Winnetka, Community

Kindergartners get their wings in Winnetka’s migration tradition

“Off we go! Off we go! Off we go to Mexico!”

With that enthusiastic chant, a roomful of Crow Island School kindergartners resplendent in black, red, and gold paper butterfly wings attached to their backs, began a journey in and around the school, their route illustrating the monarch butterfly’s own southward migration to the cool Mexican mountains. 

The trek, which happened Friday, Oct. 27, was the culmination of everything Crow Island’s 73 kindergarten youngsters learned this year about the monarch’s life, experiencing it through science, art, and music, Principal Luke Livingston said as he watched the parade.

Crow Island teacher Johanna Nebel reminds the butterflies to flutter their arms during the special day.

“They watch a butterfly from the time it is a caterpillar, they see it turn into a butterfly and they let it go,” Tony Spreitzer said after he undertook an emergency butterfly wing repair.

The retired Crow Island teacher was a volunteer at this year’s odyssey, and he was also an enthusiastic advocate for the educational boon the exercise represent.

“They learn so many skills — counting, writing, fine motor skills; it’s a holistic experience, using art and science and every way they can learn,” Spreitzer said. 

The butterfly migration and the lessons it has taught the youngsters since school began in September, is actually a long-standing tradition in Winnetka School District 36, according to Kate Hughes, the district’s communications coordinator. She said the tradition of one district elementary school undertaking the monarch project each year dates back at least 45 years — and perhaps longer. Some former district students, including Emily Rose, the district’s School Board president, still have their butterfly wings, Hughes added.

Following their “migration,” the children gather for a concert to end the day.

As for those wings, it takes students two weeks and sometimes longer to finish theirs, teacher Heather Farnham said, just before she encouraged all the Crow Island butterflies to start their migration.

Off they went, after Farnham advised them that butterflies don’t run, and Johanna Nebel, the school’s speech and language pathologist, reminded them to flutter their arms.

The children snaked single-file around the school building, traveling under trees, the fall colors of which mirrored their wings, and eventually came together for a short but ebullient singing concert, led by music teacher Carey Crows. 

Impressed parents, grandparents and others clapped for the delighted performers. The little concert ended the kindergartners’ migration, but the fun they had might well result in another generation of students keeping their wings in remembrance of what they learned so many years before. 

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Kathy Routliffe

Kathy Routliffe reported in Chicago's near and North Shore suburbs (including Wilmette) for more than 35 years, covering municipal and education beats. Her work, including feature writing, has won local and national awards. She is a native of Nova Scotia, Canada.

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