Lesson 4:
Giving Gifts: What to Expect Next Spring

A Symbolic Monarch
The Symbolic Monarch symbolizes the gift of goodwill that each country must contribute to ensure the survival of this shared natural resource. Conservation of monarch habitat depends on citizens and countries that may have different circumstances, laws, values, and priorities.

Migration is full of risks and dangers. A great many real monarchs never survive the return trip. The same is true for the Symbolic Monarchs. In past years, the number of Symbolic Monarchs returned in the spring has been as low as 60% of those sent in the fall. Our challenge is to make this a positive learning experience for students. This requires preparing them in the fall. (This can also be a good springboard for teaching about the true risks of migration.)

Overview: Students explore what it means to give or receive a gift. They can then align their expectations about symbolic monarch spring returns with the realities of the Symbolic Monarch project.

A gift bag or a gift-wrapped box


  1. Display a wrapped gift and ask the class what it represents. Rather than have students than try to identify what's inside, ask, Why do people give gifts (e.g., to celebrate occasions or express gratitude, love, or friendship)?
  2. Pass the gift to a student. Ask the class to share some appropriate responses to make after receiving a gift. (Look for examples of both verbal and written ways of saying "thank you.")
  3. Ask, Have you ever given a gift without expecting something in return? Tell the class that the Symbolic Monarchs they send to the children of Mexico are gifts; they should be sent without expectation of receiving something in return.
  4. Point out that giving a gift also means letting go of something that was yours. Ask students to think of gifts they've given that they wished they could have kept.
  5. Ask, Why do you think we are sending these gifts to students in Mexico? Remind students that the people of Mexico live in or near habitats that butterflies and other migratory animals need to survive during cold winters up north. Explain that it is a huge responsibility — and sometimes a sacrifice — for the Mexican people to preserve overwintering habitat. Remind them that monarchs travel between some of the richest and poorest regions in our hemisphere. Our Symbolic Monarchs are a way of saying "thank you."
  6. Explain that some symbolic monarchs will make their way back north, and ask,
  • What factors (e.g., economic differences) might result in differences in the appearance of symbolic monarchs that are exchanged.
  • What if students are in a school with no computers on which to type their messages?
  • How will availability and quality of art materials affect the butterflies' appearance?

Making Connections
After the discussions, have the class state their expectations about giving and receiving during Symbolic Monarch Migration. Record their responses and revisit them in the spring.


  • Have students investigate how they can help protect the winter sanctuaries in Mexico. Visit the Monarch Sanctuary Foundation Web site to see what others are doing to help monarchs.
  • Last year, participants in Journey North's Symbolic Monarch Migration raised $6000 for monarch habitat conservation. Discuss how your classroom can participate in this global community service project to support monarch conservation. Design a classroom project or campaign for raising money to support the Monarch Sanctuary Foundation.