Let's Go Outside: Getting into Insects
Think of your favorite summer memory from childhood. Got it? Just a hunch, but we bet it involves warm fresh air, soft grass, and maybe a lake or pool. In other words, the outdoors! In the next few paragraphs, you’ll find ideas for exciting outdoor activities to enjoy with your child. They might just inspire a few fond summer memories of her own.
I had no idea how cool bugs were until my 6 year old, Ella, hit that stage where she was completely fascinated by everything that moves. Now I think they’re tops — as long as they’re not in the house! Through a playful study of insects and spiders, kids (and parents!) can learn about big ideas like metamorphosis, pollination, conservation, and community.
Last spring, for instance, a praying mantis made her home outside our kitchen window. With a little Internet research, we learned it’s the only insect that can turn its head a full 180 degrees. Later in the season, we hunted for cicada shells in the trees, and Ella learned about molting. On and on it went, one insect species after another.
Once I discovered how fascinating bugs were, I wanted to know what my daughter thought was so great about them. “Playing with bugs encourages kids to explore the world and be nice to the earth,” she said. How true — and how very mature for a kindergartner! I encourage you and your budding entomologist to do some exploring of your own. Just head out to your backyard!
Activities for Everybuggy
Getting started can be as simple as poking around under a rock or in the grass. You and your little explorer might also try these fun ideas:
- Plant a butterfly garden. In a sunny spot out of the wind, plant blooming varieties like geraniums and hydrangeas, plus plants that provide food for larvae such as Mexican milkweed. Find out what else the butterflies in your area need at butterflywebsite.com.
- Listen! Catch a non-stinging insect that makes noise in a paper cup. Crickets and flies are good candidates. Cover the cup with waxed paper and hold it on with a rubber band. Now place your ear against the paper and listen.
- Do the Worker-Bee Waggle! Honeybees “dance” to communicate the location and distance of a nectar stash to the other bees. Talk with your kids about this fascinating communication, and then make up your own version.
- Take an umbrella out on a sunny day. Place it open upside down under a leafy, low-hanging branch. Shake the branch like you mean it — then identify what lands in your umbrella with an insect book or online.
Tools for the Trade
These items will make your child feel like a real scientist:
- Butterfly net
- Tweezers (only for dead specimens)
- Observation jar (punch holes in the lid of a clean jar)
- Magnifying glass
- Notebook for recording thoughts and sketches
- Bug and spider identification book like Simon & Schuster Children’s Guide to Insects and Spiders (Simon & Schuster, $23; ages 9 to 12) or Don’t Squash That Bug: The Curious Kid’s Guide to Insects (Lobster Press, $15; ages 4 to 8)
CATCH THE READING BUG
Nothing warms a kid's heart to something new and strange like some colorful illustrations and a good dose of literary anthropomorphism. Here are some of my family's favorites:
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Little ones love to poke their fingers through the holes the hungry caterpillar chews in this board book version as he eats his way through a week of food, forms a cocoon, and becomes a beautiful butterfly. (Penguin, $11; ages 2 to 4.)
- Beetle Bop by Denise Fleming
With vibrant fiber collage illustrations and chant-like rhymes, Fleming takes children into trees, under rocks, and into the air to enjoy insects of all shapes and sizes. (HMH, $16; ages 4 to 8.)
- The Magic School Bus: Inside a Beehive by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen
True to style, Ms. Frizzle leads the class on a buzzing field trip that teaches, amazes, and amuses. (Scholastic, $7; ages 4 to 8.)
- Diary of a Fly by Doreen Cronin and Harry Bliss
A charming fly with 327 brothers and sisters chronicles her oh-so-kidlike life with her buddies Spider and Worm. Hilarious and educational. (HarperCollins, $16; ages 4 to 8.)
- Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
Has anyone done more to promote the arachnid's cause than E. B. White with his exquisite portrait of the loving and resourceful Charlotte in her mission to save Wilbur? I cry every time. (HarperCollins, $9; ages 9 to 12.)
Three starter rhymes for the littlest entomologists (there are nearly as many variants of these popular rhymes as there are species of the common house fly — OK, maybe not 3,000 — but I chose the most child-friendly):
- The Itsy Bitsy Spider (that most famous of all fingerplays?)
The itsy bitsy spider crawled up the waterspout. (fingers climb, thumb to pointer finger)
Down came the rain, and washed the spider out. (rain down the fingers and sweep out)
Out came the sun, and dried up all the rain (raise up the arms like a rising sun)
And the itsy bitsy spider crawled up the spout again. (repeat the climbing spider fingers)
- Ladybug, Ladybug
(To be sung for luck after gently blowing on a ladybug to send her on her way — we do a lot of this in our house.)
Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home,
Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All except one and that's little Ann,
For she crept under the frying pan.
Every family needs their own version of this toddler classic — here's ours:
Ticklebug, ticklebug, crawling over the bed . . .
(Very slowly with playfully menacing fingers making their crawly way toward your child)
Ticklebug, ticklebug . . .
(faster now, with rising inflection: the ticklebug's coming in for the tickle!)
on Henry's head!
Obviously, this tickle-rhyming-buggy game lends itself to playful improvisation:
Ticklebug, ticklebug, moving over the sheet, ticklebug, ticklebug, might eat some meat! Ticklebug, ticklebug, feeling kind of funny, ticklebug, ticklebug, might get Ella's tummy! (That last one's a near-rhyme, of course, but all's fair in love and bugs.)