Our butterfly life cycle activities are always a highlight and this year was no different! These past few weeks have been all about caterpillars and butterflies and metamorphosis, oh my! We went hands-on all the way as we learned about the life cycle, metamorphosis, pollination, and more! Try some of these high engagement ideas and activities that your students will love!
Butterfly Life Cycle Activities
We waited anxiously for our tiny caterpillars to arrive so that we could begin observing the butterfly life cycle first hand. After reading informational books and starting a KWL chart, students had some prior knowledge and lots of questions.
With our books at the ready and our charts in place my class was beyond excited to get started. What was taking those caterpillars so long?
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Observing the Changes
When our caterpillars finally arrived, the first thing we learned was how to handle them with care.
Each student received their own caterpillar and of course, they named them! Pure kid-heaven! I order a classroom butterfly set from Amazon with a coupon for caterpillars. Some years when they arrive the caterpillars are as small as a tiny thread and other years they are about 5 or 6 days away from forming a chrysalis. You never know what you’re going to get, so be ready!
To help observe the changes up close everyone got a hand lens.
We used our butterfly life cycle journals to record dates and the changes we observed each day.
Once the life cycle was complete and our last butterfly emerged from it’s chrysalis we analyzed and discussed the data we recorded.
Students added the dates of significant changes to a calendar. I then placed everyone in groups with these discussion cards. Students used their calendars to compare dates and data, discuss with their friends, and count the days between changes in the butterfly life cycle.
As our butterfly life cycle activities progressed, we had several mini-lessons along the way. After each one we added our written responses, done in mini books, to our culminating projects, this foldable butterfly booklet. Each piece of the booklet coincides with a mini-lesson and a writing component. It’s a great way to get your kids writing about science.
Life Cycle Learning Labs
There are so many opportunities while learning about the life cycle to integrate literacy, writing, and math. We incorporated them all as students explored, observed and solved their way through our butterfly learning labs.
To my class, heaven on earth is a pipe cleaner antennae wrapped around your finger! 100% engagement!
We talked about the bristles of the pipe cleaner being like the tiny hairs on many insect’s feet. Perfect for holding pollen.
I saved this mini-lesson until after our lab so we could compare our findings to the lesson and talk more about how butterflies help plants grow.
Integrating Math Into A Butterfly Study
To integrate math into our butterfly unit, we did this teacher guided activity measuring how far a caterpillar crawls.
Students carefully placed their caterpillars on the page then marked the distance the caterpillar crawled before stopping. After a few stops and starts students measured and compared the lengths of the paths their caterpillars crawled.
Graphing the Life Cycle
In addition to measuring and adding lengths, we also graphed the life cycle. These easy to prep graphs are so much fun and they give students a visual reference for comparing how long it took individual caterpillars to pass through each stage of the life cycle.
Read more about our butterfly graphing and how we collected the data to make bar graphs and line plots. (Be sure to download the FREE butterfly math measurement activity there too!)
I showed my class this incredibly beautiful video from Ted Talks on YouTube made by filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg. It’s an amazing look at insects pollinating flowers through time lapse and slow motion photography. Click on the picture to view it.
Incorporating Reading Skills
Being a butterfly is not all sunshine and nectar. Butterflies have their problems too.
To incorporate reading skills and to check for students’ understanding of the life cycle we matched problems to solutions a butterfly will face during its life cycle.
Exploring the compound eye is always a hit! Students get a first hand look at how the compound eye is unable to change focus or see detail. Using kaleidoscopes to simulate an insect’s eye helps students to understand that an insect sees color and movement through thousands of lenses.
My class is completely enthralled with the compound eye, although a tad bit offended that our eyes are just called “simple” eyes.
As we learned how a butterfly’s compound eye helps to protect them we explored this further in a learning lab. Students used their kaleidoscopes (I purchased them on Amazon) to imagine life through an insect’s eyes and to compare a compound eye to a simple eye.
Butterfly Science In Literacy Centers
Because we read many informational books, students had lots of opportunities to decode longer words. My class was quite proud of themselves as they used words like camouflage, metamorphosis, and pollinators during our discussions and in their writing.
During our literacy centers we read statements about butterflies to practice using commas in a series. All of the unused macaroni left from our pollination simulation came in handy to make commas! Students glued the macaroni where a comma should be used.
As a way to manage our activities, we completed some of the writing, vocabulary mini books, and parts of a butterfly diagrams for our butterfly booklets during literacy center time. Others parts we did after our learning labs or during our writing block.
Once we were finished and our butterflies released, we added all of our mini-books and writing to our butterfly booklets. We delighted our families with by displaying them at our Spring open house where we turned our hallway into a life cycle garden!
During our butterfly study my teammate made this butterfly writing craft with her class.
Her students wrote about each stage of the life cycle in these little mini leaf booklets.
Find the butterfly life cycle writing craft here.
You can find this complete butterfly unit here .
The unit includes 9 mini-lessons and 6 learning labs. Each mini-lesson and lab includes a writing component or mini-book that can be added to the final project, the foldable butterfly booklet. I’ve added several versions of many of the writing pieces and prompts to make differentiating a snap. Customize your booklets by choosing the versions you wish to use.
I’ve included everything you need to teach a complete unit including lesson plans, vocabulary work, reference charts, math integration, and assessments in this butterfly life cycle resource.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our butterfly life cycle study! If you’re like me and also teach the life cycle of plants, see planting time in my classroom here. I think you’ll enjoy all of our fun with a focus on writing about science! (Be sure to find the FREEbies while you’re there!)
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