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The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower a tethered butterfly.
~Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun


Butterflies are colorful, interesting insects and many children find them fascinating.

Tips for Starting Your Own Butterfly Garden

What do butterflies need to survive? Food, water and shelter are all important. Let's find out how to provide butterflies with the necessities.

1. Adult Butterfly Nectar Plants

An easy way to get started with butterfly gardening is to provide some flowering plants to provide nectar for adult butterflies. These plants may be in your yard or even in pots on your patio.

Choosing plants can be a bit daunting at first. Try taking a walk around some local gardens and note which plants butterflies are visiting. Check with local butterfly societies and plant nurseries for suggestions, as well. Ideally you want to have a range of plants that bloom over the entire growing season.

Native versus non-native plants

When you are just starting out, you may just want to try planting some old favorites, like zinnias or cosmos. Butterfly experts recommend, however, that you also include some native or local plants. For example, given a choice between:

real-butterfly-weed-dcThe butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) which is native to eastern North America, or...


the the exotic tropical or blood milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, the butterfly milkweed is a safer bet. If you are an experienced butterfly gardener, you might want to check this .pdf article about the recent controversy about the tropical milkweed and the monarch butterfly.

Some butterfly favorite plants are:

  • milkweeds (monarchs, queens)
  • lantana
  • butterfly bush
  • ageratum (attracts male queen butterflies)
  • dill, fennel or parsley (swallowtails)
  • hollyhocks (painted lady)
  • passion flower (fritillaries)

2. Caterpillar host plants

If you are interested in raising butterflies and seeing the life stages, then it is important to provide the plants that caterpillars use for food. Caterpillars often have specific and limited feeding preferences. Look for information about your local butterflies and their hosts at websites like Butterflies and Moths of North America (click on the "regional checklists" tab).

black-swallowtail-larva-Papilio polyxenes-22

Dill and fennel are eaten by certain swallowtail caterpillars. Butterfly gardeners always plant some extra for the butterflies.

3. Water

Even though many butterflies drink nectar, some also drink water or obtain nutrients from wet spots in the garden. Providing a damp bare spot or patch of moist sand is likely to be enough.


4. Shelter

Butterflies need places to stow away at night, and to shelter from wind and rain during the day. Providing leafy shrubs and trees, plus not being excessively tidy are great ways to ensure butterflies have safe places to hide.

This video from University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension has some good ideas.

Other suggestions:

No two butterfly gardens will be alike. They will vary according to region, size and the individual taste of the gardeners. Make butterfly gardening a family project and don't be afraid to let your creativity run wild.

Consider recording your observations via a nature journal, photographs and sound recordings. You might even want to keep a blog or share on Instagram or Flickr to inspire other butterfly gardeners. The possibilities are endless!

Do you have a butterfly garden? Have you gardened with children? What tips would you share? Have you encountered any problems? What suggestions do you have to avoid them?

Be sure to check our Butterfly Gardening With Children links page for more activities throughout the week.




We have a lot of news today:

The good news this week is that the weather in many areas has begun to warm up. With the arrival of spring,  you may be thinking of gardening with children. The better news is Quarry Books has published Gardening Lab for Kids: 52 Fun Experiments to Learn, Grow, Harvest, Make, Play, and Enjoy Your Garden (Hands-On Family) by Renata Fossen Brown this month and it is just the book to have on hand to add enjoyment and depth to a child's gardening experience. The best news is that you have a chance to win a copy through our giveaway contest (see below)!

Before going any further, it is important to note that although the term "experiments" in the subtitle might suggest scientific trials or investigations, for this book "experiment" is actually used more in the sense of "to try something new."  Gardening Lab for Kids is a lovely collection of hands-on activities for children to do for every week of the year, from designing a garden and making seed tape, to planting a garden in a shoe, growing a pizza garden, and constructing a wind chime. In addition, children will certainly learn some science as they explore parts of plants, investigate soils, try out composting, and learn about watering.

Renata Fossen Brown is Vice President of Education at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, and her experience and resources show in the quality of the book. Each "Lab" is accompanied by color photographs of children doing the activity, a list of materials, step-by-step procedures written for children, and suggestions for extensions ("Dig Deeper!") Each activity is designed so that it could stand alone or be used as a series. Many of the activities can be done with limited space and use readily-available materials.

Gardening is a wonderful hobby for children because, as Brown writes, it gets them active and outdoors. It has many benefits, such as it helps children connect with their food, learn about nature, and explore their creativity. Gardening is an especially good project for kinesthetic learners, who always reap extra rewards from hands-on activities. Brown also alludes to studies that have shown that getting outdoors helps children develop focus.

With all the benefits, are you ready to "try something new" and do some gardening?  Gardening Lab for Kids has the ideas and instructions to get started today!

leaf-borderGiveaway Contest

Would you like to try to win a copy of Gardening Lab for Kids? Simply leave a comment on this blog post with a valid e-mail address (U.S. mailing addresses only, please) by May 5, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. A single winner will be selected at random from the comments and notified via e-mail. The giveaway contest is now closed.


Age Range: 5 - 12 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten - 6
Series: Hands-On Family
Paperback: 136 pages
Publisher: Quarry Books (April 1, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1592539041
ISBN-13: 978-1592539048

For more ideas, visit our Gardening/Science Activities for Kids Pinterest board and our recent posts for Children's Garden Week.


Disclosures: This book was provided for review by the publisher. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

If you are interested in children's nonfiction, you might want to visit the Nonfiction Monday blog and see what other new books bloggers have found.



