Teaching the Kono Butterfly Kite

Level: Primary (K-2)
Grade from: K
Grade to: 3
Length: 1-6 sessions, including student readings, kite making, and kite flying. Sessions can be taught in a different order, with some combined or omitted. The kite alone can be constructed in 40 minutes (minimal decoration and no flying time).
Cultural Studies Integration:


These readings and activities introduce basic vocabulary and techniques for making and flying a kite. They also profile the life and skills of a kite maker. Students construct the simple kite pictured.

The sequence in which they can be presented is flexible. For example, students may work on one reading per week over the course of three weeks (or one reading per day over three days), then decorate, make and fly their kites in one longer session. Or the sequence could be: reading about making a kite; students’ decorating and making their kites; reading about flying a kite; students’ flying their kites; reading about the kite maker as a culminating activity.

Curriculum Integration: 

Science: understands simple properties of common natural and manufactured materials and objects; observes and describes characteristics of a living organism; understands that things are made of parts that go together; knows that living things are made of small parts; understands how to ask a question about objects, organisms, and events in the environment; knows that pushes and pulls can change the motion of common objects; understands that weather conditions change from season to season; knows how knowledge and skills of science, mathematics, and technology are used in common occupations; understands how well a design solves a problem. Note: readings and activities integrate with such Primary science modules as: Insects (FOSS); Animals Two by Two (FOSS); The Life Cycle of Butterflies (STC); Butterflies and Moths (Delta).

Mathematics: understands meaning of addition and subtraction (cutting and taping tail pieces; more or fewer depending on wind conditions); understands attributes to describe and compare objects; understands concept of symmetry; estimates length using non-standard units.

Social Studies: locates places and cultural regions using maps and globes; identifies choices individuals have in how they interact with the environment; describes personal changes that occurred over time; explains the role of family in society; identifies goods and services in a community.

Visual Arts: identifies line direction, free-form shapes, and textures; uses art tools and materials safely and appropriately; applies a creative process in the arts; identifies personal aesthetic choices; identifies career roles in the arts.

Language Arts: uses context to predict and confirm meaning of unknown words; uses new vocabulary from informative/expository test; identifies important parts of informative/expository text; understands simple organizational structure of text; explains connections between self and characters and events encountered in culturally relevant text; reads to learn new information; reads to perform a task; writes for different purposes; writes in a variety of forms/genres (answers to questions).

Cultural Integration: North America (Asian American emphasis possible)


Student Reading: Making a Kite (PDF file)

Extension Activities: Making a Kite: Writing & Discussing (PDF file)

Student Reading: Flying a Kite (PDF file)

Extension Activities: Flying a Kite: Writing & Discussing (PDF file)

Student Reading: Meet the Kite Maker: Greg Kono (PDF file)

Extension Activities: Meet the Kite Maker: Writing & Discussing (PDF file)


Student Reading: Flying Fish and Radishes! Plant & Animal Kites by Greg Kono (PDF file)

Extension Activities: Flying Fish and Radishes!: Writing & Discussing (PDF file)

Purchase Kite Kits: Kono Butterfly Kite Kit (with paper pattern, spars, flying line & winder), per student

Materials You Supply: Scissors; Scotch tape; markers, pens, crayons, and/or watercolors, per student

Session One: Student Reading/Activities (30-45 minutes)

Use the reading Making a Kite to introduce kite vocabulary and concepts, specifically variety in materials for making kites and the need to match materials to different winds. Extension activities (estimating lengths; culturally various kites; characteristics of materials) provided.

Session Two: Student Reading/Activities (30-45 minutes)

Use the reading Flying a Kite to introduce basic concerns and techniques in flying a kite, including being safe and partnering with the wind. Extension activities (wind vocabulary and experiences, kite-eating tree; proverb) provided.

Session Three: Student Reading/Activities (30-45 minutes)

Use the reading Meet the Kite Maker: Greg Kono to introduce materials and tools of kite design and to discuss how personal experience and study contribute to the development of job skills. Extension activities (map skills; role of family; cultural background) provided. Or use the reading Flying Fish and Radishes! Plant & Animal Kites by Greg Kono to extend a discussion of materials and themes in kite design and different ways in which art objects are displayed.

Sessions Four - Six: Decorating, Constructing, and Flying the Kono Butterfly (90-120 minutes)

This lesson can be divided into two or three shorter sessions: cutting out and decorating the sail; constructing the kite; flying the kite.

