With their bright colors and delicate wings, butterflies bring a special delight to children. Spotting a butterfly is an exciting discovery and a sure sign that spring has arrived in many parts of the country.
Teaching kids about how caterpillars transform into butterflies can be a fascinating introduction to science and a great way to explain patterns in nature. "Preschoolers might not know what things or phases are called, but they start to understand concepts that they will learn later in school," says Cindy Workosky, director of communications for the National Science Teacher Association. "They understand themselves if they can see another life process - with butterflies or other creatures - and see how that life process works in different life forms."
Many have found Eric Carle’s beloved story, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, to be an entertaining and captivating way to share in this discovery. Young children will enjoy having you read the story to them and talking about how their bodies grow and change. Show your child a picture of himself as a tiny baby, and say "And look at you now!" An older child can read the story to you, and discuss how people go through stages of growth, just like other creatures.
Build on this learning experience with some fun together-time crafts and activities:
Handy butterfly. Make paper butterfly wings by tracing the child’s handprint four times on construction paper. Cut out and color, if you wish. Then, cut out a butterfly body and head from construction paper. Glue the handprint wings to the body and head. Use pipe cleaners for antennae and glue on googly eyes.
Butterfly stick puppet. Have children draw a colorful design on a plain coffee filter. Pinch the filter together, and in the center use a pipe cleaner to tie a knot, forming two wings. Use the ends of the pipe cleaner to make antennae. Attach to a Popsicle stick to the center with glue - and, voila, a butterfly stick puppet.
Plant a butterfly garden. Butterflies are attracted to both color and fragrance. Plant a variety of flowers, either in a garden or in a pot on a porch, that will bloom throughout the season. Purple and yellow flowers are among butterflies’ favorites. For a sure bet, plant a butterfly bush (buddleia - pronounced BUD-lee-ah). Place the plants in a sunny spot-butterflies need to keep their wings warm to fly.
Give them water and a snack. Provide your guests a drink of water in a shallow pan placed near the plants. Put out pieces of watermelon for a snack.
Visit butterflies where they live. A museum or nature center with a butterfly garden. Kids will love the magical feeling with hundreds of butterflies swirling around.
Take a butterfly hike. On your hunt, capture photos and memories - not butterflies themselves. (Leave them for others to enjoy.) Bring a field guide to study and identify different types, as well as a journal, binoculars and a magnifying glass. Remember to wear long pants, a hat and sunscreen.
For a successful outing, search when butterflies are most active, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It can be tricky to see butterflies, because they are good at camouflaging themselves. Look to where they eat: flowers, bushes and trees.
Track, draw and discover. As kids spot butterflies, they can keep track of them in a journal. They can sketch what they see and write down their common and scientific names, learning good research and observation skills along the way. To determine the kind of butterfly, look closely at the butterfly for several minutes, just like a real scientist would do. Does it fly fast or slow? Are the wings rounded or jagged? What colors and patterns do you see? As kids take an up-close look at these amazing creatures, they will gain an appreciation for the intricacies of nature and the importance of protecting their habitat.
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