The World of Insects – Hands-On Science Activities and Resources

I hated science as a kid when it was about a boring test book and a list of terms that I needed to memorize for a test. "In 1736, so-and-so discovered such-and-such and called it a thingamajig …" Science was not about exploring; it was about passing the test.

And now twenty years later, I love science. Hands-on learning really makes a difference. Who wants to read about insects when you can chase them, catch them, and keep them as pets? And when you watch a snail squirm in your hand, learning the fascination facts about it looks so much more pertinent to life. Did you know that snails and slugs are called gastropods, meaning "stomach foot?" At rest, slugs look like nothing more than a ball of snot, but when they move, they suddenly form distinct heads with antennae that can change size, stomachs, and tails.

Pet Bugs
This summer, bugs have been our science focus, and so we have attempted to set up some bug houses, butterfly houses, and capture some bugs to be pets. We checked out some good books and found a few tools like a butterfly net and a plastic terrarium. Then we went exploring in our own back yard.

We found a caterpillar and identified it as a Black Swallowtail, and we put it in our terrarium with some fresh leaves and wooden branches. Within two days, it formed a chrysalis. I started taking pictures every few days, and we kept track of what happened every day.

That is, until we found a wooly bear caterpillar and added it to the bug house. We were very disappointed when the new caterpillar ate the chrysalis before the butterfly emerged. I guess the leaves were not fresh enough, and the little caterpillar got hungry. However, that is the cool thing about hands-on science. Even when an experiment goes awry, you still learn something.

My oldest carries slugs and snails, and the youngger two search under bricks for pill bugs. My middle child finds worms, and in her gentle four-year old voice, she tells me how cute her baby worm is. They are exploring, and they are learning. And when I wonder if I do enough with their schooling, I listen to them tell them grandmother interesting bug facts that most children do not know, listing all the different names of pill bugs, how many legs they have, and what they do to survive.

Insect Literature & Art
Studying insects has spilled over into other areas of our learning, including literature and art. We have done more butterfly, ladybug, and other bug projects than I can even remember, including puppets, cutouts, drawings, mosaics, and paintings. And we have read Eric Carle's story books, bringing to life the worlds of bugs while still teaching something interesting.

Insect Resources
Pet Bugs and More Pet Bugs by Sally Kneidel
These two books contain information on finding, keeping, and caring for specific kinds of bugs as well as information on the insect behavior in the wild. Each bug is given several pages of detailed information. Therefore, these two books would make great field guides as well.

The Insect Book by Connie Zakowski
Designed specifically for youngger children, this book focuses on caring for a pet bug. Therefore, one page is given to each bug, giving precise and easy information for finding and feeding the bugs.

Bugs are Insects by Anne Rockwell
This is a picture story book, and although it is designed for young children, it contains so much information about insects that I was so impressed and learned so much. Beautiful art, well worded and interesting prose, and it kept my 5 year old entranced. A year later, she still remembers the differences between bugs and beetles.

Wormology by Michael Elsohn Ross
Sometimes our girls refer to worms as snakes, and I got this book with the intent of helping them learn the difference. However, I was guided to find that this book does more than tell you how to keep worms as pets; it also describes experiences that you can do with them.

Janice VanCleave's Play and Find Out About Bugs by Janice VanCleave
This is an entire book of hands-on bug experiments designed for young children, ages 4 to 7. As with anything Janice VanCleave produces, the experiments are very exciting and original. I have found that you can not find the science experiences she suggests in any other book.

Janice VanCleave's Insects and Spiders by Janice VanCleave
Another great book by Janice VanCleave. This one is a more advanced book of hands-on experiments for older children. Many of these experiments could have been used in science fairs.

Insects: Step by Step Instructions for 26 Creepy Crawlies by Diana Fisher
I discovered this book by accident while browsing a book store, and I am so glad I did. Designed for ages 6 and up, this book describes careful instructions on drawing insects. I love the resulting pictures, but even more, I had fun drawing myself once the kids were in bed.