Monarchs and Minnows
The students in the Monarchs & Minnows program use the beaches of Lake Michigan as their classroom. We asked Leah Holloway and Jessica Reyes, Naturalists at the Park District of Highland Park (Illinois), to tell us more about their popular program for children ages four to six.
Can you describe the program and where it's located?
The Monarchs and Minnows early childhood program is held at the new Rosewood Beach Interpretive Center in Highland Park, Illinois, right on Lake Michigan. Our learning environment is made up of bluffs, dunes, forest, ravines, and, of course, the lake. Our curriculum is focused on the ecology of these amazing and diverse habitats that surround us. Because of our unique lakefront environment we have a teacher to student ratio of 1:6 to ensure the safety of the students.
What does a typical day look like at Monarchs and Minnows?
Class meets three days a week, and each week we have a new topic to study. We start our day with free-form play inside a building that has floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the beach and lake. We set up stations that offer a variety of learning options for students to explore at their own pace. There’s a science station that may have microscopes and hand lenses. Bones, feathers, and other beach finds, as well as binoculars, are set out with field guides for students to view the variety of birds that visit us each season. We have an open-ended art station where students can make their own masterpieces, and a free play station that includes a felt board, puzzles, books, search n’ finds, games and puppets. During group time, we may read a topic-related book together, preform an experiment, learn a new song, explore movements, or try our hand at a new skill or activity before going outdoors to explore.
Once outside, we search for evidence of what we may be learning about on that day, but, most of the time, students learn from what they see right in front of them. For example, our topic might be birds but we happen to find a beach filled with lady bugs. So we spend time investigating the life of lady bugs, build homes for them, and search for lady bug food. The students also get unstructured play time. They may find driftwood to build with or beach glass to keep as a treasure. They also love climbing on big logs that get washed up on shore and sliding down the ravine slopes.
How have parents responded to the program?
Parents are always telling us how much their children love Monarchs and Minnows. The students are always eager to show their parents what they saw on the beach or in the ravine, and parents are impressed when their children recall vocabulary that they learned throughout the week. They tell us that this class is exactly what their children need: something active, outdoors, and filled with fun, science, and nature. Parents appreciate that our curriculum not only stays in line with state standards, but also helps to develop their children’s sensory, cognitive and motor skills. We believe that the children are learning self-awareness and an appreciation for nature that will follow them for years.
For more information on the Monarchs and Minnows program, including the topics covered with the students each week, visit the Rosewood Beach website, then click on Beach Programs and Early Childhood.
Film credits: Media students of North Shore Country Day School, Winnetka, Illinois.