Children are natural sorters. They like order and understand steps very early on if we present them in a fun hands-on way. Nothing beats seeing a lifecycle in action. I encourage all of you to get a Butterfly Garden ( affiliate link), or find a frog pond where you can visit multiple times to see the changing stages first hand. If you can NOT do either of those this hands-on activity is a great alternative and what I love about these life cycle manipulatives is that kids will play with them over and over again. As I type this our frog and tadpoles you see in this post have just been relocated to our swampy sensory table.Of course, if you don’t have access to these models or the budget to spend on them you can always hand draw the stages, cut out, color and laminate them. I am often asked if I read then do the activities or the other way around. In this case, if you are introducing the life cycles for the first time read the books first and do these fill in the blank life cycles after.
To create these super simple fill in the blank life cycles you will need some life cycle manipulatives like these ones I got at Michael’s ( or draw your own), some good quality paper, markers, and a tray or two.
Trace around each step in the life cycle. If your child is a reader add the stage with a word but if not skip it. I added it at first and my daughter was so intent on sounding it out that when she couldn’t ( chrysalis ) it frustrated her. The shape of the item will be an effective prompt. If you are drawing your own make sure the shapes are distinct after you cut them out. My helper took this picture of me tracing I think it’s the first picture of me prepping an activity in 7 years.
Add arrows to show the direction of the transformation. I had help with this step. Too bad my order was off ( this friends is what happens when you blog on too little sleep… please note the correct order is egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly…. )
Label the life cycle in the middle so your child can identify which mat they need. My daughter can recognize these words so I didn’t include a picture but for a classroom with all different levels I would include a picture of a frog, butterfly, or turtle in the middle and laminate.
Pop the manipulatives on a second tray or in a shallow dish.
If you are doing this in a free choice setting for a class I’d suggest doing it at circle time first and then either later that day or the next time you meet having it out for individuals to use their prior knowledge. Don’t forget that you can place as many or as few of the pieces on the sheet to start with to help your child be successful
As she placed the pieces of the life cycles we talked about each of them.
Books About Life Cycles
all book lists contain affiliate links.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is a classic, that most preschool teachers like myself can recite from memory. It really is a fantastic book, not only does it explain the life cycle of a butterfly it also is useful for a the lesson about the days of the week and healthy eating. Children love relating to the caterpillar who eats too many treats and ends up with a belly ache before eating one more healthy leaf and spinning a chrysalis.
Fish is Fish by Leo Lionni is a cute book that not only talks about friendship but it also explains the transformation of a tadpole into a frog in an entertaining way. I have used this book in classrooms while doing animal life cycles and kids always love how the fish in the book imagines humans as fish with legs! The story of the friendship between the little tadpole and minnow can’t be ignored either, it’s a great message about change and the way friendships if true can withstand change.
From Tadpole to Frog by Wendy Pfeffer is another gem from the “Let’s- Read-And-Find-Out” series. It goes into great detail without offering too much for young readers. When I was reading it to my 2-year-old, I skipped some pages, it’s a little long for him still, but 3-5-year-olds are the perfect age for this nonfiction book. The illustrations are interesting and kept my wiggly man into the book when the text went above his head.
Need a song to help teach about the butterfly life cycle? Try this one!