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Entomology For Kids

by Jennifer James

Photo from Texas Entomology
Photographer: Mike Quinn

Even toddlers and preschoolers love to study insects. This author describes living science experiences with insects in her own kitchen.

On any given day, our kitchen can instantly be transformed into a science lab and my preschooler and toddler love it. They particularly enjoy the days when I conduct our entomology lessons and I have to admit it is one of my favorite lessons to teach as well. For those of you who are wondering what entomology is, it is the study of insects and what a broad subject it is to teach. Although I am not an avid bug enthusiast or entomologist myself, I do have a genuine appreciation for insects. After all, when they are not buzzing around your ears or trying to land on your food, they are interesting and exciting little creatures. Some are even downright beautiful. Because of this, I have undertaken to teach our daughters about the wonderful world of insects and just judging by our daughters’ eyes when I bring out what we affectionately call our “bug box” they are just as thrilled about insects as I am.

Our bug box is a little 6x6 inch homemade science kit that houses all of the insect exoskeletons that we have collected over the past three years. It all started with your run-of-the mill cicada that my husband, oldest daughter and I found lifeless and nestled in freshly mown grass under an oak tree three summers ago. We knew instinctively that we had found a wonderful specimen, but little did we know that every insect that we ran across from that point forward, that had passed on to insect heaven, we’d pick up. Careful not to break any wings, legs or antennae, we would inspect the insect for foraging ant infestation and if the insect passed the test we would take it home. Upon arriving back at home, we’d place it gently into our “bug box” and eagerly anticipate learning more about the little creature.

It has since become a ritual every time that we go on our evening walks. We are all always alert and on the lookout for any interesting insect that may be lying in our path. In fact, our "bug box" is now the home of four cicadas, all of varying size, a couple of houseflies, whose coloring is magnificent, a mosquito, beautifully decorated moths and butterflies, various beetles, and a lone prickly caterpillar.

When the days finally arrive for our insect lab, usually every three weeks or so, I carefully lift our “bug box” out of its special drawer and scatter insect exoskeletons all over our lab-prepped, tissue-paper laden kitchen table. I call the girls around the table and ask them to describe what they see. The oldest, who is 5, knows the insects by heart now. She blurts out with all the confidence and unapprehensiveness of a preschooler exactly what she sees. Her sister, who is 2 explains in her "toddler-speech" precisely what she sees and is even more excited than her sister.

On these days, our whole family spends a great deal of time picking up the insects, examining the specimens and looking intently at their legs, segmented bodies, their antennae and beautiful wings that have remarkably remained intact after all of these years. We look at them with our own eyes and then through a magnifying glass. We look at them from every angle and even imagine the sounds that they once made, especially the cicadas.

As homeschoolers, my husband and I thrive on hands-on experiments. Most of the projects and lessons that we devise are extremely inexpensive and can even be free as is representative of our insect collection. Utilizing the glory of nature has proven to be a cost-free approach to teaching our daughters about their little insect friends.

What adds to the excitement of this project is when we check out books on insects from our local library. We are then able to find the exact names of the insects and piece together what a particular insect's life would have been like while it was alive. The books let us know what type of foods they ate, what their eggs looked like, and where they would have most likely been found. Most of the books also give splendid close-up color photographs of the insects letting our little ones know that indeed what they are holding is the exact insect in the picture.

Even for small children, the wonder of bringing nature indoors can be quite exciting and it does not necessarily have to be insects that you and your family collect and examine. It can be various wild flowers, plants or even leaves. Your family can even make a lesson out of observing the various positions of the moon and the reasons why it changes. The key, however, is making sure that you introduce and nourish you child’s love for nature. It will serve them well as they grow older and give them a head start for freshman Biology class.

Copyright 2003, Jennifer James. This article was originally published in the author's African American Homeschooling column, and is reprinted here with her permission.

Books for Children on Insects
(with library call numbers)

  • Bugs & Other Insects by Bobbie Kalman & Tammy Everts. New York : Crabtree Pub. Co., c1994 - ages 4-8 (J 595.7)

    This book is written in simple language and contains beautiful close-up photographs.

  • What's That Bug?: Everyday Insects and Their Really Cool Cousins by Nan Froman. Boston : Little, Brown, c2001. - ages 9-12 (J 595.7)

    This book opens with a chart illustrating how insects are organized into orders or families. Descriptions and illustrations describe nine of the most important insect families that live in backyards, deserts, or jungles.

  • Creepy Crawly Baby Bugs by Sandra Markle. New York : Walker and Co., c1996. - ages 4-8 (J 595.7)

    This book offers general information about "baby" insects along with facts about creatures such as aphids, wasps, water bugs, and caterpillars. The author presents basic vocabulary and facts, including information about the three main body parts and stages of development.

On the Web:

  • The Wonderful World of Insects

    This site offers a wealth of information on for a serious insect enthusiast, including interesting facts, anatomy and taxonomy.

  • Konday's Kids Amazing Insects

    This site provides detailed information on 51 insect species, along with drawings and beautiful photographs. It also offers general information on insects.

  • Enchanted Learning: Insect Printouts

    This site offers information on insects, including a list of the 31 orders of insects. It also provides many printable activities on insects, including diagrams of specific insects, a booklet on the butterfly life cycle, and sequencing cards on the cicada life cycle. This is well worth a look.

Jennifer James is stay-at-home, home schooling mother of two little girls, 5 and 2, and writer and editor of African American Homeschooling column. She and her husband Michael founded two home schooling organizations: North Carolina African-American Homeschoolers and the National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance.

Passionate about educating and disseminating home school information, the Jameses serve as national advocates for the African-American home schooling community. They have been featured in their local newspaper, The News and Observer, Fox, Today's Child Magazine, BET Nightly News, The Seattle Times and the Christian Science Monitor among many other publications and educational sites. They have also been interviewed by Reuters and Newsday and received international press after being interviewed by the Korean Broadcasting System, the largest television station in South Korea and the Monthly Magazine World Report.

Growing Together Family Learning Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 3, page 13

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