From Caterpillar to Butterfly – Teaching Preschoolers About the Magical Metamorphosis

If you ask a group of preschoolers to name their favorite insect or bug, chances are you’ll get quite a few votes for the butterfly.  They’re beautiful, gentle bugs, and their metamorphosis is simply spectacular.  If you have little ones interested in the butterfly life cycle, particularly if you are using the butterfly habitat, you might want to try this activity!

Once Upon a Time…

Start out with a book. You can rarely go wrong when Step 1 is a great story!  I like Butterfly Spring by Robin Koontz. (It’s not widely available, but you can find it here. It looks like this might be a similar book as well.)  The book uses great prose to follow a butterfly from its humble start as an egg, to caterpillar, then chrysalis, and finally to butterfly, which then lays more eggs.  It is a great example of a complete cycle, with wonderful little tid-bits of butterfly science facts along the way.  (For example, did you realize butterflies can taste flowers with their feet?!)

The Circle of Life

After the story, I use some prepared cards with the four phases of the butterfly’s life.  You can make these very quickly.  Make about three of each- egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly. 

I set out an egg card, and ask the children what comes next.  The caterpillar follows, and on, and on to the butterfly, at which point I ask again, “What comes next?”  Since the butterfly lays eggs, we place another egg card in the series.  Continue on until someone points out that it’s a pattern, or until you run out of cards.

Talk about the repeating nature of this pattern.  Ask the children how long they think this pattern could continue.  Forever!  Since this pattern would go on and on, we use a different picture to show that. 

Place the cards into a prepared chart with the life cycle printed on it.  Talk about the term “Life Cycle” and discuss how the circle continues on and on. 

Learning about life cycles is not just important to understanding the butterfly’s metamorphosis, but it is an important general life science concept.  Additionally, it introduces the common notation for life cycles, which may seem obvious to us as adults, but understanding this graphic representation is a major milestone for our little ones! 

Discuss life cycles as they become pertinent to other topics you study (seeds fit well here).  Use the same notation to reinforce the graphic representation.

Fast Track

As you discuss the butterfly’s life cycle you may want to check out this great clip on YouTube.  It shows the metamorphosis in fast forward.  This can be great to use if your children are becoming impatient as your own chrysalids are still “under construction”, or if the butterflies emerged when the children were not around to observe.  Be sure to explain to the children that this video is sped up, and that the process does not really go this quickly!

Enjoy exploring this fascinating transformation together!

For more bug-themed ideas, check out this brainstorm! 

Top photo by Leonardini.

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Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, science activity

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