One of our teachers caught a butterfly outside and brought it into the classroom for the children to see. Their eyes widened with fascination, wonder, and awe and the small, beautiful creature. Using the insect as a provocation, it triggered an entirely different outlook on butterflies.
The butterfly’s different body parts intrigued the children. They became inspired to create their own butterfly out of various materials and loose parts we provided. The children created big and small butterflies, and deepened their understanding of the insect with each creation.
To further their understanding of butterflies, we watched an educational video, which sparked an interest in the life cycle of the butterfly. Additionally, the children were very vocal about their interest in the butterfly wings- from how it moves, the material it’s made out of, to the design. We initially sat down together to discuss the movement of a butterfly wing, and the children proceeded to move their arms in the direction they believed a butterfly would. Essentially they were pretending to be butterflies. In order to express their knowledge in another way, we provided pieces of small white paper and a fine point black marker. The children began to draw their version of how a butterfly wing moves. Our goal was to deepen their understanding of the movement, not the colors and design of a butterfly wing, which is why we only provided the paper and black pen.
You can see in the images above the thought process of one particular child when expressing her understanding of the wing movement. Devyn attempted to draw the movement of a butterfly three separate times. When discussing the movement a butterfly wing makes, we kept comparing it to the movement of a hummingbird. In the first photo, she made squiggly lines, similar to the hummingbird wings. Since we were trying to have her draw the movement of a butterfly wing, we physically went over the movement again, waving our arms and physically feeling the difference between the two movements. In the second drawing, Devyn realized that a butterfly’s wings move much slower than hummingbird’s wings. When she drew this image, she drew very slowly, making very small squiggly lines and connecting them at a very slow pace. “The wings are going real slow.” For Devyn’s third drawing, we watched a video of the movement beforehand and Devyn discussed how she noticed that the wings were moving from side-to-side and were very wide. She demonstrated this new discovery in her third drawing.
- Left image: Zoey drew this picture of the movement of a butterfly wing. “The butterfly wings are moving slower.”
- Right image: We observed Zoey drawing the lines on the right side image much faster to demonstrate the movement of the hummingbird wings. “It goes fast and then they go faster and faster.”
Note how the wings lines are vertical in the left image (butterfly) and horizontal in the right image (hummingbird).
- Left image: (Representing the butterfly) “The wings are liney.”
- Right image: (Representing the hummingbird) “The wings go fast and straight. They are sqiggly.”
Again, note how the wings lines are horizontal in the left image (butterfly) and vertical in the right image (hummingbird).
- Left image: (Representing the butterfly) “The wings are moving slow motion.”
- Right image (Representing the hummingbird) “It flaps hard. They move fast.”
The goal of this activity was to have the children express the movement of the butterfly wing, which each child did beautifully. Instead of focusing on the design or colors, they were able to depict their understanding of the butterfly wing by moving the marker fast, slow, horizontal, or vertical on the paper. This activity was a fun demonstration on how children naturally want to learn, and how child-led projects can lead to rich learning experiences. This project started humbly from a teacher bringing in a butterfly. Suddenly, children were learning about horizontal versus vertical, and the basics of velocity, range, speed and movement. This project also incorporated art and movement into the learning process. There are been several studies conducted that show by simply including art and physical movement into the subject you’re teaching, children are better able to retain the information and have an easier time recalling it.