Follow assembly instructions from the kite kit or from a video.

Cutting and taping the tails will take the most time for young students. Teachers/ adult helpers can speed this process with a paper cutter.

Remind students that large, bold, colorful designs will be more readily visible in the sky. Tails can also be decorated.

Decorating the kite sail can be integrated with more sustained visual arts instruction in: free-form shape; primary and secondary colors; symmetry in design.

Take extra tails and spars, plus tape, to the flying field for repairs or additions in heavy winds.

Additional Resources: 

Butterflies are such an attractive subject of study for young children that the sheer number of resources is overwhelming. Most trade science series for young readers include a title on butterflies or butterflies and moths. A comparatively recent addition: The Life Cycle of a Butterfly by Bobbie Kalman, part of a “Life Cycle” series from the reliable Crabtree Publishing (2002), showcases nineteen species. Aimed at older readers, but with good photographs for all ages: The Life Cycles of Butterflies by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards (2006) highlights in images the entire life cycle of twenty-three garden-variety butterflies common to the eastern USA . Butterflies of the World by Valerio Sbordoni and Saverio Forestiero (1998) is a comprehensive resource for the serious lepidopterist, but its pictures (125 color plates, many almost life-size) would interest students of all ages; The Butterfly Handbook by Lee and Jacqueline Miller (2003) includes more than 500 color photographs. For a fictional perspective on the life cycle, use Eve Bunting’s Butterfly House (1999) or the beautiful Where Butterflies Grow by Joanne Ryder, with illustrations by Lynne Cherry (reprinted 1996).

Teachers beginning to investigate this subject will find many helpful suggestions in Butterflies Abound! A Whole Language Resource Guide for K-4 by Seddon Kelly Beaty and Irene Fountas (1992). The authors build their unit around the fall passage of monarch butterflies, which they compare to the return of students each fall to school (“Let the monarch stand as a symbol of determination and hard work for your students as they embrace this new school year.”) Language arts suggestions (concrete poems; acrostic poems; innovated poems) are especially extensive. Thanks to first grade teacher Leslee Shepler of Lockwood Elementary, Bothell , WA for this suggestion.

Almost every culture that values kites produces some version of a butterfly kite. Kites: Magic Wishes That Fly Up to the Sky by Demi (1999) tells a story of the origin of kites in China : among the kites pictured in this writer-illustrator’s exquisitely detailed style are butterfly kites, symbolic of love. Made in China by Deborah Nash (2004) features a papercut butterfly finding her way around China . For butterflies (though not butterfly kites) from another part of the world, see Isabel’s House of Butterflies by Tony John ston, with illustrations by Susan Guevara (2005), in which a poor family in Michoacan, Mexico struggles with how to save a tree to which monarch butterflies migrate each year.

To inspire students who can spend time to design their butterfly kite sails, bring to class any of a number of recent publications that emphasize the color and pattern of butterflies’ wings. A World of Butterflies (2004), with color photographs by Kjell Sandved, is a small, thick book (easy for small hands to hold); Butterflies in Flight by Roger Camp (2002) pulls out in accordion-fold pages, which show off almost 300 species in an “art book of nature.” Renowned digital photographer Rick Sammon adjusted lighting in the field in order to portray butterflies as Flying Flowers (2004; he has also released a 2006 calendar of Butterfly Wings); another noted nature photographer, Gilles Martin, worked with Myriam Baran to produce Butterflies of the World (2006).

For a project that marries science with visual arts and language arts, read about Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), a German artist who specialized in painting butterflies and moths and traveled to Surinam in search of them, at a time when few scientists, let alone women, were undertaking such explorations. Her story can be found (teacher read-aloud for primary students) in Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists by Jeannine Atkins (2000).

In cyberspace, FOSSWEB answers many questions about butterflies in its “Ask a Scientist” pages, at http://www.fossweb.com/modulesK-2/Insects/ask.html. It also recommends http://teacher.scholastic.com/researchtools/articlearchives/bugs/butterf..., “Answers to Kids’ Questions about Butterflies.” For many links to photographs of butterflies, see http://www.butterflypictures.net. The South Huntington School District in New York provides a very useful, annotated list of sites at http://www.shuntington.k12.ny.us/curr_resources/butterflies/butterflysites.html.

Related Past Projects: 
Kite Curriculum Project