Scribble-Bots – STE(A)M Project for Kids

A scribble bot is basically an out-of-balance motor attached to some drawing utensil. As the motor rotates, it vibrates, causing the drawing utensil to jiggle across the paper, making scribble marks. There are a lot of ways you could build one. Here’s a tutorial on the method we used with our class of 3 – 7 year olds with parent helpers. (Click on any picture for a bigger image.)

  • Turn a plastic cup upside down.Tape three colored markers to the outside of the cup, making a stable tripod. Align the markers so that the lids are just below the rim of the cup, and make sure the legs are an equal length.
    • Options: you could use popsicle sticks or other sticks for two of the legs, and only have one marker. You could use colored pencils or crayons, but they just don’t draw very well – the plastic cup is not heavy enough to put on enough weight to get a good mark out of these things that require some pressure to draw. Washable markers are your best bet. (We got permanent markers, because that’s all they had at the dollar store, and we had to buy 60 markers for our class so we needed them to be cheap. But, we came to regret the permanent marker choice….. tip: Purell or rubbing alcohol or alcohol wipes are great at getting permanent marker off tables, floors, and hands… not so good at getting it off clothes…)
  • Tape the battery pack on top. (Note, for most of this project, you can use masking tape, duct tape, scotch tape, glue gun – whatever you have. But if the tape might come in contact with electrical wires carrying current, use electrical tape there.)
  • Tape the motor on top so that the shaft on the motor is hanging off the edge of the cup.
  • Un-balance the motor. (This is necessary – if the motor is balanced and spins smoothly, the bot won’t wiggle around – it’ll just sit in place.) We used corks… use an icepick, nail, or something the right diameter to poke a hole into the cork about 1/3 of the way from the end on one side, then put the cork on the shaft of the motor.
  • Test for freedom of rotation… spin the cork around a few times. Can it rotate cleanly without banging into anything or getting blocked? If so, you’re good to go. If not, you need to adjust your design. (This project is a STEM engineering challenge, and often needs several steps of test something, re-do, test again to get it right.)
  • Decorate the bot as desired, with googly eyes, pompoms, pipe cleaners, etc.
  • Put down a BIG piece of paper (we covered a table in butcher paper). Take the lids off the markers. Set the bot on the paper, then connect the wires on the motor to the battery to complete the circuit, and off your bot goes!
  • Some bots work perfectly right away. Some don’t. (Remember, this is a STEM engineering challenge – it’s OK if it doesn’t work perfectly the first time – we learn from our mistakes and re-build!)
    • If it tips over on its side, you may need to spread out the legs a little more evenly to make the most stable tripod possible.
    • If it just stays in place and doesn’t wiggle around the paper, it’s because it’s too balanced. Take the cork off and re-mount it.
    • If bits fall off or the wires become disconnected by the jiggling, re-engineer a solution for the problem.
  • Here are videos of bots in action:

 

Where do you get your motor?

Some sources recommend taking apart an electric toothbrush, or a small fan. I wanted a 1.5 – 3 V motor and a single AA battery pack. Here’s what I found:

  • You could order a wiggle-bot kit from TeacherGeek. I was impressed with the high quality of the kit components, and also all the great downloads TeacherGeek offers, such as this overview, which includes Science Standards addressed with this project.
  • Teacher Geek also sells a small motor with leads, mount, and battery pack, which is quite nice quality with easy to use clips, for $3.00 each.
  • I ordered most of our supplies from Amazon. (Affiliate links follow.). I really liked these Motors with Alligator Clips, which were $18.95 for ten. (And Sci Supply offered great customer service. I’d accidentally placed a duplicate order, and they called me to check how many motors I wanted.) I used these Batteries and these Battery packs which were fine (cost 64 cents each), but had wire leads you had to clip the motor to. I preferred the battery packs from Teacher Geek which are 60 cents each, and have metal terminals you can easily clip the alligator clips to.

One note for clarification: A scribble bot does not meet our definition of a true robot (which we said has three parts – sensors, processor and actuator) or this definition on Galileo: essential characteristics include sensing, movement, energy, and intelligence, or even the Merriam-Webster definition of a device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks. It’s really just a motorized toy.

Additional resources on how to build a scribble-bot:

  • Scribble-bots video
  • Robots that Draw from art4edu. Clear directions, a nice set of questions on “can scribble bots make ‘art'”, photos, and video. They use a 4-battery pack – I found one battery was plenty of power for our motor.
  • Science Sparks’ How to Make a Scribble Bot. Instead of using a battery pack, they use a rubber band to hold the motor’s metal leads onto the battery, and a glue-gun gluestick instead of a cork to unbalance it. The body is a Pringle’s container… we prefer the plastic cups – having the edges that spread outward helps set your markers at an angle that makes for a very stable tripod.
  • Lemon Lime Adventures’ DIY Scribble Bot tutorial shows taping the markers to the inside of the cup – we found it was easier for kids to tape them to the outside, uses a clothespin instead of a cork to unbalance it, and tapes the leads to the battery pack (they turn the bot on and off by taking out a battery or putting it back in.
  • Red Ted Art’s Mini Robot is a wiggle-bot; it doesn’t scribble. It uses three toothhbrush heads for the legs, the motor is the body, and the battery is the head.