Today we have another fabulous new children's STEM picture book, Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen.


What is there to learn about bird feathers? It turns out there is a wealth of information. You might already be familiar with how feathers help birds fly or how they keep water birds dry, but Melissa Stewart has found at least 16 different ways birds use their feathers. To make it easy for children to relate to and remember, she compares the uses to common human-made objects with similar purposes, like sunscreen and jewelry. The text with dual-layer format, with the easy-to-read main text in a large font, and sidebars on each page to fill in the informational details.


In the style of a nature journal, the watercolor illustrations look like you should be able to pluck them from the page. Nature lovers are going to want this for the illustrations alone.

It is time to think deeply about feathers with Feathers: Not Just for Flying. It would be a perfect gift for budding ornithologists, as well as a must have for a unit on birds.

Activities to extend Feathers:

Important Note: Although this book is likely to encourage you to observe feathers more closely, be aware that it is illegal to collect/possess bird feathers from most birds in the United States. The Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center (part of the USGS) has an explanation of the rules. You may, however, collect or purchase feathers from domestic birds, such as chickens and guinea fowl. If you are looking for feathers to use with a unit on birds, try craft supply stores.

 1. Author's Activities

Be sure to check out the Melissa Stewart's webpage for activities, as well as the story of how the book came about. The links in the right sidebar of her page will take you to:

  • Readers Theater (a play to read aloud)
  • Storytime Guide
  • Teacher's Guide (with Common Core standards)
  • Migration Math Activity
  • Draw a Bird Activity
  • Similes video mini-lesson

2. Learning about feathers


When we see a feather on the ground, it often looks like this. These are the wing and tail feathers that help the bird fly. For the most part they are smooth, with the individual parts (barbs) hooked together in a single layer.


Other times you may spot shorter feathers with a fuzzy appearance. These are likely semiplume or down feathers, which are involved in keeping the bird warm. The barbs are not locked together.


Some birds, like this mockingbird, also have feathers that are bristles. These may act like eyelashes or a cat's whiskers, helping the bird sense its environment or keep away pests.

To explore feathers:


  • Some chicken, duck or guinea fowl feathers -available from craft supply stores. Try to find a mix of as natural-looking feathers as possible
  • Magnifying lens
  • Scissors

First let the children free explore a few of the feathers. Ask them to use their senses. Are the feathers heavy or light? Are they soft or hard? What do they smell like? Do the feathers make any sounds? (Some do.) What colors are the feathers?

Now investigate the structure of the feather.

Parts_of_featherThis illustration from Wikimedia can help us learn some feather vocabulary.

Parts of a contour (body) feather:
1.    Vane
2.    Rachis
3.    Barb
4.    Afterfeather
5.    Hollow shaft, Calamus

Point out the harder part in the center, the rachis, and the branching barbs. See if the children can pull apart the barbs of a contour or flight feather with their fingers. Can they "zip" the barbs back together again?

Have the children look at the barbs with a magnifying lens. Can they see the tiny hooks, called barbules, that help keep the barbs zipped together? Now look at the fluffy afterfeather at the bottom. Does that have barbules? (Down feathers lack the barbules, which is why they don't lie flat).

Point out that birds need to be a light as possible to fly easily. Are feathers heavy? Use the scissors to cut through the rachis of a feather. Is it solid inside? Feathers are even lighter because the center of the rachis is hollow.

3. Bird craft

Now use the feathers to make a simple bird.

bird craft closer


  • Feathers (from previous activity)
  • Craft Pom Poms - 2 different sizes for head and body (at least one pair for each participant)
  • White glue
  • Chenille or bit of felt for beak
  • Fishing line (optional)
  • Scissors

Note:  white glue is slow to dry. Be prepared to set things aside for a few minutes between steps for best results or have an adult assemble using a hot melt glue gun.

1. Provide 2 craft pom poms for each child, a smaller one to serve as the head and a larger one to serve as the body. Have the children glue the head to the body with white glue and then set aside for a moment.

2. Now have the children choose feathers to serve as the wings and tail. Two smaller feathers of roughly the same size look good as wings and one longer feather serves as a tail. Clip a bit of chenille to fold into a beak or cut a wedge-shaped bit of felt to serve as a beak.

3. When the head/body poms poms are set enough to work with again, place white glue on the shaft of one feather chosen to serve as a wing and insert into the "body." Repeat with other feathers chosen to serve as the other wing and tail. Once again, you may want to place the growing bird aside to set up for a few minutes while you cut the fishing line. Then glue the beak to the head.

4. Optional:  Cut a section of fishing line about two feet long. Tie one end of the the line in a loop around the body. Allow the bird to dry completely and then the child may "fly" it. Tie to pole or similar object for a bird mobile.

bird craft flying

4. Start a nature journal/scrapbook

The format of this book is sure to inspire children to want to start a nature journal or scrapbook. Encourage children to record their findings by drawing, taking photographs, and writing down their observations.

Check our Nature Journal post for more details.

Edit: Anna also has a post about The Feather Atlas, which is a place to identify feathers, too.


Doing a unit on birds? We also have a list of books for young birdwatchers at Science Books for Kids.



Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen

Age Range: 6 - 9 years
Grade Level: 1 - 4
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Charlesbridge (February 25, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1580894305
ISBN-13: 978-1580894302

If you become very interested in feathers, here's an adult level identification guide:

Bird Feathers: A Guide to North American Species
by S. David Scott and Casey McFarland

Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Stackpole Books (September 3, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0811736180
ISBN-13: 978-0811736183


Disclosures: This children's book was provided for review by the publisher. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.


Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.