Spiders and ants and bees, oh wow!

Fake spider web and spiders, decoration for Halloween

Are you seeing a lot of spiders this last week in October?

Spiders, ants, bees, cockroaches, cicada killers, house centipedes, and roly-polies are among the many small animals children may encounter at home or at school presenting moments to learn about the diversity of living organisms if the moment is calm enough. If the moment is not calm, returning to the subject at a later time will prepare children to learn from future encounters.

A spider in its web which is covered in drops of dew.

Dew drops reveal the structure of this spider web.


Frequent walking field trips and abundant play time outdoors with sightings of small animals teaches children more about these animals’ behavior than instruction sharing others’ experiences. To prevent stings and bites, we caution children to observe but don’t touch bees or spiders and to watch where they walk to avoid ant and yellowjacket nests. To support children’s comfort with small animals we point out their curious body structures and beauty. 

Children water the roly-polies' habitat to keep it moist.

Children water the roly-polies’ habitat to keep it moist.

Keeping a container of small animals such as local roly-polies, earthworms, or non-native Tenebrio beetles in the classroom so children can observe these “critters” up close and care for them is one way to help them build understanding. When contained in empty baby food boxes or specially made “bug boxes” both the small animal and the concerned child are safe. The small animal is safe from being dropped or squished, and the concerned child (or adult) is safe from fear that the animal might “get on” them. 

Children should be discouraged from trying to hold the fast-moving House Centipede because it can bite but we can satisfy their curiosity about this many-legged animal by capturing it in a container for close up viewing.

Outdoors, removing wasp nests in play areas before they get large removes the real hazard of getting stung by aggressive wasps, and tilling sand if non-aggressive cicada killers nest there reduces encounters with large insects going about their own business. 

State extension services are a great source of information about living organisms of all kinds. Check with the entomology department of a nearby university for events and information about your local small animals. The Mark Trail comic strip by James Allen is another source of information about nature.

Big model of a spider by Marie Faust Evitt's preK class.

Preschoolers helped make this model of a spider complete with 8 eyes.

Preschool teacher and author Marie Faust Evitt helps children appreciate the amazing body structure of spiders when they search for spiders and other small animals, and then build a BIG model of a spider and its web. See their work on the Thinking BIG Learning BIG Facebook page. What kinds of questions might your children have about web structures?

This entry was posted in Early Years and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Spiders and ants and bees, oh wow!

  1. Marie Faust Evitt says:

    I am glad you are discussing the benefits of enhancing children’s comfort around small animals. I find that children are proud when they can conquer their fears of spiders by learning how they spin webs and catch insects such as flies. Knowledge truly is power.

    • Kierra Green says:

      I agree that it is a great feeling to watch a student conquer their fear. I went with a group to a STEM festival not long ago, and we brought along five animals for the kids to interact with. Most kids looked shocked when they realized that they could touch (and even hold) the Bearded Dragon without getting hurt.

  2. Janine Borofka says:

    I use plastic petri dishes taped together to make a temporary viewing chambers. Students can “handle” and observe even the creepiest creatures, and look at them from all angles. I see even reluctant young scientists taking a closer look and gain understanding and empathy. I always make a big deal of letting them go from the scary experience they’ve just endured (the creature that is.)

  3. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    Borrowing language from the Early Sprouts program about food, I ask children to say if they have touched a worm and answer either “no,” or “not yet.” This leaves the door open for growth in comfort touching small animals.
    Marie, you truly empower children by providing them the time and experiences to learn.
    Janine, what a great idea to create a (temporary) viewing chamber and to describe the creature’s experience as “scary,” giving children the opportunity to consider another’s point of view.

  4. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    Kierra, how wonderful for children to be able to hold an animal that isn’t soft and furry but just as personable as a mammal!

  5. Peri Benna says:

    I think it is important for students to explore and broaden their minds. The more educators have a chance to introduce a new idea or item to them it could stem off something else. Fear is learned through others and past experience. We need to teach students to not be scared and educate them on the animals and teach their importance in todays society.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *