Caterpillars are usually a big favorite of first graders. Of course, there's the amazing transformation they undergo to become a beautiful butterfly, but that requires a long wait. For most kids, it doesn't get any better than the immediate pleasures of those weird creepy crawlies. This experiment gives your young scientist the opportunity to learn how much of a leaf a caterpillar can eat in one day. And in the process, it will teach her some important steps in that time-honored process, the scientific method.
What You Do:
- To begin this activity you and your first grader must first go on a hunt outside to find a hungry caterpillar and a leaf. Once you've found him, place the caterpillar in the box.
- Have your child place the leaf on the graph paper and trace around the leaf with one of the markers.
- Put the leaf in the box with the caterpillar. Be sure to close the lid of the box.
- Use the white paper to complete a “Before/After” activity. Have your child give a hypothesis (or guess) by completing the following sentence: Hypothesis: A caterpillar can eat between ___ and ____ square centimeters of a leaf in one day. You may need to explain to her that square centimeters are simply the boxes of the graph paper. How many boxes of the leaf does she think the caterpillar is going to eat in one day?
- Have your child draw a picture of the caterpillar in the box at this time with the uneaten leaf to document this stage in the experiment.
- Wait until the same time the next day to take the leaf out of the box to examine.
- Have your child place the leaf over the graph paper tracing she made of the leaf from the day before so that both the leaf and the tracing are lined up. Using the other color marker, have your child trace around the places where the leaf has been eaten.
- Have your child use the marker to color in the spaces to show how much of the leaf is now gone.
- Assist your child in counting the number of squares that are in the area that the caterpillar ate. A square that is more than half covered should be counted as a whole square. However, if a square is less than half covered, do not count it at all. Tell your child that this is what is called an "estimate."
- Discuss with your child how much the caterpillar ate in one day and the difference between the amount the caterpillar ate and your child's hypothesis.
- Finally, have her complete the “Before/After” activity by drawing a picture of the caterpillar in the box with the eaten leaf and complete the following sentence: Result: The area of the leaf eaten by the caterpillar was ___ square centimeters. My hypothesis was_____.
Afterward, she may want to complete this experiment with other insects as well to find out which one eats the most in one day. Don't forget to put your caterpillar back in his home outside where you found him once you and your child have finished the experiment!
Victoria Hoffman, M.A. Teaching and Leadership, is an elementary school teacher, writer and mother from Leonardtown, Maryland. She has taught grades K-5 in both regular and special education classrooms.