Your Amazing Preschooler

Everything Old is New Again

Deb’s 90-year-old father was cleaning out his files recently, preparatory to moving to a small apartment. One of the things he gave her was his “baby book”–in this case, a free booklet compliments of Borden’s Farm Products Co. What a delightful find from nearly a century ago!

There were seventeen pages of parenting advice at the end of the booklet. I expected to read a lot of very old-fashioned advice, but instead was pleasantly surprised to find that much of it could have come from the pages of Your Amazing Preschooler. The language was charmingly old-fashioned in parts, but the advice was often spot-on!

For example, there was a section on Play, which emphasized the importance of play. “The idea of Play, which occupies so many of the long hours of childhood, has changed radically during the last few years…. It is through this spontaneous activity that a child develops the use of his hands, his mind and his emotions, thus laying the foundation for his life work of later years.” And, “students of childhood urge us not to interrupt a child’s play needlessly. And when he must leave for some good reason give him a few minutes warning so that he can bring his small affairs to a stopping place just as you would wish to do with your own activities.” We put that same advice in Your Amazing Preschooler.

The booklet urges parents to give their child open-ended toys rather than toys that can only be played with one way. “We know now that the child who has every possible toy lavished upon him–life-like dolls, elaborate electric machines, wonderful woolly animals almost life size–is not necessarily a fortunate child. For by giving a child playthings that are complete in themselves we rob him of his right to put things together and make things according to his own ideas and wishes.” The booklet recommends blocks as the best toy, and we would have to agree. Although, unfortunately, many toys have gotten even more constraining–think video  games and electronic toys that only do one thing when the child turns them on. Dolls and stuffed animals are actually pretty good toys that can be played with in lots of ways, and through which a child can express their growing social awareness.

The section on Discipline is also surprisingly modern. It opens by telling us “Spare the rod and spoil the child is no longer believed.” Instead, it suggests such things as “give commands to the child in the affirmative rather than the negative–saying Do this rather than Don’t do this.” Which is exactly how preschool teachers phrase their class rules and instructions to children!

The booklet goes on to suggest that parents make sure they have their child’s attention when they need to make a request, and then “make it plain and expect obedience.” It also points out that consistency is crucial, which we also say in Your Amazing Preschooler. As they put it, “You must be consistent, fair and cool-headed in your efforts to secure obedience and when you make promises or give threats remember them and carry them out accordingly, lest your child lose confidence in you.” And what about tantrums? “Usually the best treatment for such scenes is to completely ignore the vigorous young actor.”

This charming booklet from 1927 concludes with this: “Give children the first instructions in manners and courtesy, which will help them be graceful members of society later on. By seven a boy should take his hat off as a matter of course–a girl say ‘Thank you” for any kindness. And what an engaging, interesting little being this young citizen will be! What a beautiful promise of the man or woman who is to be!”

So, how about that? Almost 100 years ago, parents were being urged to appreciate their young children and to enhance their development into the Amazing People they naturally were!

 

Can You Say “Incredible”?

 

We have just started the school year at Summit School in Phoenix and already our preschoolers are proving themselves to be amazing. Or in this case, we should say “incredible.”*

*Dictionary definitions of “incredible” vary as to the degree of implausibility, but we’re going to go with this definition from dictionary.com: “so extraordinary as to seem impossible.” Seem impossible, but clearly not actually impossible, as our young students prove, time and again.

Like most preschool classes, each class in our preschool creates community and a sense of belonging and identity by adopting a name. At our school, the students propose – and vote on – their class name each year.

This year, the name that rose to the top in a series of elimination votes (winning out over “Blue Dinosaurs”) in my class, was “Incredibles.” OK, yes, it arose from the popularity of the movies of that name, and a set of characters that most of our class could envision … and relate to. When the vote was in, my co-teacher, Fredie, asked the student who proposed the name to describe the qualities of the Incredibles. She told Fredie that incredible people:

  • Ÿ solve problems
  • Ÿ get bad guys
  • Ÿ  are super strong
  • Ÿ  are super fast
  • Ÿ  are super stretchy
  • Ÿ  have awesome powers
  • Ÿ  are really smart

Over the next week, we discussed with the class how these qualities would apply to them, and solicited their ideas. Our “Incredibles” described how the movie characters displayed each characteristic. We then asked the children how they use similar powers and display those characteristics. In their words:

We solve a problem …

“If two friends are fighting, they go to the Peace Table and work it out by finding a solution.”

