I have observed many young children come to school with limited direct experiences with natural environments. Children often have little understanding and great fears about what may happen to them in their encounters with nature. Children must be given frequent opportunities to experience the outdoors so that they can develop a sense of connectedness with the natural world.
On our way to the backyard, children would notice spiders and a variety of insects that greeted us along the way. Their first instinct was to stomp on them and squish them.
Oliver: Yukky! Squish it!
Me: Please don’t hurt the bugs that we find!
Amrit: Teacher we have to. It’s going to bite us.
Yousuf: Spiders bite and bees too. Bees can sting you.
Me: All bugs don’t bite. This slug is not going to bite you. It is trying to go back home to its Mommy. If you squish it then the Mommy slug will be very sad. Your Mommy would be really sad too if something happened to you.
In due time, the children became more focused on what was on the ground as they developed their investigative skills. They continued to search for other specimens to examine. Children that were cautious and squeamish were later more enthusiastic in wanting to touch them. If they were using a certain path to run and play tag, they made sure that no bugs were in the way so that they did not get harmed. I was proud of them for being respectful to all creatures they found; and for being compassionate towards them.
When they found a bright green caterpillar, we placed it in a jar and brought it inside for a closer look. I encouraged them to represent their learning and observations through drawing.
Representation and reflection are critical ways in which children make meaning and develop their own theories from their work. (Chalufour & Worth, 2003).
After everyone got a chance to observe the caterpillar, I decided that they needed to return it to its home. We placed it beneath a shrub in the backyard. This gesture allowed children to see that we need to be respectful to the creatures we select to observe and later release them back to where they were found.
This experience was paving the way for where our curriculum was heading. Due to interest in insects and arthropods, I decided to follow this topic and offered activities, books and sensory experiences to further their knowledge. Children were offered hands-on experiences with nature to explore, investigate, ask questions and make sense of what they observed and experienced all while developing their language, mathematical, social and problem-solving abilities.
I added black beans and plastic insects to the sensory bin. The children enjoyed this simple sensory small world activity. They scooped and poured the beans into different sized containers. Insects were sorted, categorised and paired. Children made a long row of insects that waited in line to eat the beans.
We discussed the characteristics of an insect:
- One or two pairs of wings
- Three Part Body (head, thorax, abdomen)
- One pair of antennae
- Compound Eyes
- Six Legs
Children were also introduced to the life cycle of insects using cards and Life cycle collection figures. We read “The very hungry caterpillar” by Eric Carle.
We counted the legs on the plastic bugs to separate the insects from other creatures.
We sorted insects and non-insects with picture card printables I found online.
Children were offered books and plastic insects to make their own connections. They observed the insects, asked questions, disagreed with each other, provided answers and hypothesized, and in general were motivated to represent their learning through drawings.
We viewed x-rays to identify 36 insects and matched them to their corresponding picture cards.
One day on our walk to the backyard we also witnessed a spider spin a web. We stood and watched the spider spin for 15 minutes. Not only was this fascinating to watch but it was a great opportunity to discuss that characteristics of a spider and how it was not an insect.
The spider’s home was destroyed, due to the wind storm, during several weeks. The hardworking spider continued to construct the web over and over again. The children were always curious to know if the web would still be there when we would go out each day.
We talked about the biggest insect in the world (stick Insect) and the smallest insect in the world (fairy fly).
We made our own stick bugs using sticks and pipe cleaners.
Children were also encouraged to make their own representations of insects with wire. The younger children struggled with the wire. The older children with some help managed to get a hang of the wire and created beautiful insects.
We watched a video about the Venus fly trap. I also bought one for the class to take care of. We drew our observations and reflections of the Venus fly trap. We have yet to witness one of the leaves close.
They were encouraged to draw the Venus fly trap.
Since the children liked learning about the Venus fly trap, they each made their own.
An additional sensory activity allowed children to use plastic bugs to create detailed imprints in play dough. Children enjoyed pushing the insects into the play dough and then pulling them off to see the results.
To help children understand symmetry and to help them realize that symmetry is everywhere, I encouraged them to use the light table to trace one side of an insect. This activity not only helped understand balance and symmetry but also developed their hand and eye coordination, as well as their pencil grip (fine motor skills).
The following activities were offered to develop their mathematical concepts and skills.
I was delighted to see the children have such deep engagement with nature. They continue to explore insects and other creatures in the outdoors and build homes for them. Their representations are becoming increasingly detailed and accurate showing their evolving scientific understanding.