Butterflies + Migration Unit

Butterflies are amazing insects! 🦋 They can be found in all habitats, from rainforests to deserts to grasslands—no matter where you live, you have butterflies! This unit will be filled with lots of science, plenty of math, and even a biographical story for a splash of history. Plus, there are plenty of opportunities to head outside as you complete your lessons. In addition to butterflies, we will also learn about migration and hibernation. Click here for our printable tracker to keep track of all the books you read and activities you complete this week.

Note: Occasionally we include project upgrades (for kids ready for more) and modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings). We’ll mark those with the plus (+) or minus (-) symbols.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Lesson 1:

Begin the week by reading A Butterfly is Patient. This beautifully illustrated book will bring the world of butterflies to you! There are so many mini lessons within this book, so feel free to pause to discuss the pages as you read it. Follow your child’s interests as you learn all about these fantastic insects! 🦋

Activity 1: Review the pages in the book about the butterfly metamorphosis and review any new vocabulary such as eggs, caterpillar, chrysalis, pupa, cocoon, and metamorphosis. Next, do this craft project to reinforce the butterfly life cycle. This craft can be done in several steps (not necessarily all at once depending on your child’s level of attention and interest).

Activity 2: Using your butterfly kit, set up your butterfly habitat according to the directions. Let your caterpillars into the habitat and wait for the magic! This would be a great time to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
(+) To help keep your child’s interest as you wait for your caterpillars to make their cacoons and hatch, invite your child to use a nature journal to document the changes for the next couple of weeks.

Activity 3: What do butterflies eat? Review the pages in our book that talk about this, under the heading “Is a butterfly is thirsty?” If you did the Flowers Unit with us, you learned that hummingbirds are pollinators. Butterflies are also pollinators! They use their proboscis, or a “tongue that coils and uncoils,” to slurp up the nectar in many flowers. For this activity, let’s pretend to be butterflies and pollinate flowers!

Activity 4: Caterpillar to butterfly craft.

Note for grownups: Tomorrow’s sensory bin requires a little advance prep. If you want to dye your rice green to make it look like grass, set up tonight. If not, no worries—it will be fine as plain rice.

Lesson 2:

Today is all about migration! Start by reading the book When Butterflies Cross the Sky to learn about butterfly migration. Monarchs are the only butterflies that do a two-way migration like birds do. They migrate to get to warmer places during the winter. They can travel between 50-100 miles a day, and it can take up to two months to complete their journey. The farthest ranging monarch butterfly recorded traveled 265 miles in one day. (source) Share photos of migrating monarchs in the source link if you aren’t able to get the book.

Activity 1: This activity uses a combination of a board game and imaginative play to bring the monarch’s migration to life for your child. Start by printing out this map (if possible, laminate it to extend the life of the activity). Talk about the places in North America that are shown: Canada, United States, and Mexico. Tell your child you are going to pretend to be butterflies migrating for the winter. Use butterfly clips or figurines as playing pieces and a die to move your butterfly around the board. Let your child pick which northern nesting grounds they want to start from, and then use the die to roll to move around the board. When you reach the southern part of the board, tell your child that winter is over—it’s time to head back north! Use the die to return to Canada or the northern United States. This is also a great opportunity to review north, south, east and west and to talk about how different places have different weather.

Grown-ups: The migration of the Monarch Butterfly is an amazingly complex process and if you are interested in learning more, check out this ten minute video. It’s probably too detailed for your child but you might want to watch it in case they ask more questions.

Activity 2: Butterfly math placemat activity.

Activity 3: Butterflies are so spectacular, aren’t they? Go back to the book, A Butterfly is Patient and review the beautiful colors and shapes of butterflies. Ask your child to use as many words as they can to describe these beautiful insects. Cut out a big butterfly on some construction paper and write down all the words they have come up with to describe the butterflies in the pictures. Introduce new vocabulary as you describe the butterflies to them. Have them watch you write these words. Use your movable letters to practice writing a sentence with their favorite words. Encourage them to try writing or using their letters.
(-) Not ready for writing? Try this fine motor skill butterfly activity.

Activity 4: Create this butterfly sensory bin and use the blogger’s questions for review. (If you weren’t able to paint your rice, don’t worry! It’s not that important. Just play with your flowers and butterflies and have fun.)

Lesson 3:

Butterflies aren’t the only animals that migrate. Read the book I Want to Fly Away to learn about other animals that make yearly treks to warmer weather. Our lesson today will focus on animals that migrate to reproduce, including the crab and the salmon. But first, two more butterfly activities!

Activity 1: Butterfly Math. Using these printouts that we used back in the Leaves Unit, let’s practice “catching” butterflies. Either purchase butterflies to use as counters or cut out butterflies from construction paper in two different colors. Next, let’s fill the jars with butterflies to practice number values and doing sums. 

Activity 2: Butterfly symmetry. Review the page in the Butterfly is Patient book about the wings of the butterfly. Talk about the colors of the wings and its symmetry, and then do this craft to create your symmetry. (Note: That blogger’s printable link appears to be broken, so you can use this free printable instead.)

Activity 3: Let’s go back to our animal migration book and review the crab’s migration. Those crabs will be our inspiration for today’s literacy and gross motor skills activity! 🦀🦀🦀 Begin by writing letters or sight words on piece of white paper. (Make sure the letters and words fill the whole 8×11 sheet so that it is clearly visible from across the room.) Show your child the letters or words and make sure they are familiar with them. Next, use tape to secure the paper onto the floor far enough apart from each other so that the child must travel to get to each piece of paper. Now, do this crab walk activity while your child crab walks to the letters or words you call out.

