Bugs – Entomology at Home

Let’s talk about Insects, Arachnids,  Myriapods, Crustaceans, and Annelids. All the little creepy crawly things kids call bugs.

I have another post dedicated to all the fun bug-themed crafts we make in our Bug Factory and another post on Life Cycle of the Butterfly Crafts. This post focuses on other fun kid activities about bugs.

Nature Observation

Outdoors – Bug Hunt:

You can do a bug hunt by flipping over rocks, lifting up pieces of rotting wood, looking in trees and so on. Try a tree shake – lay out a white sheet (or white paper) under a tree, then shake the branch for a few minutes and see what all falls out of the tree and onto the sheet. Go outside in the early morning dew or after a rainstorm to see if any worms or slugs are out and about. (You could also do a pretend bug hunt by hiding plastic bugs or paper bugs for your child to find.)

Bug Zoo:

It’s interesting to observe live bugs in action. You can catch bugs in the wild: gather worms, snails, and maybe slugs (if it’s rained recently), or ants, or water bugs. If you’re only going to observe for a brief period, you could put them in any clear container with a lid. If you’ll have them in there for more than a few minutes, punch small holes in the lid for air. If you’ll have them for more than a few hours, have water and food available for them. We want to be sure we’re teaching kids to be respectful of all life.

You can order butterfly kits with live caterpillars, or live ladybugs. You can go to a pet store and buy crickets, fruit flies, or meal worms. (They’re sold as food for reptiles and amphibians, so should be available for curbside pickup even in places with coronavirus restrictions on retail.) If you purchase any of these critters, try to check to see if they’re native to your area (and thus can be released into the wild when you’re done with them.) Or share them with a reptile owner you know.

For the bug zoo, provide magnifying glasses, questions to guide observations, and books that let the kids learn more.

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Virtual Bug Zoo

You can also, of course, find countless bug videos on YouTube. (Or look on National Geographic’s website or Ranger Rick.) Videos give kids a chance for an up close view of the bugs while the narrator teaches about the science.

Bug Museum

You could also create a bug display where you placed intact insect exoskeletons (i.e. dead bugs) in jewelry boxes. You and your child could make signs together with information about that bug. Put the display out with magnifying glasses.

Live Bug Study

If you have live bugs, set up a clear container, where one end is wrapped in dark paper to make it dark, and the other is not wrapped so the light comes in. Place the bug inside. Does it like the light area or the dark? Put in some objects (crumpled paper balls will do) – does the insect interact with it – climb on top of it? hide underneath it? Put some sand paper in – does the bug go on the scratchy surface, or avoid it? Put in a moist paper towel – does the bug go there, or avoid it?

Make a worksheet so your child can document their results: Something like: “Based on your observations, circle one answer for each question:

  • Do bugs prefer: light or dark?
  • Do bugs prefer wet or dry areas?
  • Do bugs prefer smooth plastic or rough sandpaper?”

Sensory Play – Bug Sort

You can bury plastic bugs in a sensory material. (We’ve used potting soil, sand, oatmeal, black beans and rice before. This year we used coconut coir fiber. Learn about it in our Seeds and Plants post.) Kids un-bury the bugs, then sort them into three dishes: insect – 6 legs, arachnid – 8 legs, or myriapod – lots of legs.

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Active Play – Spider Web

web2This is a simple large 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 (or pompoms, or wadded up paper) at it, pretending they’re flies who are flying around and get caught in the web. (For 3 – 5 year olds, I usually use cotton balls as they stick easily. For older kids, I use pompoms, because you have to throw a little more accurately and with more force to get them to stick.) If you have a child who you think might get discouraged if they miss a lot, then when they throw and miss, you can say “hurray, the fly got away!”

Engineering: 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! If you don’t have plastic bugs, you can launch pompoms, cotton balls, pipe cleaner bugs… whatever you want to call a bug for the game.

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Snack Ideas

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 do a pasta life cycle of the butterfly: 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.

Anatomy Lesson

Teach that: 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). (Source of illustration.)

anatomy

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.)