We deal with someone behaving badly…

“If people aren’t making good choices, you should tell them NO!” “Tell them to STOP!” “Call the police.”

We use our super strong muscles to … “open our cheese sticks” and “carry our cots!”

We go super fast … “when we play tag!” and “when we clean up!” and “when we’re late for school!”

In the movie, Elastigirl is very stretchy, so “her arms can go far.” We translated that to the idea of being physically flexible … “like when we do warm-ups,” they said. We are mentally flexible, too, when we have to change our plans. A student gave this example: “when it was storming, we couldn’t have recess outside.”

We feel powerful when we … “run super-fast and ride my bicycle super-fast,” “do exercise and really use my muscles,” “pick up my toys all by myself,” “play piano,” “build big Lego® kits!” were some of the responses.

We are super smart because … we learn really fast, we love learning big words, and we think of ways to help people … “if people are sad you can give them something like a hug or a toy” or “you can make something for them in the Art Center.”

 

Well, after considering all that… one of our incredible four-year-olds (remembering that we had created a class chant last year), began making up a chant as she danced around the playroom at home. Fortunately her mother heard her and quickly recorded her words:

“Incredibles, Incredibles,

We are the Incredibles!

Super smart and super strong,

We use our incredible minds all day long.

No challenge is too big,

‘Cause we work super fast.

This year is going to be …

An in-cred-i-ble BLAST!”

 

 

I asked my musically-talented husband if he would create a melody to fit her lyrics. He did. So now we have a wonderful class song, written by one of our own incredible preschoolers.

 

 

My mother finds it hard to believe that, after 22 years, I’m still not tired of teaching preschoolers…. It’s because they constantly amaze us. That’s not so incredible, is it?

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Shadow Play

Shadows are fascinating, and they can be a lot of fun. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a now-classic poem called “My Shadow.” Many of us remember it from his A Child’s Garden of Verses. It begins:

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,  

And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.  

He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head,  

And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

 

And who can forget Peter Pan’s shadow, that was taken captive – and that Wendy had to sew back on to his feet so he wouldn’t lose it.

 

Most of us hardly notice shadows … until we see something striking or unusual.

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This reminded me of the shadow explorations we had done with my class of preschoolers at the Summit School of Ahwatukee last year. Once they got started, hardly anything engaged them more!

One morning, the sun was shining on our Group Time carpet, right in the eyes of some of the children. “Move out of the sun into a shadow, we suggested.” And a shadow exploration was born. “Where are those shadows coming from?” There were plenty of guesses, and it was not long before a student pointed to the sunlight coming through the window. But it was a small area, and the fluorescent lighting didn’t produce many other visible shadows in the classroom. So we decided to see what shadows we could find out on the playground. This being sunny Arizona, in February, we found plenty of shadows … shadows of the tricycles, the fence, the trees, and shadows of our bodies.

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We saw a shadow bend as it climbed onto the tire bouncer, and change shape as a tricycle turned on the paved path. We could chase and step on each other’s shadows, but we couldn’t run away from our own shadow. …

Until a student ran into the shade and made his shadow disappear. This reminded me of Frank Ash’s wonderful story of Bear Shadow. So we read stories and poems, including R.L. Stevenson’s “My Shadow,” which continues in its second verse like this:

 The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—

Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;  

For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,  

And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.

(You can read the rest of his poem here: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/my-shadow)

 

Had the students noticed that their shadows “like to grow?” The next morning, we brought out some large pieces of black bulletin board paper and white chalk. A couple of students volunteered to stand, very patiently, while we traced their shadows.

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At 9:30am, their shadows were very long! They pointed to the sun with one arm, and to their shadow with the other, their outstretched arms showing the angle of the sun.

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The students lay down on the tracing and discovered their shadows were almost twice as long as their actual bodies!

