Cycles in Nature

Change Through the Seasons

The series of stages in the growth and development of a plant or animal is called its life cycle. A seed germinates, sprouting roots, stems, and leaves, and eventually forms a flower in which new seeds develop. A butterfly emerges from its pupa case, drinks the sweet nectar of flowers, finds a mate and lays its eggs; the next generation will soon hatch out as caterpillars, ready for the next phase of their life cycle. These events repeat year after year in a pattern of ongoing change.

The life cycles of living organisms are closely tied to the seasonal cycles of the earth. Continue reading Cycles in Nature

Cycles in Nature – Table of Contents

Cycles in Nature – Vocabulary for Children


active  Keeping a daily pattern of sleeping, eating, and moving about.

adult  The full-grown life stage of an animal, when it is able to reproduce.

alarm call  A sound made by an animal that tells other animals that a predator is nearby.

alternate  When twigs and buds are single along the branch, not directly across from each other.

annual  A plant that completes its life cycle in one year, living long enough to produce seeds and then dying. Continue reading Cycles in Nature – Vocabulary for Children

Insect Life Cycles – Background

When we watch a caterpillar spinning a cocoon or a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, we are witnessing part of the remarkable life cycle of an insect. Insects live their lives in stages, changing form as they develop from egg to adult. In some, young and adult are so different, it’s hard to believe they could be the same species. A caterpillar becomes a butterfly, a garden grub becomes a shiny beetle, a wingless creature crawling on the bottom of a pond becomes a dragonfly skimming above it. Is there a connection between insect life cycles and the incredible success of this group of animals? Continue reading Insect Life Cycles – Background

Insect Life Cycles – Activities

FOCUS: As insects develop from eggs to adult, they undergo metamorphosis, their bodies changing dramatically as they mature. Most insects go through complete metamorphosis with four distinct life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Other insects go through simple metamorphosis with only three stages, changing from egg to nymph to adult. These tiny animals must find partners to reproduce, and they use a variety of signals to find and attract mates.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about insect life cycles.

Give a variety of insects in various stages of their life cycle in small jars to children to examine in small groups, and ask what they notice and wonder about them.

Materials: a variety of live insects in various stages of their life cycle collected in small jars, magnifying lenses.

Objective: To observe and compare the life stages in a variety of insect species, looking for patterns and sorting by type of life cycle.

Ahead of time, mount each Metamorphosis Puzzle on a different colored backing. Continue reading Insect Life Cycles – Activities

Insect Life Cycles – Puppet Show

Frequent Flyers

Characters: Grasshopper Egg, Grasshopper Nymph, Grasshopper Adult, Monarch Egg, Monarch Caterpillar, Monarch Chrysalis, Monarch Butterfly.

Props: Grass plant with egg, two cotton balls, sign saying “Weeks Later.”

Grasshopper Egg  Oh me, oh my. I’m just a tiny egg in a big, dark, underground world.  I’m ready for a change.

Monarch Egg  I’m just a tiny egg in a big, bright, sunny world. I’m ready for a change too.

Grasshopper Egg  I wonder what I’ll be when I hatch. Maybe a buzzy bee, or a dragonfly. Continue reading Insect Life Cycles – Puppet Show

Traveling Seeds – Background

Wandering through a meadow, a child stops by a jewelweed plant, on the lookout for its plump seed pods. As she reaches in and touches one, it suddenly bursts open and ejects a seed, startling and delighting her. This child is inadvertently helping with an important part of a plant’s life cycle, the dispersal of its seeds. Producing seeds for the next generation is only part of a plant’s job. It needs those seeds to reach a place where they can grow. Spring-loaded seed capsules like those of jewelweed are just one of the many fascinating mechanisms plants use to disperse their seeds.

A seed is the fertilized, ripened ovule of a cone-bearing plant (gymnosperm) or a flowering plant (angiosperm). Continue reading Traveling Seeds – Background

Traveling Seeds – Activities

FOCUS: After a plant flowers and produces fertile seeds, those seeds must still find a spot to grow. We’ll see what the inside of a seed looks like, how it holds all that is necessary for a new plant to grow, and explore outside to see the many different seeds we can find and the ways they move from place to place.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about seeds.

Give a variety of seeds to children to examine in small groups, and ask what similarities and differences they notice.

Materials: a variety of seeds and seed heads, magnifying lenses.

Objective: To use a model to learn the parts of a seed and their functions.

A seed has everything it needs to travel, like a backpacker. Tell the children that you’re going to dress up the teacher as a seed. Continue reading Traveling Seeds – Activities

Traveling Seeds – Puppet Show

Travel Agents

Characters: Benjy Bear, Mitch Milkweed Seed, Clara Cranberry, Bertie Burdock, Sally Squirrel.

