Butterfly Life Cycle in Special Ed


Spring is here and many teachers are ordering their butterfly habitat kits and teaching about the life cycle of the butterfly. It is such a popular activity, especially in elementary school. But, have you wondered how to make this life cycle more accessible to your students who have significant challenges? Many of the materials that come with the butterfly kit assume a certain skill set, like reading, writing, drawing, or even just communicating your observations. All of these may be either lacking or totally missing in your classroom. (At least, they very often were in mine.) So, I came up with ways for my students to be able to track the course of the butterfly life cycle, communicate what their observations were in as independent a way as possible, and make some authentic connections to their own life and experiences. Here are some things you can do yourself, or let me help you (see video at the end of this post). Either way, your students will never look at a caterpillar or butterfly the same way again!

Be sure to read all the way to the bottom of this post for some free downloads and resources to add to the lesson plans you may already be using.

1. Use a calendar to track changes during the life cycle

My class worked on calendar skills EVERY morning during our morning meeting. So, adding a calendar to this unit seemed very natural and had the great added benefit of generalizing the material to a new subject, stimuli, and location. In the unit I created, I made a generic counting board, because I was not sure when people would be using it. However, if you have the chance, I would simply substitute it with the appropriate blank monthly calendar.

Life cycle counting board
Tally total days

2. Report and record observations on the life cycle

Most of my students were not able to draw. So that meant getting creative in finding a way they could report what they were seeing each day. Many of my students were really good with technology, so we assigned a photographer each day to take a picture on the class iPad as a record of the changes occurring in our caterpillars. This gave the students some independence and a tool they loved to use.

In addition to taking photos, we also practiced using a digital scale I had in the classroom. Students would take turns weighing several of the caterpillars. As they would read the numbers off the scale, I would write them down. There is a lot of math you can do with this data depending on the learning level of your students:

  • Get an average weight
  • Calculate rate of change or growth
  • Graph the weights
  • Record greatest and least weight

3. Look for more evidence of life cycles on nature walks

I wanted the students to realize that what was happening in our classroom butterfly habitat, also was occurring outside during this spring season. We would go on nature walks, looking for (and recording) evidence of more the butterfly life cycle. The more we learned, the better they got at looking for those hidden eggs under a leaf or the cocoons tucked behind a branch. If you are looking for a FREE scavenger hunt for Spring to use, check out my blog post, 5 New Ways to use a Scavenger Hunt (click here).

Go to my blog post to download this free scavenger hunt HERE

In addition to looking for signs of more caterpillars and butterflies, make sure students are looking for that “perfect” spot where you will release your butterflies once they are ready. Weigh the pros and cons of various locations. Think about protection from predators as well as food sources for the young butterflies.

4. Create a Butterfly Life Cycle Book

It is funny, but I found my students loved making books that were shaped like something. For this unit, I created a butterfly template, cut out 8 pages from construction paper and had the students create their own story about the butterfly life cycle. They LOVED it!!

My Butterfly Book

If you would like a FREE copy of My Butterfly Book, click the button below.

5. Make it personal

Since I was in a classroom with various social and emotional needs, I was always looking for ways to address these issues in EVERY subject. Science was no exception. The metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly was a great way for me to talk about the idea of change. It was also getting close to the end of the year, and many of my students would be facing a lot of changes with the next school year. So, I created a social story to go with this unit on dealing with change. It may seem odd, or feel like an awkward transition, but I promise it is not. I have a detailed lesson plan included in this unit that will help you navigate the change from science to social story. My students loved it, and we talked a lot about how everything, even insects, have to deal with change.

Social Story

I hope this gave you some new ideas to add to the lesson plans you likely already have on this topic. As special education teachers and parents, we are always having to tweak and modify materials. We get really good at it after a while!

If you would like to download some FREE vocabulary cards to go with my Butterfly Life Cycle unit, the be sure to sign up for my Free Resource Library right here at my blog. There is a free set in there with color and BW cards as well as a cut and paste activity to go with them. Just click HERE to get access.

If you want to check out my unit on the Butterfly Life Cycle click HERE or watch the video below. This unit includes lots of activities, including:

  • 12 days of lesson plans
  • 36 page book
  • vocabulary board
  • circle maps
  • sorting activities
  • Venn diagram
  • life cycle cut & paste worksheets
  • close worksheets
  • assessment
  • PLUS a social story and activity on Dealing with Change
Butterfly Life Cycle Unit





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