Understanding the world: Beautiful butterflies


Butterflies will enjoy a national day of celebration on March 14. Make it a date for children to explore their characteristics and habitats with the help of resources available from the Wildlife Trusts. It's a great excuse to get outdoors and study nature.

Caterpillars and butterflies are fascinating to small children so before you start this theme agree that any creatures that are found during your activities must not be harmed and must be returned to the place in which they were found as soon as any explorations are complete.

Remind children that as soon as they have finished exploring outside they should wash their hands with soap and water before they undertake any activities.

A good starting point would be to discover what children already know and what else they would like to find out. This discussion would also give you the opportunity to talk about how we find out the answers to questions we have and give you an opportunity to investigate the resources available in your local community (so you could incorporate a visit to your local library, museum and zoo or wildlife park).

As this project offers children the opportunity to do some food tasting, double check with parents and carers that none of the children have any allergies or intolerances and that they are happy for them to try all the foods that will be on offer.

Playing and exploring

  • Children share what they already know and what they would like to know about caterpillars and butterflies
  • They talk about the process of finding out and creating new environments for the creatures
  • They investigate how plant seeds may not grow successfully, but by trying and then adapting what they you do, they will learn for next time

The best way to have caterpillars and butterflies for children to spot, enjoy and explore is to create a butterfly garden. Before you begin this, carry out some research on the butterflies that are native to your area and the kind of plants and flowers that attract them, this will enable you to grow some of the right plants with the children.

Plant in a warm, sunny spot close to a nice open space where the butterflies can fly. While you are undertaking this part of the project, explain to children that the process of planning and planting this garden is going to encourage butterflies to visit your garden thereby enabling you to carry out the next part of the project which will be to look at the wildlife in your setting.

Let your existing garden grow wild around the edges and don't do too much tidying up over the winter. Butterflies like shelter from bad weather and they like wild places to lay their eggs and for caterpillars to feed before they enter their cocoons.

Active learning

  • Children choose the activities they are interested in and maintain their attention for as long as possible
  • They set, review and celebrate their own goals and successes.
  • They enjoy sharing their learning with each other, with you and with their parents, carers and siblings

Encourage children to undertake bug hunts throughout your outdoor setting and help them to count the different creatures they encounter and find ways of recording their findings (this will link nicely to mathematics and mark making).



Explore the lifecycle of a butterfly using Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar (see Resources).

Create caterpillars made out of a variety of different sizes of circle (big at the back, smallest for the head), use creating the caterpillars to cover a variety of concepts (arranging shapes biggest to smallest and language of size), ask the children to select a given number of circles, create or complete patterns with a sequence of circles, order numbered circles in the correct sequence of dots or numerals.

Explore symmetry by matching patterns on each side of a butterfly's wings, or in each quadrant of the wings.

Farfalle pasta is shaped like butterflies, dye some and use it in sensory play or for colour matching and counting activities.

Outdoor area

Help children to maximise their use of the outdoor area by observing its features closely through a range of resources, including magnifiers and cameras. Support children to record their findings with drawings, writing, model making and photographs. Give them responsibility for creative tasks such as taking care of the flowerbeds or organising equipment outdoors.

Creating and thinking critically

  • Children talk about, and review, their own ideas, learning and solutions to problems so that they can identify solutions
  • Practitioners model being a thinker and help children to understand that even adults do not always know the answer, but there are ways of finding out
  • Children learn that talking through a problem or challenge can help them to find a solution more quickly

Use The Very Hungry Caterpillar to help children sequence the days of the week and with counting as well as exploring the lifecycle of the creature. Encourage children to not always simply accept the first idea that comes along, help them to think about what other questions and solutions are possible.

Offer children the opportunity to taste the foods that the caterpillar eats in The Very Hungry Caterpillar (use lettuce as the green leaf, but remind children never to eat anything without checking with an adult first).

Create caterpillars made out of a variety of different sizes of circle (big at the back, smallest for the head), use creating the caterpillars to cover a variety of concepts (arranging shapes biggest to smallest and language of size), ask the children to select a given number of circles, create or complete patterns with a sequence of circles, order numbered circles in the correct sequence of dots or numerals.

Explore symmetry by matching patterns on each side of a butterfly's wings, or in each quadrant of the wings.

Farfalle pasta is shaped like butterflies. Dye some and use it in sensory play or for colour matching and counting activities.

In this project I have offered a few ideas about how you and your children can take the opportunity to learn about caterpillars and butterflies specific to your part of the world and then create an environment to encourage more of these wonderful creatures to visit and make their homes alongside you in your setting.



EYFS Early Learning Goals

Observe how children comment and ask questions about aspects of their familiar world such as the place where they live or the natural world. Encourage them to talk about some of the things they have observed such as plants, animals, and natural and found objects. Note how they develop an understanding of growth, decay and changes over time. They will also begin to show care and concern for living things and the environment.

Key learning points

  • Children learn about butterflies and bugs by creating habitats for them to thrive
  • They explore different ways to access information about their characteristics
  • They enjoy sharing and discussing information
  • They begin to understand that projects which involve planting and growing take a lot of time and effort

Useful resources

  • Bug hunt book and sheets

  • Notebooks

  • Pencils

  • Cameras

  • Magnifying glasses

  • Come Outside Butterflies on Youtube

  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar - animated film on Youtube

  • The Nature Detectives website (naturedetectives.woodlandtrust.org.uk/naturedetectives/)

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