In our bug unit, 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
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. There are so many ideas to include in your possible samples:
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 glue on googly eyes.
Note: 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.
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, the 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 – you have to be fairly precise to get the fold to work well. 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. You just roll the wings up around the butterfly as shown here, and then you tuck the butterfly into a toilet paper roll “cocoon”.
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 trimmed part of the rim off a paper plate, and then cut the paper plate into triangles. Punch a hole in the tips of the triangles. Then you fasten with a brad, add antenna and a smile, and tape on pipe cleaner legs, or eggs made from the rim of the paper plate. 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 four year old students figured out it worked better to punch holes, and twist the antenna through them. I love getting ideas from my kids!
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)
I put our copy of Next Time You See a Pill Bug on the table with this activity.
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.
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.
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
I’d love to design a bug that would float on the surface of the water table. I’ve made some attempts with styrofoam and corks but have not yet succeeded.
Other 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.
Symmetry Coloring Page
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 usually do process oriented art, we do the occasional product activity. For this one, there were four steps:
- 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. Glue all your leaves on the paper.
- 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 the paper, 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.)
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.)
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.
Make a sample for kids to copy, where for an ant you do three fingerprints, then draw on 6 legs and an antenna. For a spider, you do two fingerprints and add 8 legs. For a caterpillar, you can put several prints in a row, then add antenna, etc.
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.
Sensory Table – Bug Sort
We buried plastic bugs in a sensory material. (We’ve used sand, oatmeal, and black beans and rice before. This year we used coconut coir fiber. Learn about it in our Seeds and Plants post.) Kids would un-bury the bugs, then sort them into three dishes: insect – 6 legs, arachnid – 8 legs, or myriapod – lots of legs.
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.
Catapult a Fly
We made craft stick catapults, glued a lid on the end (so we could set the fly there and it wouldn’t fall off). Then kids put plastic flies in the lid and launched them. They would often hit the ceiling!
Imaginary Play – 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.)
We brought in crickets and meal worms. (My daughter has a pet gecko that we care for while she’s at away 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.
Virtual Bug Zoo
On years when we don’t have real bugs, I bring a laptop where I’ve downloaded a bunch of good up-close insect videos from YouTube. I play them on a loop. Kids will come by and watch for a few minutes, then move on, just as they do with the real bugs.
We have also created a bug display where we’ve placed intact insect exoskeletons (i.e. dead bugs) in jewelry boxes, then covered them with saran wrap to discourage the kids from touching. We put them out with magnifying glasses. This year we had about 15 bugs on display, and 15 kids age 3 – 8 in the morning class, and 13 kids age 3 – 6 in the afternoon class, and only one time did a three year old poke a bug hard. Sadly, it was only one poke, but enough to destroy that specimen.
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 You could also bring in the Elefun game we used in Wind week, or combine the Elefun butterflies with the wind tube.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Large 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
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 Ideas Stick?
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?”