Teaching young children about life cycles helps them better understand nature and the world around them. They can start to see how things change and grow.
When teaching life cycles, I like to teach a number of them (butterfly, frog, chicken, plant) one at a time and then compare and contrast them at the end.
When introducing our life cycle unit, I like this song & video from YouTube. It’s catchy, fun, and gets students excited about what is to come.
Real-Life Observations & Videos
Whenever possible, I love being able to allow children to make real-life observations. To me, there is no better way for children to learn than to actually observe and interact with what they are learning about.
When teaching the life cycles, I have only been able to do real-life examples of the butterfly and plant life cycles with students but there are places where you can get frog eggs and chicken eggs for students to observe (listed below).
Luckily there are plenty of videos available that show real-life examples of the life cycles that students can watch and observe when the real thing is not possible.
Butterfly Life Cycle
If you would like to order caterpillars for your classroom and observe them changing into butterflies, Insect Lore has a number of options as well as accessories.
This time-lapse video from NatGeoTV and this time-lapse video of the Life of a Monarch Butterfly are both great for showing the stages of a butterfly.
Frog Life Cycle
I don’t have experience with growing frogs from tadpoles in the classroom, but Home Science Tools has some options that other teachers have used.
This video by the Dodo shows the stages of the frog life cycle. It is great to use if you can’t grow frogs on your own.
Chicken Life Cycle
Personally, I have never been able to hatch baby chicks with my students in the classroom. We have only visited them at the farm, but I feel that it would be a wonderful experience for young students to actually see them hatch! This blog post by One Kreative Kindergarten has everything you need to know about hatching chicks in your classroom.
This video by NG Science explains and shows the chicken life cycle in a simple, easy to understand way.
Plant Life Cycle
The easiest life cycle for students to experience themselves is the plant life cycle. I like to plant beans in both a clear jar and in plastic baggies on the window because students can see the seed sprouting and growing. This blog post shows step by step how to plant the seeds (please scroll down).
This time-lapse video of a bean seed can speed things up for your students (lol) and this video by SciShow Kids is a little more informative about how a seed becomes a plant.
Since I can not always provide real-life life cycle experiences in the classroom, I use real photographs in all of my teaching materials so that my students can better relate what we are learning to the real world.
I hang posters of the life cycles in the classroom and then discuss each stage in more detail using simple to understand explanations.
Learning the Life Cycle Vocabulary & Stages
I have found that using life cycle word wall cards and puzzles with real photographs help expand students’ knowledge of the vocabulary and the life cycle stages.
I use the word wall cards as visual aides and as a sequencing activity with our pocket chart.
The puzzles not only reinforce what is being taught, they also help students with associations and are a fun way to expand students’ vocabularies.
We use printable, hands-on puzzles as well as self-checking digital ones.
Life Cycle Wheel Paper Plate Crafts
These easy and fun life cycle crafts give students a visual representation of the life cycle and how it repeats over and over again. We make one for each life cycle we study. By the time we do a few, students look forward to creating them and they can complete them independently and quickly because they are familiar with how to do it.
Students glue pictures of the life cycle on the paper plate and glue the correct labels by each life cycle stage.
Then they attach an arrow to the plate using a brass fastener. Students can move the arrow through the different stages of the life cycle.
My young students love sequencing activities! Putting the life cycle stages in the correct sequence helps them learn that the life cycles happen in a particular order.
We do sequencing activities that require students to put the vocabulary (life cycle stage name) in the correct sequence.
We also do activities where students put the pictures in the correct sequence.
Compare & Contrast
After teaching the different life cycles, we put the posters side-by-side and compare and contrast them. Using a Venn Diagram really helps students organize the information and see the relationships.
Life Cycle Books
My favorite, “go to” books for teaching the life cycles are the National Geographic Kids Readers and Scholastic Books because they have wonderful, full-color photographs and simple text for young students. Here are the titles and Amazon links:
National Geographic Readers: Caterpillar to Butterfly
National Geographic Readers: Tadpole to Frog
National Geographic Readers: Seed to Plant
Get Free Butterfly Life Cycle Teaching Materials
If you would like butterfly life cycle teaching materials with real photographs (both print and digital) CLICK HERE for the free download. You will receive:
- 4 word wall cards (one for each stage)
- poster of the butterfly life cycle
- self-checking puzzles that help students learn the vocabulary of the stages
- interactive, self-checking digital Boom Cards
Need Additional Life Cycle Teaching Materials?
If you would like helpful life cycle teaching materials with real photographs, click the links or pictures below: