Butterflies in the Classroom

Hi, Teachers!

I'm super passionate about what I want to talk to you about today. I'm sure most people who know butterflies can see that my logo has a Monarch Butterfly. Did you know that these little critters are actually really great to have in your classroom? A few years ago, I attended an amazing workshop presented by the Monarch Teacher Network. You can find their Facebook group here. I suggest going to the first link I posted and seeing when the next workshops will be. Most workshops are in the summer, but they sometimes have some during the year too. The one I went to was supposed to cost $99, but I didn't have to pay for anything. There are tons of grants available so teachers can go to these for free. I didn't even have to apply for a grant! The grants are given out on a first come-first serve basis. Anyway, the amazing people at this workshop showed me literally everything I needed to know in order to raise Monarchs in my room.

Whether you teach about organisms, insects, life cycles, butterflies, or just teach different subjects in science, I think it's absolutely worth it to raise these guys in your room. If you don't have a ton of time to devote to teaching about this, you can get tons of great books to read to your kids, and your kids can at the very least observe the caterpillars or butterflies during snack time or quiet time. Almost all teachers have a nonfiction reading unit. I find that many students end up wanting to write nonfiction pieces about butterflies as well. I don't have insects as part of my third grade curriculum, but I make room for this in the very beginning of the year. These are some of the books I read aloud:

This has tons of great photographs and really fabulous information. Most third graders can read this independently, but it works very well as a read aloud too.

Gail Gibbons is one of my favorite nonfiction authors. My first graders used to love this book, and my third graders do too! However, the illustration on the cover looks more like a Viceroy butterfly to me. You can talk to your kids about that. Technically, it's only an illustration, so it's not quite wrong, but it can begin a great conversation.

This is great for older kids (think 4th-5th grade and beyond) because the text is so complex. You could also use it as a read aloud for older kids or just read a few pages/sections.

If you decide to teach about monarchs in your room, which I HIGHLY recommend, you should really look into going to a workshop. Check out the links I listed above. However, another book for you to get to help you learn as much about Monarchs as possible is here:

This book is for you as the teacher. It gives you tons of information about where to find milkweed (the only food that Monarch caterpillars eat), how to solve different problems you might run into when raising Monarchs, and more. Ba Rea is well known in the Monarch Teacher Network community. She even posts on the Facebook page! 

If you're serious about teaching about Monarchs, the first thing you'll want to do is find a reliable source of milkweed. If you can't find one, plant some. Monarchs are dangerously close to becoming endangered right now, so planting milkweed is already something you should be doing if you care about keeping this incredible species alive. You also need to make sure to know the difference between milkweed and other look-alike plants. (GO TO THE WORKSHOP! I'm telling you, you'll know all of this stuff like the back of your hand afterwards.)

This is milkweed. It has ONE stem. Sometimes it has seed pods, sometimes it has flowers. When it has flowers follow the rule of 5. There will be five pedals facing up and five facing down. When you cut milkweed for your caterpillars, make sure it's fresh, green, and bug-free! Other bugs that like milkweed can be really harmful to Monarch caterpillars.

This is Dogbane. It's not milkweed. Notice how the stem is red. Also, milkweed has one stem. This has other stems coming out of the main stem.

So there's your crash course on milkweed. I just found those pictures by doing a quick google image search. They are not my images. If you do the same, you'll find tons of images to help you! All you need for your milkweed is a bucket, and you're set. If you put your milkweed directly into water after cutting the stem, it will keep for several days. Once you put your milkweed in your cage, slit the stem vertically in half for an inch or two on the bottom. That's a great trick to help you get the most life out of your milkweed!

Monarchs shed their skin 5 times, and the last time they become a chrysalis. Hey! Fun fact: the plural of the word "chrysalis" is "chrysalid." Here's what they'll look like each time they shed their skin:

Click the above picture to be taken to the website where it came from.

Every summer, I look for milkweed patches. When I find a bunch of milkweed, I look on the under side of each leaf for eggs. They can be really hard to find! Every now and then, you will find more than one egg per leaf, or eggs on stems, but usually monarchs lay one egg on the underside of one leaf.

These are some of my eggs from this year! These guys hatched a few days ago. They turn black on the top right before they hatch. When the caterpillars hatch, they eat their egg shell. I leave my eggs and small caterpillars in a container that looks like this:

Of course, I always poke holes on the top of the container. I used corn holders to poke my holes. That way, they are big enough so air can get in, but small enough so caterpillars can't get out. They are SO tiny when they are born! These are some of my Monarch caterpillars at about 2 - 3 days old:

I made sure to put my hand in there so you could see just how tiny they are. They are actually already a lot bigger than they were when they hatched! CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT!? Every year, this just amazes me. They grow sooooo quickly too!

Eventually, I end up putting my caterpillars in a little container like this. However, I prefer to use the set up below:

This is just a tomato planter, some tulle, clothes pins, and cardboard covered in foil at the bottom, fastened onto the enclosure with binder clips. It's perfect--my big caterpillars can't get out, and I can put bigger stalks of milkweed in here. There's also lots of room for caterpillars to set up shot and form their chrysalids. Just make sure that you cover the top of any water bottle you use with foil. You don't want your caterpillars to drown! They will definitely get in there if you let them!

You can see the top of my smaller cage here. There are tons of caterpillars hanging out on top. They are going to hang soon and form a "J" shape with their bodies. Then, they'll shed their skin one last time and form a chrysalis. You can see one chrysalis at the top of the cage! It's really important that chrysalids have enough room underneath them. If you leave too little space between chrysalids and milkweed plants, butterflies won't have any room to emerge from their chrysalids. The chrysalid will also turn black right before a butterfly emerges. You will actually be able to see the patterns on their wings! I definitely prefer using the bigger black cage that I made for the bigger caterpillars though--you can see when they emerge from their chrysalids much better. However, after a very sad first year of bringing that cage to school for the first time, some of the chrysalids fell and were damaged. I was heart broken! I learned that the green cage is easier to transport to school.

My kids LOVE learning about butterflies. They are so excited when they can see an egg hatch, a chrysalis form, or a butterfly emerge. The looks of wonder and excitement on their faces are so exciting. Then, once the butterflies have dried their wings, you can have your kids release the butterflies into the wild (as long as it's not raining!). It's a truly magical experience. I hope I've convinced you to think about attending these workshops so you can raise Monarchs in your room!

Do you raise butterflies in our room? If so, what kind? If not, do you raise any other critters in your room? Comment below!


  1. Wonderful article! Hoping to try this in my K room. Super idea about using a tomato cage as a frame.

    1. Liz, that would be wonderful for your little ones! If you ever have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out! :)