 

 

 

We repeated the tracing at 1:30 pm. When one little girl discovered that she was now the same size as her shadow, she was convinced that she had grown to fit her shadow during rest time!

119At this stage, by the way, we do not always correct their explanations to provide the scientific answer. While we encourage inquiry and critical thinking, hands on exploration, and scientific curiosity, the children’s enthusiasm for discovery and willingness to use their own logic and make guesses is more important than “correct answers.” They will have many more years of school and science in which to discover the empirical answers.IMG_2405

 

We cut out the shadow tracings, and they are still on the wall, a year later.

 

 

 

The curiosity about shadows continued indoors, where we used cardboard boxes lined with black or white paper to project shadows. The boxes afforded some darkness in the sunlit classroom. The children used flashlights to experiment with projecting shadows of toy animals, their hands, and other objects. The students made discoveries about size and distance and angle of the light.hand shadow - Copy

 

Red Riding Hood shadowWe also provided a shadow puppet theater so that they could create shadows with stick puppets to tell familiar stories.

 

This can also be done by acting out stories behind a white sheet, using a large bright light behind it. How about the sun?

 

Yes, do try this at home!

 

For more on this topic, you can read about another exploration of shadows that was undertaken by a classroom of preschoolers in Massachusetts, which is posted on the website of the National Association for the Education of Young Children: http://www.naeyc.org/blogs/what-is-a-shadow

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New Year’s Resolutions for Parents

May we suggest some New Year’s resolutions for parents of young children?

  1. I will give my children more time to just play, with blocks and other open-ended toys, and with toys that they can pretend with, like dress-up clothes and old cell phones and briefcases, and play dough, and big boxes and stuff like that. I will cut down on the lessons–one is enough, so at any given time, I will pick swimming or gymnastics, or maybe none. I will not give my child worksheets or workbooks. That is not a natural way to learn letters or math, and it is not nearly as effective as learning these things in real life. I will cut down on the coloring books, and give my child more blank paper. [Please read an interview on NPR with a Yale professor, Erika Christakis, entitled “What Kids Need from Grown-ups (But Aren’t Getting.)”]
  2. I will let my child play outside more. Tons of research lately show that the benefits of being outdoors, in nature, are tremendous. Kids are better able to focus, to be creative, to connect with the natural world, to explore and learn, when outside. After seeing first-hand the benefits of an outdoor classroom at our school last summer, we have to agree. Please do yourself a favor and read Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.
  3. I will let my children try to resolve their disputes themselves first, before I step in. It’s a valuable skill, and one they can develop. Use our Stoplight for Peace, and our Good Choices cards, to help them. Your peace of mind will increase as you do not have to be judge and jury for every little dispute–hurrah! Simply telling them to talk to each other and listen to each other before they come running to you will make for a more peaceful 2017.
  4. I will not give my child empty praise. If he swipes a paintbrush across a piece of paper a couple times, I will not gush about how I love it! I do not. Empty praise is meaningless, and does not increase a child’s self-esteem. What increases a child’s self-esteem is real accomplishment. All I need to say is, “Wow! You made it all the way across the monkey bars! You wrote the names of everyone in the family! I’ll bet you’re proud of yourself for making your bed all by yourself.”
  5. I will cut down on the time my child watches TV, or does video games, or other media. A little bit is fine. But we all know than more than an hour or so a day for a preschooler is too much. And I will not let my child watch anything with violence. Instead, I will take my child to library every week, and let him pick out many books. and I will read to him, and I will give him time to look at the books himself, over and over.
  6. I will give my child free time to do nothing. That’s when imagination and creativity and bigger thoughts can take hold. We have a child in our class this year who likes to “lounge” when she gets up in the morning, for half an hour or more. Her mother allows her to do this, and does not fret that her child is wasting her time. In fact, this is one of the most creative and self-sufficient children we have ever met.
  7. I will not beat myself up for mistakes I make. I will remember that all parents make mistakes (it’s a tough, 24/7 job!) and that our love for our children will carry us through. 0703270111-284012005_1028sdwoods0061
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Learning at Lunchtime

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-1-06-19-amLately, I’ve been noticing how much learning is going on in our classroom at lunchtime! And I was thinking today that of course that could happen at home, as well. All you need is one or more curious kids and one or more playful adults. And, of course, the food you are eating.

