdom of Not Being Too Rational – ScienceNOW.

A psychologist at the University of Cambridge who studies bird cognition has looked at how crows solve problems, the latest in research showing they are rather intelligent. Two of her graduate students, Lucy Cheke and Elsa Loissel, have replicated three of these experiments with children. Yes, the crows and the children are comparable on two of the puzzles. Children and crows are tied.

On the final puzzle, the crows met their match. The puzzle was designed to mimic a physically impossible task. Children weren’t stymied; crows were. Children 1, Crows 0 on this one.

Imagination is the leavening. Too bad so many adult humans meet a roadblock when it comes to understanding children’s imaginations, populating them with airbrushed princesses, frontier-cowboy heroes, and cartoon versions of birds and all the rest of the natural world.

Postscript: I’ll be getting myself to the Museum of Modern Art’s montage of how we’ve viewed childhood from afar. You?

perpendicular sand

“All the extra sand here is called perpendicular.”

“The sand clumps are called parallels.”

“All that water is called deception.”

Children not only make meaning, but at a certain age they play with meaning.

And by the way, “what would happen if you froze sand and water?”

What I have here are land and water forms, whose evolution is narrated with giggling and earnestness on the original sensory playground.

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