Seven Days of STEM: Day one. Life Science.

There is currently a movement afoot to “save the Monarch Butterflies.” I am all for this for many reasons, not the least of which is that they are simply amazing creatures. They have a lot to teach us as well, about habitat loss, man’s interference with migration routes, metamorphosis, and much more. They also provide some pretty simple, yet effective, programming opportunities. And you can craft a life cycle chart of the Monarch Butterfly with pasta. Yes, pasta.

I must admit before I go further with this that I originally saw this idea at an Educator Expo at the Cincinnati Zoo. If such a thing exists in your area, by all means, attend. You can get lots of terrific ideas, and make contacts with many area organizations you didn’t even know had programming opportunities! But on to the butterflies…

First, choose some good fiction and non-fiction books to support your topic. I like the following:

The Great Monarch Butterfly Chase, by R.W.N. Prior (fiction)

Houdini the Amazing Caterpillar, by Janet Pederson (ficton)

Hurry and the Monarch, by Antoine O Flatharta (fiction)

Monarch and Milkweed, by Helen Frost and Leonid Gore (non-fiction)

Monarchs, by Kathryn Lasky (non-fiction)

Threat to the Monarch Butterfly from the On the Verge of Extinction: Crisis in the Environment series, by Rebecca Thatcher Murcia (non-fiction)

For the craft, you will need the following:

  • Card stock copies of the blank life cycle chart (make your own, or Google “blank life cycle chart”)
  • green construction paper (to cut into leaves)
  • orzo
  • rotini pasta, dyed yellow
  • small shell pasta, dyed green
  • bow tie pasta, dyed orange
  • small pieces of sticks or toothpicks
  • small pieces of black chenille stems
  • glue
  • paint pens in gold and white
  • fine point permanent markers in black

Start by dying the pasta. Liquid water colors do this best, but food coloring will also work. Dye the rotini bright yellow; the shells lime green; the bow ties orange. These will become the caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly respectively. Use the paint pens and permanent markers to add stripes, dots, and squiggles to mimic the patterns of the various stages of the butterfly. Refer to the photo below for ideas.

Depending upon the age of the audience, some of the designs on the pasta pieces may be completed ahead. For very young elementary age children, simply having them glue the parts on the chart in the correct order may suffice. For older children, having them add the correct color patterns to and glue the leaf and egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly onto the chart will take a 15-30 minute section of your program. For the older children, be sure to include the scientifically correct terms for each stage of the butterfly’s life.

The completed chart will look something like this:

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While the children complete the craft, you may wish to have a butterfly life cycle model available for them to look at,  touch, and arrange in the correct order. I have a relatively inexpensive one I purchased, offered by Safari LTD. (It is on the right of the picture above, for comparison to the pasta version.)

This set is  available from Amazon for about $10. The pieces of this set are big enough for small hands to explore easily, and  realistically designed. The largest piece, the butterfly, measures about three inches wing-tip to wing-tip.


I have used this particular craft in a variety of settings, with a variety of age ranges and group sizes. I have even used it with an outreach program. It’s inexpensive, makes an impression, includes scientific information, involves creative interpretation; all with easy-to-obtain materials! Happy crafting!