Kids ask questions all day long, at school, at play, and at home. As a Mom, I sometimes thought that the endless “why’s” of my 3-year-old were just designed to bug me! But as the lunchtime curiosity of our preschoolers demonstrates, with some undivided adult attention (which they also crave), and encouraging their thinking by asking questions back to them (known as the Socratic method), their curiosity, logical thinking, vocabulary, and knowledge base will bloom like a garden in Spring.

In our classroom, it usually starts with a simple comparison or question, asked by the teacher, or more often by a student:

Q: What is the same in my lunch and your lunch?
We both have carrots! … But mine are cooked. (similarities and differences)
I only like chicken nuggets, not plain chicken. (knowledge of self)
I don’t like blackberries; I only like strawberries.
Well, I like blackberries. (people have different likes and dislikes)

Q: Where do bananas come from? …. Suddenly everyone wanted to ask, or answer, how different foods grow. (natural science, natural curiosity, logical thinking, categorizing)

This soon turned into a guessing game, or a quiz show:

Q: Where do carrots come from? … lots of guesses, until someone remembered a Winnie the Pooh book we read last week: “They grow underground. You have to pull them out.” (connecting literature to other knowledge)

Q: What else grows underground? (potatoes, beets, radishes, onioncarla-radishs)

The students took over, posing the questions:
Do pineapples grow underground?
Where does lettuce grow?

After a few quiet minutes, one thoughtful four-year-old asked, “Miss Tina, where does ketchup come from?” “Hmm, do you think it grows in a garden?” I asked her. “No, but I think it has tomatoes,” she replied. “How do you know that?” I asked. “My ketchup at home has a picture of a tomato on it,” she explained. (recall and logical thinking)

“Do tomatoes grow on trees?”
“Oh, vines … what else grows on a vine?” (grapes, beans, cucumbers, squash…)
I prompted: Pumpkins are too heavy to grow on a tree, so they have to grow on the ground.
The students continued:
“Watermelons are too heavy too! Do they grow on a vine?”
“Can we plant a pumpkin? It has lots of seeds!”
“What else has seeds?” I asked.

Remember:
       “Sometimes questions are more important than answers.”                                                                                                                   — Nancy Willard

 

This led me to tell the story of “The Little Red House with No Windows and No Doors.”

You can read and print a version of the story (from MsBsClassroom.com) here: TheLittleRedHouse-ThinkingStory.pdf

Cutting my apple down the middle (not from stem to base), I opened it up – with great suspense – to show the 5-pointed star inside! The children were thrilled! Some said it looked like a flower. Then they noticed the seeds inside the star.

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… And they wondered:

How does the star get there? Do all apples have stars? … Every day, for two weeks, they wanted to know if I had an apple in my lunch, and if it had a star. We looked at red Gala apples, green Granny Smith apples, and a gigantic Honeycrisp apple. (Literature: oral story-telling; curiosity, discovery)

The first day, I asked, “Would you like to eat a little sliver of my apple?” Everyone (except one child who is wary of new foods) wanted to taste it. The next day, they all asked me if they could have a piece of my apple again – including the child who was reluctant the day before. (trying something new, developing new tastes)

So now we talk about “tart,” and “sweet,” and “crunchy,” and “juicy.” (Sensory observation: taste and texture; Language: adjectives)

“Where does apple juice come from?” asked one curious girl. So we tasted another piece of apple. Can you feel the juice in your mouth? Did it come from the apple? How could we get the juice out of the apple? (Science, observation, logical thinking)

And then one day, I brought a round tomato for lunch. “Does it have a star inside?” the students asked. Well, let’s see. I sliced it through the middle like the apple (not from stem to base). “It has seeds!” “It’s an X!” “It has seeds … so it’s a fruit!” (making connections, using prior knowledge)

I cut open my avocado … “What’s that inside?” “It’s a pit … a large seed.”
“Miss Tina, I just learned something: an avocado is a fruit! I didn’t know that.” (applying prior knowledge)

