Whether spring has sprung or is just a dream on the horizon, you may be ready to begin planning butterfly, plant, or frog life cycle units for your classroom and I have some ideas (and freebies!) to share with you! The activities in this post are targeted toward butterfly life cycle, frog life cycle, and plant life cycle themes, but many of them would be appropriate for classrooms that are studying other animal life cycles as well!
Does Everything Grow?
I like to start a life cycle unit with the classic Raffi song, “Everything Grows.” (This is also a great one to hang onto for an end-of-the-year performance for parents!)
After listening, have a class discussion about whether or not EVERYTHING actually grows. Lead the children to the understanding that living things grow, but non-living things generally do not. Talk about what other characteristics living things share (need for nutrients/water/food, ability to reproduce…). Have students brainstorm some things that are living and some things that are not.
Finally, bring the conversation to life cycles. Looking at your list of living things, talk about how they grow. Ask the children to think about what changes these living things go through and how they begin growing. Here’s a fun song to help students visualize a life cycle as a circle–something that keeps going round and round.
Once your students have the background knowledge about what a life cycle is, it’s time for some in-depth exploration of specific living things and their life cycles. There are lots of great informational books and videos about life cycles. If you are able to, this would be a great time to bring some nature into your classroom in the form of caterpillars, tadpoles, and/or seeds and plants.
I also have some resources in my TPT store that include informational PowerPoints (along with lots of printable activities). Check out the bundle here in my shop or here on TPT or look at the individual units in my shop by clicking the pictures below.
Acting Out Life Cycles
Integrate some movement into your life cycle lessons to keep your students focused. Choose a living thing and have the children act out its life cycle. For example, have them curl themselves into tight balls to be butterfly eggs. They can then hatch into wiggly caterpillars, form very still chrysalises, and finally emerge into butterflies who stretch their wings and flutter away.
Once they understand the parts of any particular life cycle, have your students engage in this simple activity that helps with memory (and, as a bonus, has them cross their midline!). Have them raise one arm up so they are pointing above their head and say the first part of a life cycle (“Egg!”). Then have them move their arm a quarter circle, pointing to the side, and say the next part (“Caterpillar!). Pointing straight down (“Chrysalis!”) and to the other side (“Butterfly”) completes the life cycle. After getting the motions down, have the students complete the circular motion a little more quickly a few times in a row while saying the stages of the life cycle. This helps students understand what a cycle is and that it continues indefinitely!
Life Cycle Activities
Hands-on activities are a great way to for students to solidify their learning and for them to demonstrate that they understand a concept (in an age-appropriate way). I’ve put together some materials that you can grab for free to help you plan this type of activity for your class. Whichever task you choose to have your children complete, it’s a good idea to have them follow it up with an oral language piece. Having students bring their finished product to a friend (or teacher, volunteer, etc.) to narrate the life cycle gives them a chance to use new vocabulary and build public speaking skills.
These paper plate life cycle puzzles are something you can do with any life cycle! They are also easy to differentiate (have students draw, draw and label, or cut and glue pre-printed pictures depending on their levels/needs). I have included simple life cycle pictures for butterflies, plants, and frogs if you want students to cut and glue. If you want students to draw, all you need are paper plates (the cheaper the better), scissors, and crayons or colored pencils. First, have students fold their plate like a taco shell and then crease. While it is still folded, have them fold it in half again, matching the corners. When they unfold the plate, the creases will show them where to draw the life cycle stages (and arrows) before cutting. Students can store their completed puzzle pieces in a zip-top baggie. Having students assemble and explain their life cycle puzzle is a great way to do a quick one-on-one assessment.
Another way for students to manipulate life cycle stages to put them in order is with this life cycle chains fine motor activity. With just a little prep work by the teacher, this activity can be added to your rotation of fine motor skills activities. In the free life cycles printable file, I have included a label and instruction card in case you want to add this activity to your Fine Motor Skills Task Boxes collection.
One last activity is this template for students to make a fingerprint butterfly life cycle. Have students lightly color the leaf and the branches and then use washable paint to have them add fingerprints. This activity can be done in small groups with a volunteer (and plenty of baby wipes!). The free life cycles printable file includes the full-page template (pictured below) as well as a template with writing lines for students to do some informational writing after the paint dries.
Life Cycles: Digital Edition
Finally, if you want to incorporate some technology into your life cycle lessons, here are some ideas.
Interactive Life Cycle Models
These interactive life cycles from ecosystemsforkids.com are a simple way to explore a lot of different life cycles. They don’t have a lot of detail, but they are easy to manipulate and can be a springboard for inquiry. If you have an interactive board in your classroom, these would work nicely as quick fillers when you have a few extra minutes.
Time Lapse Videos
There are lots of really neat time-lapse videos of life cycles on Youtube and other video-sharing sites. I love this series that shows the entire life cycle of a dandelion
Digital Activities for Home or School
If you want your students to have independent practice with life cycles through your learning management system, check out these activities in my TPT store.
Thanks so much for reading! I hope these activities help you out as you plan your life cycle units!