ROSELAND, NJ – A “Very Hungry Caterpillar” event for children ages three to five years old was held at the Essex County Environmental Center in Roseland on July 10. The event included a reading of Eric Carl’s classic picture book, “Very Hungry Caterpillar,” a craft and the chance to explore the Environmental Center’s live butterfly tent.

Program assistant and part-time educator Chris Marinello, who ran the event, said he hoped the program would foster mindfulness regarding the environment.

“The monarch’s population has been on the decline since around the 90s, and this is promoting butterflies, especially the monarch, and pollinators like butterflies and bees, which are really important to our food system, so it’s great to spread awareness to children,” he said.

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Marinello said he made sure to make the event fun and interactive. Rather than simply reading the book out loud, he prompted the participants to act out the life cycle of a caterpillar, from egg to fully-grown butterfly. They rolled into a ball to symbolize a caterpillar’s egg, hatched into a larva, ate through leaves, crouched into a chrysalis and finally spread their butterfly wings.

He also showed the children live caterpillars, live monarch butterflies, butterfly wings and milkweed plants to underscore the conversation about the insects and entomologists (or “bug scientists”).

“This program is designed for children, and if I were sitting here with a PowerPoint and just lecturing them about caterpillars and stuff—it needs to be more hands on,” he said. “A more hands-on approach for children is definitely the way to get things to stick in their minds. When children have a better understanding of butterflies and their vital roles in our society and environment from a young age, they’ll grow up with this knowledge to protect them and keep that kind of stewardship mindset in their heads.”

“Hopefully, they’ll take home some of those cool facts about the butterflies and caterpillars, and hopefully want to protect them or maybe become an entomologist when they get older, or just be interested in the environment,” he added.

A butterfly craft was another interactive component of the program. The children moved to benches outside to create caterpillars out of pom-poms and paper leaves. Next to them was the Butterfly Tent Safari, which housed monarch, painted lady and black swallowtail butterflies. When they were done with crafting, the families were invited to explore the Safari and catch the butterflies on Gatorade-soaked sponges.

Parents Tricia Kalyanaraman and Denise Chaoub attended the event with their children. They commended the Environmental Center’s accessible and enjoyable programs.

“We want to do things that are family friendly, not expensive and educational,” said Kalyanaraman.

“I love butterflies and anything to do with the environment,” said Chaoub. “I love this Center, and we love caterpillars. It’s just fun and educational. I love learning anything new about the environment, and this is the place to be. It has very great programs for children and adults too.”

To find out about other programs being offered at the Essex County Environmental Center, click HERE.