SchoolArts Room

Monarch Migrations and the Mexican Days of the Dead

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Oct 14, 2018

Monarch Migrations
Keriann Kirkeng

One year I was researching Dia De Los Muertos/The Mexican Day of the Dead  to incorporate in a unit I was creating and I became fascinated with its connection with monarch butterflies and their annual migration from the north to Mexico in the fall. This migration occurs around the same time as Dia De Los Muertos, suggesting the belief that the butterflies are returning spirits.  I did some digging and found the website for a project called Journey North. They do an amazing activity called the “symbolic migration.”  I was so inspired by the culture around Dia De Los Muertos and the nature-based Journey North project that I created a lesson about it for my classes to learn from and enjoy.

This article was first published in the November 2018 SchoolArts Magazine. Posting it here allows SchoolArts to share more photos.




Symbolic Migration
The monarch butterfly winters in the oyamel fir trees of the warm climate of Michoacan in central Mexico.In the spring they migrate back north to the United States and Canada.  In the symbolic migration, schools can sign up to decorate and share their own paper monarch butterflies. These are then mailed to Mexico where they are sorted and displayed.  When spring returns and the living monarchs begin their journey north, the symbolic butterflies also make their own journey as they are mixed and sent back to participating schools.

I teach at a school for kids with special needs where the grade levels are varied from Pre-K to 12 thgrade and mixed in my classes.My students started out by learning about the monarchs and each decorating three small paper monarch butterflies.  Some used a paste paper technique and others had a more open decorating option. One butterfly was mailed to Mexico, one was for a special secret future project, and the third students could keep for themselves. We mailed our paper monarchs in October and waited for the butterflies to return.


Keeping the Butterflies in Mind
Over the course of the school year I had a small section of my white board dedicated to the project to keep it as an ongoing topic throughout the year. I would change it every few weeks with an update, fact, or picture of the butterflies and their journey.  



The Monarchs Return
When the butterflies finally returned to us in the spring, I used the students’ extra butterflies that I kept for the “secret project,” gluing them all together to create giant monarch butterfly wings.  These were displayed for students to be photographed with, inspired by the wings from the artist Kelsey Montague. 

The butterflies we received back from the project were turned into a mobile for everyone at school to see and enjoy.  We received butterflies from all over the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Students from every class enjoyed looking through the different butterflies and reading where they were from.  At the end of the school year each student who participated got to take home one of the butterflies. 


Keriann Kirkeng is an art teacher at Genesee Lakes School in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

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