Bugs – Science for Kids

We studied Insects, Arachnids, and Myriapods. (Note, the word bug has a scientific meaning (below) but we used it like kids use it – to mean any little creepy crawly things.)

The Bug Factory

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On our biggest table we set out samples of multiple different kinds of bugs kids could make, and all the materials to make those bugs or any other bug they wanted to create. It included a poster that showed anatomy of an ant and a spider and examples of a few other kinds of bugs. Our samples included:

Model Magic bugs: Using Model Magic clay (learn more here), kids could roll three balls, squish them together till they stick, and then push in 6 pipe cleaner legs for the insect of their choice, or two balls with 8 legs for a spider or lots of balls and some antenna for a caterpillar. They could use sharpies to draw in details, or could add googly eyes. The air drying clay shrinks just a tiny bit as it dries, and I found the legs stayed attached to the ladybug with no problem, but as you can see a few of the spider legs got loose enough to fall out. So parents might need to glue some legs back in at home after the bug dries.

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Pom Pom caterpillars: Glue pompoms to a craft stick (or a clothespin). Add on googly eyes, or draw eyes, then twist on pipe cleaner antennas. (Instead of pompoms, you can also use glittery “jewels” or foam shapes.)

Fold Out Butterfly: This craft starts with a pom pom caterpillar. Then you tape on craft sticks so they can fold up against the caterpillars sides. So your caterpillar can grow, then spread its wings.

For the one of the left, this idea came from Danielle’s Place, where she has a great description of the steps for making it. We only suggested this one to our oldest kids (age 6 and 7) because it was over the head of our littlest ones (age 3 and 4). The wings accordion fold into a stack you can hide under the caterpillar. My co-teacher made this sample at home, where she only had blue masking tape. She used oil pastels to cover that with the drawing. Beige or white tape would work better.

The one on the right is a simplified version. To get the accordion fold to work, you have to be pretty precise… this other is a little easier, and you just roll the wings up around the butterfly as shown in the small pictures, which let you tuck the butterfly into a “cocoon” toilet paper roll.

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Paper Plate Roly Poly. Another idea from Danielle’s Place – check there for full directions. She recommends making it with triangles of cardboard, but we just cut a paper plate into triangles. Then you fasten with a brad, add antenna and a smile, and tape on pipe cleaner legs. This rolls up into a full circle like a roly poly bug does when you poke at it. Tip for the antenna… I’d been gluing them on, which wasn’t working great, but one of my six year old students figured out it worked better to punch holes, and twist the antenna through them. I love getting ideas from my kids!

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These bugs (which are not insects – they’re crustaceans) are very easy to find in many regions – just flip over an old piece of wood or a log and you may find some. You can learn more about them at Preschool Powol Packets. (Trivia: They’re also an interesting study in language variations in the US. Depending on where you’re from, you might call them a roly poly, a potato bug, wood louse, pill bug, or something else – see language map here: www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/staticmaps/q_74.html)

Next year, I want to at least bring pictures of one in with me, or I may capture some live ones to bring in for the bug zoo.

Magnetic Ants: Cut an ant shape from black paper. Add three brads, and fold them out to make 6 legs. These are to use with our picnic plate project below.

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Water strider: These are the bugs that “walk” on water. I really wanted to make a water strider that would float / stand on the surface of the water to play with in the water table. (This also ties into next week’s theme, which is Sink/Float, and where we may walk around a pond with water striders on it.) I made one with Styrofoam (from a takeout container) – I didn’t get a picture of it, but it was a bug body of Styrofoam, with pipe cleaner legs taped on the bottom, then 6 little Styrofoam feet glued on to the pipe cleaners (having big feet is not scientifically accurate…. water striders have little hairs on their legs that help them stay on the surface – the hairs capture air bubbles and repel the water). It floated fine… until a kid played with it and dunked it under the water… once the pipe cleaners got wet, they were heavy and it no longer floated. We tried making one with wine corks and toothpicks. We had hoped to cut up the cork to make feet, but that didn’t work – it might work with corkboard feet. Getting all the feet to line up on the same plane would also be important for making it float. This is our next challenge.

strider

Egg Carton Bugs: If you have egg cartons saved up… Kids can use one segment of the carton and pipe cleaners to make a daddy long legs, or two to make a spider, three to make an ant, 4 – 6 to make a caterpillar. You can paint them if desired. Just search Pinterest for “egg carton bugs” for lots of examples.

Butterfly Ideas: You could easily make the coffee filter butterflies that we did in rainbow week. If you’ve got kids for multiple days, you could also make clothespin and pompom caterpillars early in the week, and add the coffee filter wings a few days later. Another option for wings would be to use an iron to melt crayon shavings between layers of waxed paper for a stained glass look. There are more butterfly crafts here: www.the-preschool-professor.com/butterfly-crafts.html and here http://www.preschooleducation.com/abug.shtml

Arts and Crafts

A Rorschach Butterfly: cut out paper butterfly shapes. Fold them in half. Have kids paint on one half, then fold it in half, press together to transfer paint and open it up again to reveal the symmetry of the two sides.