“Can we play a guessing game?” someone asks. For a preschooler, you should limit this game to items they can see in the room. (observation, keeping 2 or more descriptions in mind at a time, deduction, logical thinking)

I start: “I’m thinking of something that is round and has numbers on it.” … “My apple?”
“No, an apple is round but it doesn’t have numbers on it.” … “The clock!”
The kids each want a turn to choose the mystery object:
“I thinking of something green, and it has water in it.” “My water bottle!”
“I’m thinking of something square, and it’s black.” “The microwave?”
“No, it’s small and it’s sweet.” “It’s my brownie!”

“Let’s play ‘Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down!’” (This could be any true/false game, but we are using “thumbs up if it rhymes, thumbs down if it doesn’t rhyme.” (language, discriminating beginning and ending sounds, recognizing and producing rhymes)
“Do hop and bop rhyme?” Thumbs up!
“Do berry and merry rhyme?” Thumbs up!
“Do nose and mouth rhyme?” Thumbs down!
“Do flicka and tricka rhyme?” Thumbs up! (they don’t have to be “real” words)

As we mentioned in our book, Your Amazing Preschooler, Deb’s preschool students love to pretend they are eating lunch in “a quiet restaurant,” with small electric candles on the table, and classical music playing. They soon learn to identify the instruments they are hearing and even ask for specific composers by name. “Let’s listen to Beethoven today,” or “That sounds like Mozart.” (social manners, musical appreciation)

We wish you many pleasant lunches with your curious and fun-loving preschoolers, whether having a raucous rhyme-fest or in your own “quiet restaurant.” You will be amazed at what your preschoolers learn from their own questions, and you may even learn something too!

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Summertime … and the learning is easy

Log walkIt’s the middle of June, and some of us are already in the summer doldrums – the kids have been out of school for several weeks and (in Phoenix, at least) it is already so hot our energy is sapped. For others of us …

It’s the middle of June, and the school year is just ending, and we’re already slightly panicky about how to keep our energetic young ones engaged, focused, and still learning during their summer break.

Whether you are just hoping to stave off the whines of “I’m bored” or you are looking for productive ways to engage with your children during the walk or ride home from camp and the brief time before bedtime, you may be wondering what you can do to maintain the gains they made this school year.

Well, you can make the most of this summer break, filling spare minutes, or long hours, with these no-prep activities, and many more like them that these ideas may suggest to you.

Things you can do to support learning this summer

If you travel (around town or far from home), use the opportunity to look at a mmap of NWap or globe, read a book about the place(s) you will visit, or help your child draw, write, or tell about the experience.

 

 

 

Notice street signs, store signs, logos, and ads – this “environmental print” encourages a child to notice familiar words, and identify letters and symbols. Challenge your child to find the word “no” or “off” or “up” or “exit.” (I remember when my daughter pointed out the word “up” at the “pick-up window” at the pharmacy. She was excited!) Just beginning / pre-readers may be excited to “read” familiar logos, find numbers, or point out letters they can recognize (like the K in Circle K, or the 4 P’s in Peter Piper Pizza).

Play rhyming games – give each other a word and ask the other person to think of a word that rhymes; notice rhymes in stories and poems; make up rhymes; play guessing games with rhymes — e.g. What can we eat that sounds like “scrapes”? [answer: grapes or crepes] or: What can we wear that sounds like “sports”? [answer: shorts]

Count everything and anything – the number of spoons in the drawer, the number of socks in the laundry, the number of stuffed animals on the bed, the number of houses on your street. Add and subtract – toy bears plus toy bunnies, children plus adults, spoons plus forks, people in the family minus the ones who are not home, etc…

Have your child help you write: a grocery list, a card to a grandparent, a Birthday card, a reminder for later, a note to put in Daddy’s lunch box, etc.

Wherever you go, encourage questions — but don’t necessarily answer them! Why? You will encourage your child to magnifying plantsobserve! You will encourage curiosity, thinking, describing, problem-solving. You will help them to express ideas without fear of being “wrong.” Help them make guesses about the answer based on what they observe or what they know. Help them figure out how they could get an answer. And, if it’s appropriate, confirm or give them an answer.

