Seasonal Science: Spring Life Science Activities

Spring into science with these great lesson ideas involving butterflies.

By Jennifer Sinsel

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Spring Life Science Activities

As state assessments conclude and the smell of freshly cut grass hits the air, students’ spring fever is at an all-time high! Spring is a wonderful time to get your students outside after a long winter of indoor activities and grueling test preparation, and this time of year also provides teachable moments in the form of life science activities related to the season.

One of my favorite spring lesson plans involves the life cycle of a butterfly. Young children can listen to the story of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle, and conduct the activities in the interdisciplinary lesson plan the Very Hungry Caterpillar. The activities in this unit are integrated throughout all areas of the curriculum, and students will especially enjoy recreating the life cycle of a butterfly using different types of pasta. For teachers interested in adding a technology component, All About Butterflies allows students to use the Internet to learn about the butterfly life cycle and create a butterfly model. It also explains how to use Kidspiration software to illustrate the life cycle of a butterfly. 

Older children can be given photos of 10-20 different butterfly species and asked to create a dichotomous key to help identify each butterfly. Dichotomous keys are tools that scientists use to distinguish characteristics of a group of organisms, and creating them is a wonderful way to get kids thinking critically and creatively. To practice, give teams of students 8-10 different types of candy (gummy bears, salt water taffy, chocolate kisses, chocolate eggs, Skittles, Sweet Tarts, etc . . .).  Ask them to think of a way to sort the candy into two groups (for example, chocolate and non-chocolate). Within these two groups, the candy should be further divided into two more groups (football-shapes and teardrop shapes in the chocolate group; round shapes and non-round shapes in the non-chocolate group). Use these groupings to lead students through the creation of a key that would enable someone else to identify any given candy. For example, the first part of the dichotomous key for the candy listed above might look like this:

1.  Is the candy chocolate? If yes, go to #2. If no, go to #3.

2.  Is the candy shaped like a football? If yes, it is a chocolate egg. If no, go to #4.

3.  Is the candy round? If yes, go to #5. If no, go to #6.

4.  Is the candy shaped like a teardrop? If yes, the candy is a chocolate kiss.

Once students have the basic idea, they can move on to the more difficult task of creating a key to identify butterfly species. After the keys are completed, teams can trade keys with other groups and test them for accuracy!

For a real world connection at all grade levels, butterfly larvae (caterpillars) can be ordered inexpensively through online science supply companies and transferred to a larger container once they enter the pupa stage (forming a chrysalis). After emerging from the chrysalis, the butterflies will need a day or two for their wings to dry thoroughly and students can release them into the wild. A tissue soaked in sugar water or a few pieces of sliced orange will keep the butterflies healthy until they are ready to leave.

For more great activities involving butterflies, try one of the following lesson plans.

Butterfly Lesson Plans

Araceli Solis Butterflies Unit

Students gain a wide range of knowledge about butterflies, including their environments, habitats, and diet, among other things.

Bodaciously Beautiful Butterflies Take Flight  

Students use real caterpillars to learn about butterflies by keeping a daily journal of observations regarding the changes they see taking place.

Butterflies in Hiding   

This lesson is geared toward fourth graders. Students are introduced to predation as a natural part of the food chain. Then, students look at butterfuly predation in detail and learn about ways butterflies defend themselves from predators.


Elementary Science Guide

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Jennifer Sinsel