Ready for lift off!

Karen Hart continues her exploration of wings and flight with some creative activities, using natural resources, that will help children to begin to understand the laws of aerodynamics.



  • Whose Nest is This? By Heidi Roemer and Connie McLennan (Taylor Trade Publishing).
  • Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward (Beach Lane Books)
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Puffin Books)
  • RSPB My First Book of Garden Birds by Mike Unwin (A&C Black Childrens & Educational).

I recently asked a group of children at a nursery I visited to name things that fly, and birds, butterflies and planes were quickly suggested. When I then pushed a bit further, children offered bees and all manner of bugs – of which some, I’m pretty sure, don’t exist!

Playing and exploring

  • Children investigate matching shapes and patterns.
  • They explore and source their own materials including different natural objects.
  • They have a go at extended rhyme activities.

Nature collage butterflies

Leaves and petals are the perfect shapes for butterfly wings. Combine the craft activity with a walk to a local open space where children will be able to collect their own resources.Encourage them to pick objects which have already fallend to the ground.

The kind of things you will need include leaves, petals, blossoms, twigs etc,along with A4 size, sturdy card butterfly template; A4 paper-card ; PVA glue and brushes

Have simple butterfly outlines pre-drawn for younger children, while three to four-year-olds can draw round a template to give the butterfly shape, giving help as needed.

Ask them to look at the shapes of the leaves and petals and think about which ones will make lovely butterfly wings, before fixing these to their butterfly shape with glue – giving help as needed as some bits and pieces may need a bit of squashing down before fixing in place.

Alternatively, Don’t stick anything down – take photos of the finished butterflies instead. Not only will they last longer, you can make a display of the photos too.

Extension activity:

A great way to start this fun, drama-themed activity, is with a reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle (see our ‘classic authors’ article on page 13 of this section.)

Start by showing children how to crawl around like caterpillars, imagining they are eating lots of lovely food, just like the hungry caterpillar. Ask children what they’re eating; suggest some ideas such as apples, leaves, celery and lettuce.

Next, have children curl up into a cosy little ball and go to sleep – in their chrysalis, before bursting out as a beautiful, fully-grown butterfly!

Active learning

  • Children gain an understanding of aerodynamics.
  • They concentrate on identifying all things that fly.
  • They focus on looking at shapes, their size and distance travelled, supported by the practitioner.

Drinking straw flyers

You will need: Drinking straws; card-paper; sticking tape; colouring pens.

Have your paper strips pre-cut and ready to go – 1 inch by 10 inches for the big loop and 1 inch by 5 inches for the smaller loop.

Ask children to draw eyes and a beak in the middle of the smaller strip, and a tail in the centre of the bigger strip, before helping children tape these into loops, asking children what shape they have made.

Help them tape their paper loops to a drinking straw – one at each end, with the straw inside the loops, keeping
them parallel.

Take children into a hall or outside space before demonstrating how to make the gliders fly through the air – holding the middle of the straw with the bigger loop at the back and propelling the glider forward. They just keep on going!

During this activity, observe any instances of children showing an interest in ways to modify gliders to improve their flying ability; by changing the size of the paper loops for example. Older children especially, may like to make a second glider, altering the dimensions of paper loops and length of straw to investigate the difference this can make to flying ability.

Creating and thinking critically

  • Children work collaboratively on a class display.
  • Practitioners ask open-ended questions to do with Noah’s Ark theme.
  • Children develop strategies for paper folding, practising fine motor skills.

Make a fan-winged bird

For each bird you will need: a sheet of white A5 paper; a sheet of A5 paper card; felt tipped pens; pre-cut card template of a bird

Using the paper-card, help children draw around the template to give a bird shape which children can decorate with eyes and a beak. We used brown card for our birds, but you could use white to make doves, adding a couple of little green leaves to the bird’s beaks to make the dove from the story of Noah’s Ark; a nice story to include as part of your Understanding the world: People and communities curriculum.

Next, demonstrate how to fan-fold the A5 paper which can be decorated before folding to make colourful birds. We had been looking at sparrows, so we used brown colours to add some colour to our wings.

Carefully cut a slit in the back of each bird where the wings will go, being careful not to cut too close to the edge of the card in case it splits.

Help children push a folded fan through the slit before opening up to create fluttering wings, fixing the fan together in the middle with a little bit of tape. Ask children if they can think of any other uses for paper fans, seeing if anyone suggests using them to keep cool in hot weather. They can make an extra fan to experiment with – surprising how interesting children can find something so simple, and how much fun they can have playing with them.

Children could try making two birds each, so they can pick one to take home and one to use as part of a room decoration.

Thread a length of thread through the head of each bird so children can make their bird fly, and also for hanging in your setting as display.

Sand tray

To stay with the bird theme, introduce some nest building into the topic by gathering together some suitable nest building materials, such as twigs, leaves, pieces of bark and craft feathers, and place in your sand tray. Being able to push materials into the sand, makes it much easier for children to secure bits and pieces in place. Supply some little toy ducks to turn the activity into a real game, also, any play eggs – or pebbles to use as eggs, which also works well.

Books to use with this activity include Whose Nest is This? and Mama Built a Little Nest, (see resources) which look at different types of nests.

EYFS Early Learning Goals

By looking at shapes, measurements and distance travelled during the Drinking Straw Flyers activity, you could think about covering the criteria of Mathematics: Shape, space and measure: Children use everyday language to talk about size, weight, capacity, position, distance and time. The making birds activity can be extended to cover Physical Development: Moving and Handling: Children show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements. They move confidently in a range of ways, safely negotiating space. They handle equipment and tools effectively, including pencils for writing.

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