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For children age 5 and older, a great symmetry-learning project is to design a coloring sheet where on one side you have shapes that the child colors in. On the other side, they have to figure out where to draw the shapes so they’re symmetrical and then color them in to match. Here’s a printable coloring page for you.

 

Butterfly Life Cycle: We often do more process oriented art, but I like to occasionally put out a product oriented project. There were four stages: cut out a green leaf. Add glue and some rice to be the eggs. Then cut out more green leaves, punch holes in them to be a chewed up leaf, then go to the bug factory and make a pompom caterpillar. Set the caterpillar on the leaf, but don’t glue him down. Then tape on a toilet paper tube to be the cocoon. (Or if you’re ambitious, make a paper mache or decoupage cocoon.) Then, go to the easel, and make a Rorschach butterfly. Bring it back and glue it on, just gluing the center so the wings can “flap”. (My five year old liked playing with this project interactively – he’d make the caterpillar nibble the leaves, then climb into the cocoon, then the caterpillar would come out and be the center of the butterfly, flapping its wings.)

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Bug antenna: We got Plastic Headbands – 36 for $7! Kids used pipe cleaners and beads to make antenna. (If you do a bug themed birthday party, this is a nice take home favor.)

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Paper Plate Picnics: Decorate a paper plate by drawing your favorite food. Then put on a magnetic ant from the bug factory. Hold a Magnetic Wand under the plate and make the ant run around on the food.

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Bugs at a Picnic: Print a picnic blanket design on a piece of paper. Put it out with a stamp pad and markers. Kids make fingerprint bugs all over the paper, using the markers to add features.

Other Activities

Sensory Table: Bug Sort: We buried plastic bugs in the sand (could also use other sensory materials). Kids would unbury, then sort them into three dishes: insect – 6 legs, arachnid – 8 legs, or myriapod – lots of legs.

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Spider Web: This is a simple big motor activity. Take a hula hoop or smaller plastic ring. Use tape to make a spider web. The spokes of the spider web should use the not sticky side of the tape facing out, the rings should have the sticky side facing out. (You can point this out to the kids… the spokes of a web and the center are generally made of a non-adhesive spider silk so the spider can walk on the web without getting stuck.)

Then throw cotton balls at it, pretending they’re flies who are flying around and get caught in the web. If a child throws and misses you say “hurray, the fly got away.” We’ve tried this in the past with pompoms, and they would often hit and not stick which was discouraging. (If you’re working with 5 – 7 year olds, you might get a good ratio of hits and misses, but with our little ones who don’t have great aim, we needed to make this easier.) Cotton balls stuck much better, although over time, they left fluff all over the tape which would eventually make it less sticky.

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Bug puppet show: We set up the puppet theatre and a variety of bug puppets. We have found that if we set up imaginary play stations but don’t provide any guidance, often they are ignored. But if one of the adults gets something started, the kids will then join in and then run with it and have a great time putting on their own plays and watching other kids’ performances. (Also, if you put a rug or pillows out in front of the stage, kids are more likely to sit and be an audience.)

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Bug Zoo: We brought in crickets and meal worms. (My daughter has a pet gecko that we care for while she’s at college – sigh, the long life expectancy of childhood pets…. so we always have these bugs at home.) You can also easily gather worms, snails, and maybe slugs (if it’s rained recently), or ants, or water bugs. Put them out with magnifying glasses, questions to guide observations, and books that let the kids learn more. You can also ask kids to gather and bring in specimens, but remind them to handle them humanely, put them in a container with air holes and a food source, and release them back into their habitat after class. (This year I didn’t have the time or energy to catch real bugs, so I downloaded a bunch of good up-close insect videos from YouTube, and played them on a laptop on loop. I worried the kids would turn into screen zombies… but they’d all check it out for a little while and move on.)

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Other theme related activities: We’re blessed to share a classroom with a preschool art program that’s had about 20 years to accumulate fun puzzles, games, and building toys, so we put some out each week. This time, we had the bug eye lenses Bug Eye lenses, Cooties, Butterfly Puzzle and Bug Dominoes

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Snack: You could do a dirt cup (chocolate pudding, crushed oreos, and gummy worms) or bugs on a log (use pretzels or celery as the log, spread on cream cheese or peanut butter or sunflower butter, then sprinkle on chocolate chips or raisins or dried cranberries to be the bugs.) Or pasta – see notes under more ideas below.

Outdoors:

We hid plastic butterflies and dragonflies out in the playground and went on a bug hunt. If you had butterfly nets, it would be even better.

You can do a real bug hunt by flipping over rocks and pieces of wood, looking in trees and so on. Try a tree shake – lay out a white sheet under a tree, then shake the branch for a few minutes and see what all falls out of the tree and onto the sheet.

