Young Patients Explore Life Cycle of Butterflies

By Tim Taylor

The young children on the inpatient unit recently spent four weeks learning a great deal about butterflies, thanks to the creative minds of Lacy Lewis, CCC-SLP, Paula Keys, OTR/L, and Brooke Braden. Lewis and Keys, the unit’s speech language pathologist and occupational therapist, and Braden, an occupational therapy intern, worked with a group ranging in age from 8 to 12 to help them gain a better understanding about the life cycle of the beautiful and fragile insects.

CDU patient tracking butterfly growth.

One of the young patients on the Child Diagnostic Unit keeps up with the growth of the butterflies.

Lewis had already educated her two daughters on the different stages of a butterfly’s life using a kit she had purchased from the California-based company Insect Lore. Knowing how much her daughters enjoyed learning about butterflies and their behavior, Lewis approached Keys and Braden about doing a similar project on the Child Diagnostic Unit.

“You get to witness how butterflies are born, and I thought we could do something like that here,” said Lewis. “A lot of our kids don’t have resources like this, so we thought, why not?”

Lewis and her team purchased two cups of caterpillars, which came with five larvae each and all the nutrients they needed to live on. They also provided observation journals that the patients filled out each day, noting the growth and changes the butterflies experienced.

Many of the patients had questions regarding the butterflies that the staff were not equipped to explain, said Lewis, who turned to the Internet for answers to queries like “How long does a caterpillar stay in a chrysalis?” and “How long does a butterfly live?”

“We were all learning as we went. When we didn’t know something, we said, ‘Let’s look it up.’ They were actively learning throughout the process.”

Admiring butterflies.

A patient and staff member admire one of the butterflies before releasing them.

The patients’ interest in the insects grew as they developed. They watched educational videos about butterflies whenever possible and created colorful butterfly-related craft items. A highlight of their training was an “obstacle course” created by Lewis, Keys and Braden that allowed the patients to actually experience the different stages of a butterfly’s life cycle under the careful supervision of the Child Diagnostic Unit’s staff.

Because patients spend an average of 28 days on the Child Diagnostic Unit, the children were able to see the butterflies grow into adults and eventually be released into the institute’s Healing Garden.

“Butterflies can’t fly when the temperature is in the 50s or below, so we had to wait until it was warm enough to release them,” said Lewis. “The children were so intrigued that they got to finally touch them and watch them fly. It was really a fun experience.”

“The butterfly project really sparked the children’s interest and also strengthened a sense of community for the unit,” said Toby Belknap, M.D., the Child Diagnostic Unit’s medical director. “It was refreshing to see the excitement and level of investment the kids had in the project, and it enabled them to engage in a variety of educational styles. It was extremely gratifying to witness this population of children, who frequently face a variety of struggles in school, show so much enthusiasm for an educational activity.”