Even preschoolers can help set the table, cook, clean up, and do chores.

cleaning blinds Children love responsibility, and young children love to feel competent. Cooking offers opportunities to measure, add and subtract, pour, stir, and see science in action! (What does oil do? What happens when butter or chocolate melts? Where does the water go when it boils? How do eggs become solid? What happens to the sugar or salt when you mix it into water? Why does the Jell-O powder change color?)

 

Read lots of stories together!!!
** Ask your child what is going to happen next, or what the character should do now, or how else the story could end.
** While reading that favorite story for the tenth time, pause before the end of a sentence and let your child fill in the words as you point to them.
** You can insert a “wrong” word in a familiar story and when your child corrects you, ask him to “prove it” by finding the word on the page. e.g. “Clifford was a big red cat.” (NO, he’s a big, red dog!) Every kid loves to correct an adult!
** If the book rhymes, pause at the rhyming word and have your child guess what it is – then point out the 2 words on the page. e.g. “In an old house in Paris all covered with vines, lived 12 little girls in two straight _______ [lines].” (–from Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmens)
** Oh … and go to the library!

Summer Break does not have to be a break from the fun of learning. Have a great time!

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It’s Summertime! Get Out of the House!

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At St.David’s, we are lucky enough to have a school forest as part of our property, as well as a wonderful city nature trail behind that, leading to a bridge that goes over Minnehaha Creek. We can say, without a doubt, that getting out into nature is of tremendous benefit to young children.

Today was no exception. Being the last day of school, the children were, shall we say, a little squirrelly. There was some misbehavior. We agreed: let’s get out onto the Minnetonka Trail. The difference was immediate. The children became calmer, more regulated, and more focused. Their attention was turned away from using potty words and throwing sand, and toward what they were discovering in the woods. “A worm! I see a worm!” “Look, there’s a yellow bird. Wait, there’s another one!” We pointed out the milkweed, and asked them what ate that. They remembered from last summer. “Monarch caterpillars!”

They all picked up interesting rocks, and sticks. But in the woods, they didn’t use the sticks to poke each other. They used them as walking sticks, or they just carried them. When one child was unhappy that she couldn’t find a good walking stick, another child kindly found one for her. When we got to the big bridge and the creek, they used the sticks to poke in the mud at the edge, where they were thrilled to discover turkey tracks, duck tracks, and bear tracks. (Well, it must have been a very large dog, but we didn’t feel the need to burst their bubble unless they asked, which one child did.) When they looked over the edge, they saw a foot-long fish swimming through the seaweed, and used their visual-tracking skills to follow it. They shared their excitement with their friends.

Going on a long hike and being outdoors in the woods benefited their social, cognitive, emotional and physical development. We cannot emphasize enough: nature is not just good for children, it is crucial!

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Deep Thinkers

hands with caterpillar-2Preschoolers can be surprisingly deep thinkers.

In the summer, we raised monarch caterpillars as we usually do. One day, Deb noticed one of the boys sitting in front of the cage in which our 5 caterpillars were now hanging from the top, having turned into chrysalises. He sat there, staring at the chrysalises, which of course were not moving or doing anything, for several long minutes. Deb finally went over to him and asked him what he was doing.

“I can’t figure out,” he said in a voice that told her he’d been thinking hard about this. “How do the butterflies make the new skin inside there?” He indicated the shed skin lying on the bottom of the cage. Days before, the class had watched raptly as the hanging caterpillars changed into chrysalises, their striped skin gradually working its way up to the top as their bodies turned into the green chrysalises from the bottom up. When the old skin finally was just a wrinkled little bit at the top, it suddenly plopped off and hit the bottom of the cage, causing the children to gasp. (It looks like their head is coming off, because the old skin around the antennae is still there. If you haven’t seen this process in real life, check it out on YouTube. It’s amazing!)

So, this boy was pondering–for a long time, especially by preschool boy standards–the question of how the butterflies can emerge with skin when they discarded their skin as they turned into chrysalises. A very good question indeed!

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