More Ideas: As always, I have more ideas than we use….  Check out:

  • Marble painting spider webs: Take a cake pan. Cut black paper to put in the bottom. Dip a marble in white paint. Roll it to make a spider web.
  • Alphabet caterpillar: Cut out 26 circles of rainbow colors of paper. Write one letter on each. Cut out one more to be the caterpillar’s head with a face and antenna. Kids assemble the caterpillar pieces in alphabetical order.
  • Cricket noises. Put on a recording of cricket noises. Then explain how crickets make that noise and have kids try to replicate. The two methods I’ve see recommended are to rasp a nail file over the edge of a piece of cardstock, or rasp a comb over a stick.
  • A really simple butterfly life cycle is to use pasta for the stages: orzo or acine di pepe for the egg, rotini or penne for the caterpillar, conchiglie (shell pasta) for the chrysalis, and bowtie for the butterfly. You could also use these shapes to make a fun lunch.
  • Make beeswax candles.

Opening Circle

Demo: As kids slowly come in to circle room, we demonstrate some of the activities that they’ll find in the classroom. If you find there’s an activity which hasn’t quite caught kids’ attention during discovery time, this is a great time to show it to them and talk about it to encourage them to check it out after circle.

Gathering: We always have a song, book, or rhythm activity to get kids’ attention focused and help them settle down. We read The Very Hungry Caterpillar (see below), which many of them were familiar with and loved seeing at class.

Discussion: We talked about the life cycle of a butterfly. I explained that butterflies don’t actually spin cocoons, even though many things (like today’s book and today’s song) say that they do. Moths spin silk cocoons. Butterfly caterpillars shed their skins / exoskeletons as they grow like many (all?) insects. When they are ready to become butterflies, they spin some silk to help them hang from a branch, split their skin, and then some gelatinous stuff forms, then hardens into a jewel like chrysalis. (For a good illustration and discussion of this, see Rockwell’s Becoming Butterflies (details below). Some butterflies make a pouch of leaves and form their chrysalis inside there.

Big motor game: We pretended to be butterflies… first, curled up in little balls on the floor to be eggs, then popped out of our eggs, then crawled around on the floor, eating apples, strawberries, chocolate cake, and watermelon (like the Very Hungry Caterpillar). Then we curled up again as a chrysalis. Then broke free, spreading our wings slowly, fluttering them till they dried, then flying around the room. (Search on YouTube for “butterfly emerging” and you’ll find lots of videos of this process.)

Song: I found this song on https://kcls.org/content/caterpillar-caterpillar-crawl-crawl-crawl/  but I added the first verse and revised some of the words a little so they scanned better to the music. Done to the tune of Frere Jacques / Are You Sleeping. Optional: you could combine this with the movement game, and have the kids pretend to be each of these stages of the life cycle.

Caterpillar, caterpillar, curl, curl, curl, curl, curl, curl, curl up in your egg, curl up in your egg, curl, curl, curl, curl, curl, curl.

Caterpillar, caterpillar, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawling on a green leaf, crawling on a green leaf crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl.
Caterpillar, caterpillar eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eating leaves all day, eating leaves all night, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat.
Caterpillar, caterpillar, spin, spin, spin, spin, spin, spin, spin a silk cocoon, spin a silk cocoon, spin, spin, spin, spin, spin, spin.
[the scientifically accurate one would be something like: shed shed shed… shed your skin the chrysalis…]
Caterpillar, caterpillar, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep in your cocoon, sleep until you bloom, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep.
Caterpillar, caterpillar, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm from your cocoon, squirm from your cocoon squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm,
Caterpillar, caterpillar, fly, fly, fly, fly, fly, fly, you are not a caterpillar, you’re a big butterfly,  fly, fly, fly, fly, fly, fly

Closing Circle

Discussion: We talked about (and drew on the board) how many body parts and legs insects, arachnids, and myriapods have.

Game: How Many Legs? I would write a number on the board, then ask them for examples of what has that many legs. 6 – insects (their examples included ladybugs, ants, grasshoppers, etc.). 8 – spiders. 4 – their examples were all mammals – dogs, cats, cows, and so on. I added some reptiles and amphibians (lizards, frogs, etc.)  2 – they said humans (I pointed out we have four limbs like mammals) and birds. 0 – snakes, fish and various aquatic creatures, worms; 14 – roly poly, more than 20 – myriapods, and the stumper… 1 – clams and geoducks (from the family Pelecypoda) and snails. And, as my students all pointed out – Teacher Janelle. (That’s me. I’m an amputee and do in fact have one foot.)

Discussion: We labelled the body parts of the bugs we’d drawn. Insects have a head, thorax, and abdomen. Arachnids (spiders) have a cephalothorax (use this word with the kids, then explain that cephalo means head, and thorax means chest, so this is their head to chest part of the body) and an abdomen (belly). A very common misconception is that the legs are attached to the abdomen (which humans tend to think of as “the body” of the spider.) The legs are actually attached to the cephalothorax (what looks like the head to a human.) You will notice that MOST drawings of spiders and most plastic spiders get this wrong. Many drawings and plastic spiders actually only have one body part with all the legs coming out of it, daddy long legs style. (FYI, daddy long legs are not spiders, but they are arachnids – their cephalothorax and abdomen are fused together.)

