(Editor's Note: This article was originally published March 2, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Our class studies the life cycle of the butterfly in April, right before Earth Day. We purchase our young caterpillars from insectlore.com. You can order a school kit that comes with a "Butterfly Pavilion", thirty three Painted Lady caterpillars, food, small containers with lids to place the caterpillars in (with the food) and everythng else that you need to raise them to an adult butterfly. Once it arrives, it is very important to take all of the caterpillars out of the package immediately and follow all of the directions. The instructions are easy to follow. All of these ideas can be used at home as well!
There are endless ways for children to learn by observing butterflies:
- Get on the web! Have your students research topics like Painted Lady, metamorphosis, caterpillar anatomy and other related butterfly topics.
- Keep a butterfly journal! Have students document changes such as size, color, new markings, movement, etc. Have them draw pictures of the changes they observe. Within weeks, they will have a completed life cycle chart of the Painted Lady.
- Study the role that butterflies play in our ecosystem. They carry pollen from plant to plant as they sip the nectar. Unfortunately, they (butterflies and caterpillars) also become food for hungry birds, reptiles and other insects. So unintentionally, we are also helping the ecosystem by providing food for their predators.
- Create butterfly art! There are unlimited butterfly art projects on the web. We have used several from www.enchantedlearning.com : including handprint butterfly craft, waxed paper stained glass butterfly (one of my favorite projects as these came out beautiful!), butterfly wand, butterfly life cycle mobile and origami butterfly.
- Start a butterfly garden! A successful butterfly garden contains both nectar and host plants. Zinnia, pentas, yarrow and butterfly bush are some of the nectar plants we have in our garden. Milkweed, butterfly weed, dill and fennel are some of the host plants we are growing as well. Butterflies prefer a sunny spot that is protected from the wind. There are many books and websites with plans that will provide information for what plants will grow in your area. You may want to plant the host plants in an area that is not seen by many, as the caterpillars will strip them down to the stem, given the right conditions.
Scabiosa-Butterfly Blue Fennel
We have a display (seen in first picture) in the corner of our classroom where we rear our butterflies. We also have books and posters on the life cycle of butterflies and displays of the student's butterfly art work. After our caterpillars develop into mature adults, the students release the butterflies in our butterfly garden during our "Earth Day Fair".
John Muir Publications, The Butterfly Book: Kids Guide to Attracting, Raising and Keeping Butterflies.
Handbook for Butterfly Watchers by Robert Michael Pyle.
Discover Butterflies! by LuAnn Craigton.