Here are some of my favorite animal life cycles to observe in the classroom, and some resources to make them even better!
Warning...be very careful as to the species of tadpole that you order. Some frogs have an extremely long tadpole stage, and your students won't be able to see the metamorphosis before the end of the school year! GrowaFrog.com has some kits that promise quick metamorphosis, or you can order tadpoles in different stages of their metamorphosis!
The Life Cycle Of A Frog is by Bobbie Kalman. She has several Life Cycle books and Children's Science books. I like her Life Cycle books becuase they have a lot of information on the animal, before even getting into the life cycle. It's 32 pages, includes a Glossary and Table of Contents, and lots of great photos of frogs! Learning Resources has a great Giant Magnetic Frog Life Cycle Set that has 9 large pieces! This would be a great activity for your Science Center! Safari Ltd. has a Life Cycle of a Frog set with 5 pieces. This set is great for allowing students to examine the different stages of the frog life cycle up close and hands-on! The Folkmanis Mini Frog Finger Puppet would also be great for retelling ~ puppets are super at ensuring student engagement!
My very favorite science activity is raising chicks in the classroom! I've done it every year I've been teaching, and it is the highlight of the year - the kids always remember how many chicks we had, their names and other details. This life cycle requires more expensive equipment than others, but its worth it! I usually get my eggs from local farmers via a Craigslist ad in the Farm section (please be careful when meeting or giving out personal information!) or by buying eggs off of EBay, but if you're lucky you might also have a an outreach program from a local university with an agriculture program that will provide fertilized eggs and even come do lessons on candling the eggs! Chick Life Cycle is a Science Vocabulary Reader with simple text and great photos. Count Your Chickens is a cooperative board game (meaning everyone wins or everyone loses) which I love for teaching 1-1 correspondence, turn taking and social skills. It also requires no reading, so it can be an independent Math Center activity for up to 4 students! I have a Hova-Bator Incubator that I've used for 7 years now - it is a great little incubator with an affordable price!
Where Do Chicks Come From? by Amy Sklansky is a great book with illustrations instead of photos. I like how it explains that the eggs that we eat can never hatch into chicks. It does refer to roosters and sperm, but in a very general way, without showing how fertilization actually occurs.
If you're tempted to order a butterfly garden and the live caterpillars, I advise you to check out your local Goodwill and garage sales first - you can often find the butterfly nets for very cheap! Next, instead of the caterpillars, I order butterfly eggs. We raise the plants that they will eat in our classroom so we can see the whole process - and the effects of insects on crops! I highly recommend that route rather than the caterpillars that eat the brown sludge - which is just confusing when you're teaching that caterpillars eat leaves! Carolina Biological has butterfly eggs, but depending on your state, you may find other sellers, just do a Google search! National Geographic Kids has a Level 1 Caterpillar to Butterfly book that is a great read for young learners, with detailed photos and lots of info on the butterfly life cycle! Pinkalicious fans will love Pinkalicious and the Little Butterfly - its a fiction story, but contain facts about the butterfly life cycle. Folkmanis also has a Reversible Monarch Life cycle puppet that is beautiful - your students will love to act out the life cycle with this puppet! Insect Lore has a Butterfly Life Cycle Stages set for hands on exploration that is plenty durable for a classroom setting.
I happen to love Praying Mantids, although they can be tricky to hatch in a classroom - some years I have great results and others the egg sac never hatches. I always make sure to have another life cycle going on at the same time, just in case we are disappointed by a dud egg sac. Also, praying mantids are cannibalistic, so when they hatch, they do tend to eat quite a few of their litter mates. My students weren't upset about that, but be ready for that eventuality. If you have your fruit flies ready and in plentiful supply, it will cut down on the cannibalism. Again, Folkmanis has an adorable Praying Mantis finger puppet that you can't go wrong with (do you sense how much I love puppets?!) Manuelo The Playing Mantis is a must-have fiction story to go along with your praying mantis unit - great illustrations, lovely story and incorporates music and instrument making! 20 Fun Facts About Praying Mantises is a non-fiction book full of great photographs too, while Praying Mantises (Animal Cannibals) is a great non-fiction text with glossary, index, fact boxes, and table of contents as well as photos.
You can also check out my Pinterest Life Cycle Board for more great resources! I also have a fun freebie for you - life cycle crowns! There's one for every life cycle mentioned in this post, plus one for plants!
My son Sullivan was my model for these ;P