Song: From Growing Up Wild book. to the tune of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

Head, Thorax, Abdomen; [touch head, chest, belly]
Head, Thorax, Abdomen.
Six legs, some wings, and an exoskeleton. [Touch legs, back, and then sweep your hands around your body]
Head, Thorax, Abdomen

Head, Thorax, Abdomen; Head, Thorax, Abdomen.
Big eyes, small size and two antennae too. [Point to eyes, then use fingers to show a small something, then wiggle fingers over your head as antenna]
Head, Thorax, Abdomen

Book: We read (with feeling!) Argh Spider!

Recommended Books (contain affiliate links)

  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Carle. An egg hatches, a caterpillar eats and eats, then spins a cocoon, then emerges as a beautiful butterfly. Just one of my favorite children’s books ever. The illustrations are nice, it’s fun and engaging, and somehow the pacing of it is absolutely perfect for a read-aloud children’s book. Aimed at ages 3 – 5, but the 6 and 7 year olds will have some nostalgia for it. Note, if your child loves this book, you may also want to check out Carle’s whole collection of “Very” bug books. Here’s how a book cover describes a few of them: “Caterpillar teaches the days of the week, counting and metamorphosis…  The Very Busy Spider is about barnyard animals and sounds, how a spider builds a web,… and about useful work and its reward. Very Quiet Cricket is about a cricket finding its voice, and about love and survival.”
  • Aaaarrgghh! Spider! by Monks. A lonely spider wants to be a pet, and does its best job to win over a family, who keep saying “argh! spider!” then “Out you Go!” Then the spider wins them over – there’s a lovely page with sparkly webs the spider has woven – and is a happy pet – until s/he brings over too many friends to play! It’s a really fun read-aloud. Also, at my parent education session that day, I had talked about emotional intelligence, and one suggestion I’d made to the parents is that when reading books, talk about the emotions of the characters – ask kids to notice expressions in the illustrations – ask “how do you think this character feels now?” And Argh Spider is a great book for illustrating just how this emotional literacy can be pulled into reading almost any great kids book. Good for ages 3 – 7.
  • Waiting for Wings by Ehlert. Big book with big bold illustrations makes it great for circle time reading. Nice engaging words, with a good rhyme and rhythm. Tells the story of caterpillars hatching, eating, making a case (chrysalis), and becoming butterflies. On the final pages, we see pictures of several different species, where it shows what food they eat, what the caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly look like. Good for ages 3 – 6.
  • Bug Safari by Barner. A child goes on a safari through a “bug-infested jungle”. He follows a trail of ants, and they pass by many other insects like dung beetles, green mantis, and spiders. The ants lead him back to his own base camp, where they’ve discovered the family picnic! Engaging story, fun illustrations, and good info. At the back of the book, there’s more details about each of the bugs seen. Recommended read-aloud for ages 5 – 7.
  • Ten Little Caterpillars by Martin and Ehlert. Another book featuring Lois Ehlert’s fabulous, vibrant illustrations – while not detailed naturalistic drawings, they definitely capture the essence of natural objects. I have to confess that when I read this, my first impression was that many of the caterpillars met a bad ending, and that maybe only number ten survived. I re-read it, and one through five were fine. Number 6 was carried off to school, number 7 met a hungry wren, the eighth was frightened by a hen, the ninth falls into the sea, right in front of a big hungry looking fish. I’m not sure whether or not these caterpillars survive those encounters – a kid might not have this question, but I notice it as an adult. Number 10 turns into a butterfly. And again at the back, there’s pictures of various caterpillars, butterflies and moths. Ages 3 – 5.
  • Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! by Barton.  Very bright, cheery illustrations. This could be a good book to put on the table at the bug factory, because if shows simplified versions of ladybugs, grasshoppers, bees and more. Fun circle time read-aloud for three year olds. The bonus  is the “bug-o-meter” chart in the back, which has 8 columns for 8 types of bugs, then 4 rows for “can it fly, where does it live, how man legs, and does it sting.” This was a great introduction to charts for my five year old, who figured them out quickly as I asked: “Can you tell me all the bugs that sting” and other questions.
  • Inch by Inch by Lionni. A story about an inchworm who saves himself from being eaten by a robin by saying “I am useful. I measure things.” And he goes on to measure the robin’s tail, flamingo’s neck, toucan’s beak, and onward, until the nightingale demands he measure her song. He inches away. Nice illustrations, nice engaging story. Would also be fun to include in a class on measuring. Ages 3 – 6, nice read-aloud.
  • Becoming Butterflies by Rockwell and Halsey. If you’re planning to get a Live Butterfly Kit, then I would absolutely get this book. It tells the story of a preschool teacher bringing caterpillars into the classroom and the children watching them through the process of hungry caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly and then releasing them. Ages 5- 7, unless you’ve got your own live caterpillars, in which case I think 3 – 4 year olds would engage in this book even though it’s longer than their typical attention span.
  • Life Story of a Ladybug by Guillain. A non-fiction book – the words are best for ages 5 – 7. But the photos are great for any age. Great colorful up close photos. I like that this shows the life cycle of a ladybug from egg to larva to pupa to adult . I think almost all preschool kids learn about the life cycle of the butterfly (and sometimes moths) but we rarely teach them that other insects go through a similar series of changes.
  • Those Amazing Ants by Demuth and Schindler. Ages 6 – 7. A non-fiction book about ants, which summarizes lots of good information in an engaging, story-telling way. Great “up close” illustrations of ants. Shows life cycle of ant, from egg to worm to adult.
  • Bugs Are Insects by Rockwell. A detailed non-fiction, for ages 6 – 7. Discusses anatomy of insects and how to tell insects from arachnids. It defines bug, saying “we sometimes call insects bugs.. a bug is an insect with a mouth like a beak and a head that forms a triangle” like stinkbugs, bedbugs and water striders.
  • Chirping Crickets by Berger and Lloyd. A non-fiction book which tells the science of crickets in an engaging way. Ages 6 – 7.