You can ask your child: What is an insect? What is an arachnid? What do they have in common? (small, exoskeletons, lay eggs, etc.) How are they different? (body parts, number of legs)
Optional: can also address myriapods (centipedes, millipedes), annelids (worms),
crustaceans (like pillbugs / rolie polies), and molluscs (slugs).

Songs

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

I found this second song on https://kcls.org/content/caterpillar-caterpillar-crawl-crawl-crawl/  but I added the first verse and revised the words a little so they scanned better to the music. Done to the tune of Frere Jacques / Are You Sleeping. Optional: do this as a 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…, crawling on a green leaf….
Caterpillar, caterpillar eat, eat, eat… eating leaves all day, eating leaves all night….
Caterpillar, caterpillar, spin, spin, spin… spin a silk cocoon….
Caterpillar, caterpillar, sleep, sleep… sleep in your cocoon, sleep until you bloom…
Caterpillar, caterpillar, squirm, squirm, squirm… squirm from your cocoon…
Caterpillar, caterpillar, fly, fly, fly….you are not a caterpillar, you’re a big butterfly….

A classic kids’ song (tune)

Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me.
I’m gonna go eat some worms!
Long, thin, and slimy ones.
Short, fat, and juicy ones.
Itsy, bitsy, teensy little worms.

I’m bringing home a baby bumblebee (tune)

I’m bringing home a baby bumble bee, Won’t my mommy be so proud of me
I’m bringing home a baby bumble bee, Ouch, he stung me!!
I’m squishing up a baby bumble bee… Oh, what a mess!
I’m licking up… Oh, I feel sick!
I’m throwing up… Oh, what a mess!
I’m cleaning up…. All done!

Recommended e-Books

If there’s a link on the title, that will take you to the listing for the Amazon Kindle edition (I do get a small referral fee if you order from Amazon after clicking on this link.) If it says “YouTube”, there’s a video of someone reading the book aloud. In my main bugs post, I have info about a few more books that aren’t available online.

  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Carle. YouTube 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 the pacing 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 other “Very” bug books.  The Very Busy Spider is about barnyard animals and sounds, how a spider builds a web. Very Quiet Cricket is about a cricket finding its voice.
  • The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Burach. YouTube. If your child LOVED Very Hungry Caterpillar when they were a little younger, they will LOVE this very silly book as a follow-up to it.
  • Aaaarrgghh! Spider! by Monks (not available on Kindle). YouTube. 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! Good for ages 3 – 7.
  • Waiting for Wings by Ehlert (not available on Kindle). YouTube. Big book with big bold illustrations. 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.
  • Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! by Barton.  YouTube, “interactive” video. Very bright, cheery illustrations, showing 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.
  • I Love Bugs by Sturges. (No Kindle) YouTube. Educational, engaging and enthusiastic about learning about bugs in the world around you.
  • Bug Safari by Barner (no Kindle). YouTube. 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. YouTube. Another book featuring Lois Ehlert’s fabulous, vibrant illustrations – while not detailed naturalistic drawings, they definitely capture the essence of natural objects. You may notice that caterpillars 6 – 9 meet a bad end (carried off to school, meeting a hungry wren, being frightened by a hen and falling into the sea), which might trouble some children. Number 10 turns into a butterfly. And again at the back, there’s pictures of various caterpillars, butterflies and moths. Ages 3 – 5.
  • Inch by Inch by Lionni (no Kindle). YouTube. 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 (no Kindle). YouTube. 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.
  • Bugs Are Insects by Rockwell (no Kindle). YouTube. 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 (no Kindle). YouTube. A non-fiction book which tells the science of crickets in an engaging way. Ages 6 – 7.

Videos and Apps

  • Inspect an Insect. Another good video from SciShow Kids. 3:45 Intro to the basics of insects.
  • All About Bugs is another nice video, sharing about how kids look for and learn about bugs. The speaking style is a little slow and overly enunciated. But the nice thing is that it has captions. Your child can read along as literacy practice. 9:24
  • All About Insects. 5:44 A basic overview of insect science.
  • Caterpillar Shoes: Ok, this is a story about a 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.

Most apps about bugs are about smashing bugs, killing bugs, and waging 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.

If you have a bug fanatic in your house, follow Jen the Entomologist on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pg/TinyScienceWithJen.

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