Butterflies: A case study

by Deb on August 26, 2009

Rather than a specific activity this shows what can be done by planning some of your play.

Even little kids can learn quite complicated concepts by building it up slowly and teaching each piece before putting them together. Remember that my daughter was about 3 and a half when she did this but it is an important part of primary school science. Now of course I think she’s very clever, but she didn’t learn this because she’s a genius – she learnt it because it was

  • Something she’s interested in,

  • Broken into simple concepts she can understand and relate to,

  • Presented in a variety of fun ways she’s familiar with, and

  • Reinforced over time.

If you want a general rule on helping little kids learn, that’s a good place to start.

A while ago we ran with an insect theme for a few days. Not that we did everything on insects, but instead of random craft or walks we specifically looked for insects and especially butterflies because that’s what she chose.

The Butterfly:



I drew a half butterfly for her, but she cut it out and ‘dekwated’ it, then glued the body on. We watched butterflies when we were out walking and talked about them eating flowers, so later when I was taking the photos she found some flowers for it to eat.

The Caterpillar:



She flattened out and glued patty pans onto the page to make a caterpillar. I’m not sure why she drew the face in the middle, it’s probably an example of how little kids operate by rules – there’s a big circle, it must be a face. When I asked her about it she drew a face on one of the patty pans at the end. She understands that caterpillars are baby butterflies and they eat leaves.

The Coccoon:

Caterpillar and coccoon

Caterpillar and coccoon



We read in a book about a caterpillar going to sleep and looked at how it covered itself with leaves, so made one ourselves. I thought of the alfoil, but while I was finding that she made the caterpillar all by herself by rolling up paper.

The Life Cycle:

Life Cycle

Life Cycle

We did this first of all by role playing. She adores “Butterfly Game” and we play it regularly, there’s nothing quite as hilarious as seeing a little girl squatting over a bowl yelling “My eggs are coming, my eggs are coming!” She starts as a caterpillar and crawls on the ground and eats lots of leaves, then curls up to sleep. When she wakes up as a butterfly she flits around to lots of flowers, then lays her eggs. She then collects lots of leaves for her caterpillars when they hatch.

Being a Butterfly

Being a Butterfly

So there are some things in there that are obviously wrong. Butterflies don’t have smiley faces and they don’t look after their babies. But for a 3 year old she has some very important concepts:

  • The idea of lifecycles and metamorphosis.

  • That different animals have different diets and habitats.

  • That some animals reproduce with eggs.

Facts are relatively easy to learn, understandings are priceless.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Donnah Francome September 2, 2009 at 5:48 pm

Wow, what a fantastic website. Being a teacher myself, it is excellent to see stuff like this on the web for other mums, dads and families to see and hopefully use. I look forward to watching this site grow.


Annie September 10, 2009 at 7:43 am

“Facts are relatively easy to learn, understandings are priceless” I agree completely. Kids learn so much more effectively when they are given the chance to develop the understandings – the facts follow when the child is ready to receive them, but the understandings set them up to apply those learnings in other areas as well.


Deb September 10, 2009 at 8:15 am

Thanks Donnah!

Annie, facts will always be there in books, or I suppose somewhere on the internet 🙂 In fact one of the descriptions I love is that learning facts is just “butterfly collecting!” You’re right, understandings are what can be transferred.


Wei Ling September 12, 2009 at 4:06 am

forget abt GDUNH!!… i think i can be here for a while 🙂 Good job sharing these things. As a SAHM and previously working in life science… i sometimes got stuck in the slo-mo of SAHM pace and forget to be creative… thanks. This will help me find things for my 2yr old to do! 🙂


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