 

Videos and Apps

  • Caterpillar Shoes: Ok, the caterpillar is sharing its shoes with all the other bugs, so that part is completely scientifically inaccurate. But this is a terribly cute video and does introduce lots of different kinds of bugs.
  • What is an Insect is a nice 2 minute video about the basic science of insects explained at a preschool level.
  • Crickets, Insects and Reptiles. Good if you can stand the perky host…
  • All About Bugs is another nice video, though the speaking style is a little slow and overly enunciated. But the nice thing is that it has captions. If you have a child who reads, I like captions they can read along with as literacy practice.

Most bug apps are about smashing bugs, killing bugs, and wars on bugs. There’s a Very Hungry Caterpillar app – a free version and a $3.99 version. I’ve only spent a few minutes with it, but it’s a nice educational game with a quiet peaceful tone – appears good for a 3 or 4 year old. I’m testing out Bug Village, which is about building bug villages.

What Sticks?

In the days since class, my 5 year old has been very aware of the insects in our life… last night he spent 15 minutes watching the anthills outside our garage, and this morning, he wanted to walk to the “bee bush”, a flowering bush near our house that bees are always surrounding this time of year. When a flying ant landed on our picnic table, he could name the body parts, counted the legs to verify there were six, and said “look, it has wings… remember how you said in class that most ants don’t have wings, but some do?”

Model Magic Clay

If you’re not familiar with Model Magic air dry clay, I have to say it’s one of my favorite materials to work with. Not unpleasant to touch (like Sculpey) or to smell (like Play-Doh), and extremely malleable. It’s a very forgiving material when you’re working with it. It doesn’t start getting dry and crumbly while you work, it doesn’t stick to or stain your hands. It takes about 24 hours for creations to dry, and has to be handled carefully during this time so it doesn’t get squished flat, but after that, it’s pretty durable. Really easy to mix colors – I find them one of the most effective ways to illustrate color mixing for kids… you’ll see in the picture below that the blue and yellow blend together completely to make a nice pure green. (Color mixing tip: put two colors together then twist then fold. Repeat till mixed. The twisting really mixes them well).

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Examples: I used Model Magic to make a model of the Earth’s layers and a model of the solar system to use in class demos. We use them for fossil impression in Dinosaur week or shell impressions in Sink or Float week, and to make insects in Bug week.

 

It is much cheaper in bulk. If you buy a small package with 6 half-ounce packets, it’s $6 – that’s $2 an ounce. I bought 75 one-ounce packs 75 one-ounce packs for $39. That’s 52 cents an ounce. (It also comes in several other sizes.)

You need to make your items pretty small for them to dry effectively. This is not a good product for big sculptures, but fine for little things – like bugs. The balls for the spider were about the size of shooter marbles, the balls on the caterpillars were smaller than marbles, but bigger than peas. I didn’t keep track of how many bugs we could make with one ounce of clay, but I’d guess four?

Skeletons

We have done this topic as a stand-alone unit near Halloween, and also combined it with Bugs (and Exoskeletons).

Key concepts: The skeleton creates a structure for our body.
1) Having long, strong bones helps us to stand up and to carry things.
2) Our skull and ribcage help to protect our fragile organs.
3) Our joints allow us flexibility.

We don’t present these concepts to the children at the start of class. We first present them with activities to explore hands-on so they can discover ideas and make connections on their own. (See my post on class structure.)

So, in this post, I’ll first share our activities with you, then at the end, I’ll talk about how we discuss these concepts during opening circle and closing circle.

Engineering Projects

Build a Cardboard (Or Straws) Finger or Hand. Here’s a post describing this in a detailed tutorial.

  

Build an elbow joint. You can also make a paper or cardboard arm to show the lever action of the elbow joint, as seen in our Levers class.

