Observing, Learning about, Appreciating, and (Maybe) Holding Small Animals Such As Insects

In the fall we may begin to see more spiders in our houses and schools. Why is that? Are they moving indoors as the weather cools? The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture dispels this myth with some spider facts. Interesting how children are drawn to the models of spiders on the light table but scream when they encounter a live spider.

As a way to begin a classroom study of, or lesson on, spiders—and other small animals such as beetles—I read a book aloud. Each Living Thing, written by Joanne Ryder and illustrated by Ashley Wolff, (Harcourt, 2000) has page after page of encouragement to look for animals in our landscape, to “be aware of them”, and to “take care of them”. This just sends chills down my back as I think about our interconnected lives, and it is an opening for discussing how to handle the small animals that visit our classroom.

(The book also introduces children to our place as members of the animal kingdom as I point to drawings of the child and ask, “What animal is this?” Many children say “That’s not an animal,” but by the end of the book they can tell me, “It’s a human animal, a person!”)

I don’t apologize for quickly killing roaches or crickets if they try to take over my house. But if we capture animals it is our responsibility to make sure we meet their needs. This month the children looked in a resource book for information on what the beetles eat, talked about letting the spiders go in a few days so they can hunt their own food, and practiced holding the beetles, slugs and roly-polies in open palms (not pinching fingers) so they don’t get broken and die. After each “visit” we all wash our hands as a precaution.

Even casual observation over time will lead to a body of knowledge about the animals. Here’s what the children had to say:

Roly-polies make a ball.
Roly-polies have legs but slugs don’t.
Slugs are sticky.
It closed up!
Beetles have more legs than I do.
(Counting may not be accurate until around four years old and even then it’s not easy to count legs on a wiggling beetle!)
Beetle babies do not look like the adults.
Beetle babies look like worms but they have legs.

Children are invited to hold all of them, but I never insist. They are more likely to record their observations by drawing or dictating some words if an interested adult offers the materials. Their drawings reveal the range of development in children who are close in age reminding us that we need to observe our students closely to meet their needs.


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