Activity 4: Another animal that migrates is salmon. They migrate back to their fresh water “nesting grounds” from their home in the ocean. Sometimes they travel hundreds of miles to do it! Learn more about the salmon migration by watching this video. (Note: If you have very young children, watch this video first to make sure it’s appropriate for them. If you’d rather not show it, skip to the next part.) Once you have brushed up on your salmon migration knowledge, use the illustrations in our I Want to Fly Away book to tell your child the story of the salmon. They must battle the change in water, from salt to fresh. They must swim against the current of the water, jump up steep waterfalls, avoid the bears trying to eat them, and battle their own exhaustion to finally get to shallow water. Once there, they have to make a nest and deposit their eggs. 

Now, let’s recreate a salmon migration at home with a salmon obstacle course! This can be done outdoors or indoors. Start by creating an “ocean” space and a “river” space. Tell your child that they must travel to the river to have their babies.

Here are a few ideas that might work for your obstacle course:

  • If you want to play outside, use a water sprinkler to create your river. Have your child run through the spray as they “swim.”
  • Create a safe area for them to climb over chairs, cushions, or whatever you have available.
  • Pretend to be a “hungry bear” and play a little tag with them as they try to escape! 🐻
  • Create a narrow path with couch cushions, boxes, or patio furniture to show the narrowing of the river.
  • Provide them with rocks to build a nest.
  • And finally, have them deposit the eggs into the nest. (Eggs can be pompoms, beads, golf balls, crumpled pieces of paper—whatever you have on hand!)
Lesson 4:

Do you know the difference between hibernating and migrating? As we have learned in this unit, many animals migrate. Some migrate to have babies like the crab and the salmon in yesterday’s lesson. Other animals migrate to get food when the season changes. But some animals hibernate when there isn’t much food for them to eat in the winter. Start today’s lessons by listening to this song that teaches the difference between migration and hibernation.

Activity 1: Watch this hibernation video to learn about animals that hibernate. Practicing listening and narration skills by asking your child about the video details. For example, you can ask: What animal in our video hibernates? What does hibernation mean? Why does the groundhog need to hibernate? What happens to the groundhogs body while it hibernates?  

If they have trouble answering, go back and watch the video again, pausing when you get to the parts that answer the questions. (Note: If they don’t want to watch it again, don’t. Just talk about the answers you remember. If you can’t remember either, don’t worry—that can actually help them feel less frustrated about not remembering, too.)  When you hear the answer to the question, pause the video and ask your child the question again to see if they are able to tell you what they heard this time. If they are still struggling, don’t fret—listening is a difficult skill that needs to be practiced. Tell your child the answer and continue watching the video. Allow your child the opportunity to tell you anything they would like to share about the video. You might also encourage them to tell a different family member about the video later in the day. With older children, try to encourage them to give answers in full sentences.

Activity 2: Hibernation vs migration printable. Color, cut, and paste this printable to reinforce the lesson. If you have stuffed animals, figurines, or any three dimensional objects that can be included in the activity, bring them out. Additionally, if the child wants to act out the migration or hibernation, bring this activity to life and turn it into free play.

Activity 3: Butterfly sequencing activity.

Lesson 5:

Let’s start today by reading the charming book Bug Girl. It tells the story of a German-born woman whose art changed science. Her name was Maria Sibylla Merian, and she studied and illustrated insects. Her pictures still hang in museums today! You can also see her pictures and learn more about her here. Maria is responsible for illustrating the life cycles of 186 insect species, and her discoveries are still used today!

Activity 1: Each year, the New York Academy of Medicine has a #ColorOurCollections art campaign. In 2020, they featured on of Maria Sibylla Merian’s pictures! Let’s color it for our lesson today. Print page 3 of these collection pages

Activity 2: Have your own nature study! Go outside with your paper and colored pencils like Maria, and try to find your favorite insects. Maybe you will be inspired to draw your findings, too. 

Activity 3: If you could imagine a song about butterflies, what would it sound like? Listen to Debussy – Les Papillons (it’s the second link in this post) for an operatic piece that was inspired by a poem about butterflies. (Papillons means “butterflies” in French!) Talk about opera with your child, especially if they have never heard it before. Need some talking points? Here’s a few you can share:

  • Do you remember the Shakespeare plays we learned about in our England + Ireland Unit? An opera is like a play, except that the characters sing all of their lines instead of speaking them.
  • All operas have solo singers (meaning one person who sings alone) and an orchestra, and many have choruses (or a group of people who sing together in harmony), too.
  • Both men and women sing opera, and the parts are determined by how low or high a singer can sing.
  • Opera singers do not use microphones or any technology to make their voices louder or more powerful. But they never yell—they have usually trained for many years to be able to project their voices and fill large theaters with sound. They use their bodies to make louder sounds, and this is done in part by learning to control their breath. Want to try it out? Take a deep belly breath and then let the sound out in a “tssssss” sound. See how long you can make the sound before you run out of air!

Optional field trip: Is there a butterfly garden near you? Many zoos and botanical gardens often have indoor butterfly conservatories. Check your local area and plan a trip. Additionally, while on your trip, point out the animals you see that migrate and hibernate.

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