Art Projects:

Pasta skeletons: We had drawings of simple stick figures, glue, and pasta (penne, elbow macaroni and bow ties). You can see some of the results on the right. We discovered it would have been better to do these on cardboard, or at least cardstock, as the pasta is very heavy, and it’s hard to carry a piece of floppy paper with pasta glued all over it. Instead of doing the stick figures, another option would be to have pictures of various skeletons or x-rays (snakes, dogs, people) and let children design whichever skeleton they want. (We do a similar project in our Dinosaurs class.)

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Hand x-rays: We had black paper hands, Q-tips we’d cut into halves (or straws cut short), and glue. Children glued on bones. Make a sample for kids to copy, but also have an x-ray of a hand so children really see what they are creating.

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Almost Unschoolers has a fun idea of helping the children feel where the bones are on their hands, then painting their hands where they can feel the bones, then pressing their hand onto the black paper, making a handprint of their bones that looks a lot like an x-ray.

Build skeletons to support a salt dough body: The idea was: Using salt dough and toothpicks (you could also use wooden coffee stirrers cut short), build a skeleton, then build the body on top of it. Children used the materials in a wide variety of ways, none were quite what we’d expected / planned. Would be worth trying again with a sturdier building material for the skeletal structure and a lighter weight substance to coat it with.

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Puzzles and Sorting Games:

Skeleton puzzle: We printed the skeleton found here: www.gamescraftscoloring.com/crafts/halloween_skeleton.htm then laminated it and cut it apart. Children could assemble it on the floor.

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Sorting: We put out two dishes labeled skeleton and exoskeleton, and a collection of plastic animals and insects and had the children sort them.

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Science experiment: We considered trying to dissolve chicken bones in Coca-Cola (search online for more discussion of this, or just look at one kids’ experiment: http://schools.dcsd.k12.nv.us/zces/kixmiller/class/dkixmiller/%602012/www/a/Gabriela/ScienceFair.htm. But, we were concerned about health issues of raw chicken bones.

There’s also the naked egg experiment we did for eggs week of dissolving an egg shell in vinegar (http://www.science-sparks.com/2012/12/24/how-to-get-an-egg-yolk-without-cracking-the-egg/). The idea behind both of these experiments is that acidic things (coke, vinegar) dissolve calcium. There’s a great description of how to do a week-long experiment with this with your kids at home: http://littlewondersdays.blogspot.com/2012/03/disappearing-egg.html

In class, we knew we wouldn’t see the full effects in a couple hours of class, but wanted to introduce the idea, so we had egg shells, vinegar, and pipettes and eye droppers. The kids placed eggshells in a cup and dripped vinegar on them. In the morning class, the vinegar fizzed all around the eggshells, so you could see a reaction happening. For some strange reason, in the afternoon class, we got no reaction at all… But the kids still enjoyed playing with pipettes and eye droppers.

Free Play:

ZOOB: We had a construction toy out, called ZOOB.  The connections are basically balls that pop into sockets – somewhat like a ball joint – like our shoulders and hips. We put them on a table with Wood Artist Manikins which kids could use to explore how joints work, then build joints with the Zoob. (I’d love to have a Manikin Hand too)

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A note about Zoob: I have to say that if I was buying construction toys for home and had limited space and budget, Zoob would not be my first choice construction toy, as I find they’ve got some big limitations on what you can do with them. But, if your child already has lots of experience with other building toys, these offer an intriguing new set of challenges.

Sensory tub: we buried plastic insects under lentils: “find the exoskeleton.”

Book Recommendations:

As always, we get several books from the library to put on the shelf, but only read a few of them in class. Here are some of this week’s books:

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  • Dem Bones by Barner has great illustrations, and the words of the song (a spiritual from about 100 years ago that’s very fun to sing) , but it also has information about each of the bones, like it talks about how the ankle bone helps us bend, flex, and climb stairs. When we read it in class, while I sing out the verse (“the foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone”), I point to that bone or joint on me and encourage them to examine their own bone or joint (like flexing and swiveling the ankle joint) as I read the additional facts about that bone. After we read all the way through, we sing the song as I flip through the book. It’s a fun and memorable way to learn about skeletons. Note, the lyrics in the book end with the traditional “Hear the Word of the Lord”. If that’s not appropriate for your setting, you can adapt to “Doing the Skeleton Dance.”bones
  • Bend and Stretch: Learning About Your Bones and Muscles by Nettleton is a nice non-fiction book, that would be a great educational book about how the body works for kids age 5 – 7 or so. Sample text: “Inside of your body, you have a skeleton made of bones. Bones are strong and hard. Bones help hold your body upright.” “Muscles attach to bones on each side of a joint. The muscles stretch and shrink as the joint is straightened and bent.”
  • Skelly the Skeleton Girl by Jimmy Pickering. Fiction, age 4 – 6. If you like the art style / humor of Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline, you would like this book. Some might find it a little creepy. Tells the story of a girl who finds a bone and asks all her monsters if it’s theirs, then discovers it belongs to a skeleton dog.
  • My Spine by Rena. Non-fiction. Helps kids age 5 – 7 clearly understand what the spine is and what it does for us. Example text: “Why can my spine move so easily? It’s like beads on a string… the whole string of beads can move around a lot….. My spine is made of five parts. Each has its own job… the part by my chest keeps my ribs in place. The ribs in your rib cage protect your heart.”
  • The Skeletal System by Kay Manolis and Your Skeletal System Works! by Flora Brett are both good non-fiction with good images – for ages 7 – 9 Skeletal System by Sarah Tieck would be better for 6 year olds.
  • Skippyjon Jones and the Big Bones by Judy Schachner. Here’s the Amazon review. “Holy guacamole! Skippyjon Jones is crazy-loco for dinosaurs! The kitty boy enters (via his closet) the land of dinosaurs in search of the fabled Skipposaurus. Instead he runs into his old amigos, the Chimichango gang. When a T-Mex threatens the pack, it’s El Skippito, the great sword fighter, to the rescue. With yips and yowls, he drives the big baddie away, so all the dino-dudes can rattle their bones another day.” Kids like it because it’s kind of wild and crazy. I don’t like it. My co-teacher feels like there are racial stereotypes some people may find offensive.

