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Creepy-Crawly Science

Let our many-legged insect friends inspire some science fun.

By Carmella VanVleet
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2

Each of these seven hands-on activities focuses on a different insect or bug and incorporates a related science theme.

Bee Smell

Honeybees use pheromones to tell if other honeybees are part of their hive, so invite students to practice their own olfactory skills.

Science Focus: The five senses

What You Need:

  • Various essential oils
  • Cotton balls, one per student
  • Plastic sandwich bags, one per student


What You Do:

  1. Divide the cotton balls into groups of three or four.
  2. Place several drops of an essential oil on each group cotton balls. There should be an equal number of cotton balls for each scent.
  3. Seal each cotton ball in a plastic sandwich bag.
  4. Give each child a bag to open and sniff.
  5. Encourage students to use their noses to find their "hive" (the other children with the same odor on their cotton balls).

 

What Do Ants Eat?

Here's an easy experiment that reveals what ants like to eat.

Science Focus: Insect diets

What You Need:

  • Small samples of foods (such as sugar, carrots, bread, cheese, and fruit slices)
  • Paper plate


What You Do:

  1. Place the small samples of foods on a paper plate.
  2. Have the students predict which food or foods will attract the most ants.
  3. Place the paper plate on the ground outside.
  4. After waiting an hour, return and observe which food has the most ants near or crawling on it.

 

Mirror Butterflies

Symmetry can be found many places in nature, including butterflies. To demonstrate this phenomenon, have students draw butterflies.

Science Focus: Symmetry in nature

What You Need:

  • Plain white paper, one sheet per student
  • Markers in various colors
  • Small mirrors, one per student (or one for each pair of students)


What You Do:

  1. Have students draw one half of a butterfly using bright colors.
  2. Give each student (or pair of students) a small mirror and invite them to hold it perpendicular to their picture to create a mirror butterfly.
  3. Challenge students to be "Symmetry Spies" for the day and find examples of symmetry around them.

 

Color-Pattern Caterpillar

Students will get crafty as they practice making patterns in this art activity.

Science Focus: Patterns in nature

What You Need:

  • Paper cups (or another object with a traceable circle), one per student
  • Colored construction paper, one sheet per student
  • Scissors
  • Hole punchers
  • Pipe cleaners, one per student
  • Googly eyes, two per student


What You Do:

  1. Have each student use a paper cup (or similar object) to trace a dozen circles on a large piece of colored construction paper.
  2. Help children cut the circles out.
  3. Ask students to use a hole puncher to put a hole in the middle of each circle.
  4. Have each table or team of kids combine their circles into a group pile.
  5. Provide a pipe cleaner for each child.
  6. Direct students to use the circles to create color patterns by selecting and arranging colored circles.
  7. Help students carefully poke the pipe cleaner through several circles before connecting with the next pipe cleaner to make a caterpillar.
  8. Add googly eyes for a finishing touch!

 

Sticky Web

Spiders use their webs to catch prey. But how do spiders crawl across their webs and not get caught themselves? They have a special oil on their legs. Here's an easy way to show students how this works.

Science Focus: Survival strategies

What You Need:

  • Large sheet of contact paper
  • Yarn
  • Vegetable oil
  • Small dish


What You Do:

  1. Pour a bit of vegetable oil into a small dish.
  2. Place a piece of contact paper sticky side up on the table.
  3. Use yarn to create a spider web across the contact paper.
  4. Tell the kids to pretend their fingers are spider legs and to try to "walk" across the web. They will stick to it.
  5. Have students dip their fingers in the vegetable oil and do the same experiment. They will instantly see how much easier it is!

 

Fly Count

Plastic flies may be a little creepy, but they make great math manipulatives!

Science Focus: Observation, predicting

What You Need:

  • Plastic flies, between 10 and 50 (plastic flies can often be found at party or craft stores)
  • Paper cups


What You Do:

  1. Place a collection of plastic flies in the science or math area.
  2. Encourage students to place 10 to 20 flies in a cup, shake the cup, and dump the flies on the table.
  3. Ask students to count and record how many flies are "dead," or legs up, and how many are "alive," or legs down.
  4. Challenge them to predict how many flies will be dead or alive in later throws.

 

Walking Sticks

Teach students how insects use camouflage and have students make their own walking sticks with brown pipe cleaners.

Science Focus: Camouflage

What You Need:

  • Photos of insects or a picture book of insects (Big Book of Bugs by Theresa Greenaway is full of full-color photos of a wide variety of insects)
  • Brown pipe cleaners, five per student


What You Do:

  1. Discuss how insects use camouflage to protect themselves from enemies.
  2. Share photos of insects that use camouflage, such as the katydid, brimstone butterfly, grasshopper, and walking stick.
  3. Use one pipe cleaner to fashion a walking stick's body and head.
  4. Fold three pipe cleaners in half and twist them around the walking stick body to create six legs.
  5. Add smaller pieces of the final pipe cleaner to the walking stick's head to create antennae.
  6. When the walking sticks are ready, go outside and hide them in bushes or short trees.
  7. See if the camouflage works by challenging students to find the walking sticks again!

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