What We Can Learn From Butterflies

“Growth is not merely a harmonious increase in size, but a transformation.” 

Maria Montessori

It is June and the spectacular Swallowtail Butterflies are flying now.  Every time I see these brilliant, beautiful butterflies, I am reminded of the time my son, at only 3 years old, made his own transformation into a nurturing, compassionate caretaker for one particular butterfly he named Mary.4757143_f496

One sunny June day, my son discovered a large yellow butterfly struggling in the grass of our back lawn.  The butterfly seemed to have a misshapen wing on one side.  My 3 year old decided he just had to help this small creature.  He could see that her wing was flawed, but to him this little butterfly was perfectly beautiful.  He brought her into the house and announced the arrival of our new pet, “Mary.”

For weeks, he lavished this tiny creature with love and attention.  He seemed to understand her needs: food, water, shelter and loving care.  My 3 year old taught me that even very young children are capable of incredible empathy and understanding.

Ultimately, this butterfly laid eggs, which hatched into caterpillars, which transformed into chrysalids, and finally, another generation of beautiful butterflies emerged.  The whole family was privy to this remarkable process.

The Butterfly Life-cycle

We also learned…

  • · This particular butterfly is called a Two-tailed Swallowtail.
  • · The appearance of the caterpillar is no indication of the appearance of the adult; sometimes, we have to wait to see the beauty that is not yet there!
  • · The entire life-cycle takes nearly a year to complete because they spend the winter as a chrysalis and you cannot rush or slow the cycle.
  • · If its needs are met, the caterpillar will mature into something beautiful and full of grace.

I am so proud when I see my children demonstrating the ability to understand the feelings of someone (or something) outside of themselves, in other words: the capacity for empathy.  I believe that empathy is a learned trait, not one that children are either born with or not.  I also believe that it is our responsibility as parents to teach these and other such moral lessons.

I am unsure of the actual moment when my own children might have gleaned this particular bit of information, but I am a pleased parent when I see that my kids are capable of totally unselfish thoughts and actions.



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