Opening Circle:

Reminder… our key concepts are:

1) Having long, strong bones helps us to stand up and to carry things.
2) Our skull and rib cage help to protect our fragile organs.
3) Our joints allow us flexibility.

What are bones? Especially for our little ones (age 2.5 – 4) we needed to ground them in what bones are and what a skeleton is. (I asked during little kids’ circle: “who here has a skeleton?” and one child raised her hand.) You can have them touch their cheek and feel how soft it is, then touch their jawbone or cheekbone and ask them to notice how hard it is. (If you have a skull model or picture of a skull, point out these bones.) Then have them feel their arms or hands and notice more bones.

Why are bones helpful – they help us stand and carry things. Talk about it, but also show it. One way to demo concept # 1 is to fill one glove with water or flour, and another glove with a “bony” hand made of popsicle sticks, and with water or flour. (As shown in this post on Pink and Green Mama.) I made our bony hand with a jar lid and five short colored pencils taped on, then tucked in a glove filled with kinetic sand. They can explore how floppy and useless the boneless hand is, then feel how sturdy the hand with “bones” is. Have them try holding a small book (or a wooden block) with the floppy fingers – the book falls to the ground. Then hold it with the firm fingers.

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How do bones protect us? You can talk about how the rib cage protects the heart and lungs, and the skull protects the brain (concept #2). We didn’t cover this specifically, but I bet you could do something with inflated balloons as the lungs. Have them blow air into a balloon (like the balloon is taking a deep breath). Easy, right? But what if you were out working, and something heavy fell on your chest? (Now lay a hand on the empty balloon, squishing it flat, and ask them to blow it up again. (Have the balloon take a breath.) It can’t inflate. Then protect the balloon inside a box or something to represent the rib cage. Now put the hand on the box… the box stays firm, the balloon isn’t squished… you can blow it up.

Note: After I wrote that, I noticed that in the Pink and Green Mama post I linked to above, she gives this intriguing, but low in detail description of how she explained this concept: “We saw how our lungs fill up with air and are protected by a ribcage. We saw how helmets protect our brains and heads. And we smashed stuff. Lots of balloons and also a giant ice alien brain.”

Exoskeletons You could also cover exoskeletons, and how insects and crabs have their hard skeletons on the outside to protect their soft squishy insides. (It would be great to have a crab shell or lobster claw or something for this discussion.) Talk about how exoskeletons inspired some human inventions. we showed pictures of armor from a variety of historical cultures, and we also showed modern invented “exoskeletons” that help people do hard labor or help people with physical disabilities walk or lift things. Learn more: www.infoniac.com/hi-tech/top-10-robotic-exoskeletons.html

Conclusions Circle

We first talked about all the things we had discovered and explored about bones and skeletons during discovery time, opening circle, and tinkering time. Then we added a new concept: joints.

How do joints help us? Go back to your hand made of pencils and sand/flour. It can hold up a book or a block. But, can it pick up a small object (like a cheerio)? No, because it has no joints. To help them further understand why joints matter, take long poster tubes or wrapping paper tubes, and slide them over the child’s arm (as shown in this post on Growing Little Scientists, which also has LOTS of other great ideas about teaching bones and joints). This locks their elbow joint straight. Now have them try to scratch their head.

If you’ve already talked about simple machines, and did the activity showing how the arm is a lever, you might remind them of that.

We had several wooden artists’ manikins, so we passed them around for kids to explore. I encouraged them to notice: how does the manikin’s elbow bend? Is this like your elbow? How does its shoulder move? Is this like your shoulder? Is it like the Zoob toys we played with? Then I posed a manikin and asked them to do the same thing with their body that the manikin was doing (lift one arm up, put both hands forward). Then we did it the other way… I did a motion and asked them to copy it with the manikin.

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We then sang Dry Bones as a fun wrap-up to the day.

photo credit: artist manikin Exuberance_6491 via photopin (license)  Zoob: http://www.myfreeproductsamples.com/free-kids-samples/building-modeling-with-zoob-event-at-barnes-noble/