Gariepy teaches kids about ants, using one of her models. Photos by James Kinneen
By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
Last Wednesday at 11 a.m., former preschool and kindergarten teacher Kathi Gariepy presented the Caterpillar Club, a weekly educational program designed for children to learn about the natural world around them. Taking place in Weezie’s Garden for Children, a space located within The Gardens at Elm Bank and designed by Julie Moir Messervy, the program ran for about an hour in the shade of the garden’s various trees.
“I’ve been doing this for fifteen years now,” Gariepy, who is also a lifetime master gardener, explained. “It’s for younger children, but older children can get things out of it. It’s all about nature, insects, butterflies, flowers, trees, birds in your backyard animals that are around us. But every week is different so that you can come back, sit around, and enjoy some time with your child, grandchild, niece or nephew, and learn a little bit about the things around you.”This week, Gariepy taught the children about insects using pop-up books, model bugs, and a variety of dead insects, exoskeletons, and used cocoons that she has collected. This was the most intriguing aspect of her presentation, as she was able to point out a bumblebee’s hairiness and explain that it is this feature that makes it such an effective pollinator. She also presented the exoskeleton of a cicada, which had the childrens’ parents as intrigued as the kids themselves due to the odd nature of the display. And of course, because it is the Caterpillar Club, she had both a woolly bear and a tussock moth caterpillar she found in her garden and subsequently dried with silica.
Because kids can become restless during any presentation - no matter how interesting - Gariepy also had the children get up and sing “Head, Thorax, Abdomen” rather than “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” to teach the children about the various parts of an insect. She then explained that spiders were different from insects, as they are arachnids.
“Arachnids come from the story of Arachne, who was a weaver,” she told the kids, launching into the Greek myth of how spiders came to be. At the end of the story, she quipped to the kids: “now you will do well on Jeopardy.”
While you might have missed the insect presentation, Gariepy has all sorts of different ways to keep kids and adults entertained. For a presentation she gave on owls, for example, she has a realistic owl puppet able to rotate its head 180 degrees and blink, which she noted has caught many adults off guard.
With plenty of free time for kids in the summer and their parents perpetually hungry for something to do with them, the Caterpillar Club can entertain and educate children, week in and week out.