Props: Brown pompom for burdock burr, basket of acorns prop

Benjy Bear  Gee, it’s a breezy fall morning.

Look at all this fluffy stuff in the air. Here’s a bit of fluff caught on a branch.

Mitch Milkweed  I’m not just a bit of fluff. I’m a traveling seed.

Bear  Oh, I seed what you mean. But what’s all that fluffy white hair for? Continue reading Traveling Seeds – Puppet Show

Birds on the Wing – Background

As days get shorter and cooler in the fall, birds that stay year-round begin preparing for a long, cold winter, while others get ready to migrate. Both face challenges that seem daunting for such slight creatures. Yet birds continually amaze us with their ability to survive the harshest weather, travel incredible distances, and navigate to faraway places.

Some birds are permanent residents, living year-round in one place, while others migrate twice a year, traveling between winter homes and summer breeding ranges. Continue reading Birds on the Wing – Background

Birds on the Wing – Activities

FOCUS: Some birds migrate thousands of miles to find the food and shelter they need in winter, but other birds stay right here through the cold months. Which birds migrate and which birds stay? Birds that migrate face many challenges on their journeys, and those that stay here must cope with cold weather, shorter days, and a diminished food supply. All birds must survive this critical stage of their life cycles in order to raise families in the spring.

Objective: To begin to explore bird migration.

Show a picture or video of a flock of migrating geese. Ask children to tell you what might be going on in the photo.

Materials: photo or video of migrating geese.

Objective: To model the connection between diet and migration.

Hand out a Food for Thought card to each child or pair of children. Put up two signs at opposite ends of the room, one saying “Stay” and the other, “Migrate.” Continue reading Birds on the Wing – Activities

Birds on the Wing – Puppet Show

Orville’s First Flight

Characters: Orville Oriole, Chelsea Chickadee, Wilbur Wood Thrush, Storm Cloud.

Props: suitcase prop, sign saying “That Evening.”

Orville Oriole Mmm, there’s a bug, yum! I know I’m putting on weight, but this cold weather’s making me ravenous. I wonder when it’s going to warm up.

Chelsea Chickadee  Warm up? Orville Oriole, you mean cool down, don’t you? Another month and there’ll be snow on the ground and ice in the ponds. Continue reading Birds on the Wing – Puppet Show

Winter Ways – Background

The ever-changing cycle of seasons is one of the pleasures of living in a temperate climate. From the emergence of tender life in spring and the abundance of summer, to autumnal ripening followed by the long, cold winter, each season has its unique conditions. Survival demands that plants, animals, fungi, and even bacteria are adapted to survive all the seasons, and, for most, winter is the most difficult. This might seem obvious, but the implications are important.

Because of the tilt of the northern hemisphere away from the sun in the winter, we experience shorter days and lower temperatures, often below the freezing point of water. Continue reading Winter Ways – Background

Winter Ways – Activities

FOCUS: Of the four seasons in the year, winter is the most difficult for living things.  Temperatures are often cold, days are shorter, the ground is frozen and covered with snow, and there is a dearth of food for many creatures. Each animal species has evolved a survival strategy, and plants overwinter in different ways as well. The dried seed heads of winter weeds provide a welcome source of food for many animals.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about winter compared to other seasons.

Take children outside, and have them talk in small groups about how winter is different from other seasons.

UPPER GRADES CHALLENGE: Antifreeze Tests (Grades 5-6)
Objective: To investigate the effect of different dissolved substances on the freezing of water.

Many animals build up high concentrations of sugars in their cells in preparation for winter. How do dissolved substances affect the way water freezes? How could we test this? Continue reading Winter Ways – Activities

Winter Ways – Puppet Show

It’s Snow Picnic

Characters: Matthew Mouse, Woody Woodchuck, Simone Skunk, Ferdy Fir Tree, Goldy Goldfinch, Heidi Hare.

Props: Sign saying “January 1st,” piece of white fabric to cover stage, dried weed stalk with seed head, cotton balls.

Matthew Mouse  Oh boy! A snowflake in October! Winter’s coming! I should have a party to celebrate winter. I’ll have it in January when there’s plenty of snow. Why, here’s Woody Woodchuck. Hi, Woody.

Woodchuck  Hi, Matthew Mouse. Brrr, it’s cold today! I’m going back in my den!

Mouse  Wait, Woody!  I’m going to have a winter party, in January, and you’re invited. Continue reading Winter Ways – Puppet Show