Bringing Insects Into the Early Childhood Environment: Ideas, Inspiration, Books and More

What was that? Bring bugs into the classroom?! I know what you’re thinking, you must be crazy? But, insects are some of the easiest “classroom pets” and some of the most interesting things for children to explore. Insects are even doable in the very young classrooms. I have had lady bugs, stick bugs, silk worms, praying mantis, caterpillars to butterflies, ants and worms all in a two-year -old room with no problems. And you really do get used to them, I promise. 

Why Insects?  Early introduction can help children understand how to interact with the natural buggy world appropriately.

Spring is here and as we get our children out into the outdoor environment we will most certainly come across different types of bugs. Children are fascinated by these creatures that move about their world. I personally think it’s a great idea to expose them to different types of bugs early on and teach them how to interact with them gently. Quite often when we are not exposed to certain things early enough, they can become a phobia later on, so introducing children to all types of bugs helps them to understand what they are and how to interact with them appropriately. 

Gardening with the Kiddos? Good time for an introduction to worms!

If you are gardening with your children, this would be a fantastic time to introduce the insects you see while planting. I liked to bring in earth-worms and put them in a large tub of soil so the children could explore them in their natural habitat. I would teach them how to gently pick them up, not to squeeze them too hard and talk about what the worms do: 1) how they move, 2) what they eat, and on and on. The older your children are the more you can delve into worm “projects.” If you are especially eager, you could even start a vermi-compost bin for your classroom and add red worms to help break everything down faster and for fantastic lessons in biology, environment and recycling. 

Ladybugs! Who doesn't enjoy the wonder and cuteness of a lady bug?

Lady bugs are also easy, kid-friendly bugs. You can get a whole bunch of them at your local garden store and they are great predatory bugs for your garden too. I usually keep them in a see through butterfly house so the children can watch them move and fly around. We would release them a day or two after purchasing them in our garden and let the children watch them fly and crawl onto the flowers and plants. (I’ve never had a problem with them biting in all my years of teaching but please be aware they can bite causing skin reactions at times). Lady bugs are lovely to watch and read about. There are many great children’s books on lady bugs. Here are a few of my favorites:

Silkworms!  Silkworms are easy insects to explore in the early childhood classroom.

These guys can be in an open container in the classroom. Silkworms barely move, are very soft to the touch, and big enough for little hands to hold (although, I had two-year-olds the last time I had silk worms and I thought it best to keep them IN the box with a no picking up rule). They do require special Mulberry tree leaves  to munch on (we just happened to have a Mulberry tree in our school’s yard). It is neat to watch the worms eat through the leaves.  Another fun part is that they eventually make cocoons and turn into lovely little white moths. There are a couple  of non-fiction books out there on silkworms. I always like to have books about the insects we are exploring out in the classroom to help answer questions I cannot answer and/or help provide pictures and information for children. Because the silk worms are so slow and quiet, I would often sit next to a group of children watching them and ask the children questions about the silk worms. I would then record their answers in a bug book. It was neat to hear their responses or dialogues they would have over the silk worms and fun for parents to read about what their children were learning. 

Silkworm Books (both non-fiction):

Wait...there are more options How about...Stick Bugs, Praying Mantis, Caterpillar to Butterfly! 

Praying Mantis and Stick bugs are also very easy insects to have in the classroom. Stick bugs in particular can live in an aquarium for quite some time and are very easy to feed and take care of. Praying Mantis can be bought at a garden store in egg form or in actual small adult form. I usually will keep praying mantis around for a few days and then release them into the garden. They will keep the real pests off your plants! Sometimes if you’re lucky they will stick around in the garden. They are some of the most interesting creatures to watch and the children really get a kick out of seeing them crawling around in the garden. Plus, if you get them in the baby stage, these guys can grow from the size of your pinky to the size of your hand! Creepy or cool? Take your pick. The kids will think they are fantastic! 

There are always caterpillars and butterflies you can purchase online. Caterpillars to butterflies create a whole host of wonderful projects when you bring in related books, sing songs and add caterpillar/butterfly toys and materials to other parts of the room. I often added plastic caterpillars and butterflies to the block corner or butterfly wings in the dramatic play area. This expanded the children’s play and interest in bugs and let them explore in new and exciting ways. 

There are so many things you can do when introducing insects to your early childhood classroom. I think the best thing though is to really follow the children’s lead. Watch and listen to what they say about the insects. See what kinds of questions they have about them and if they begin to “play insects” in the areas of the classroom. One year we kept the children engaged for months with insect introductions, books, insect play in the block corner, dramatic play corner, different art activities involving bugs and counting activities as well. We followed their lead and they LOVED BUGS! 

Happy Insect Exploring to you! 

More Bug Ideas and Resources - Pinterest to Magazines

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Summer Langille, M.A, Early Childhood Education Specializing 0-8 Years

Summer has been working with children for almost 15 years. The oldest of four she’s always seen herself as a caregiver. She started off caring for children as a nanny for many years. She received her undergraduate degree in Liberal Studies from San Francisco State University and has a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education specializing in birth to age eight from Long Beach State. She’s worked with infants all the way up to elementary aged children in center-based care, private school care, home-based care, back-up care and afterschool care. She was a lead teacher for an infant program and more recently a two year old/preschool program. She even had a brief stint as a brownie girl scout troop leader. She’s passionate about quality care for children and thinks the environment plays a large role in how a child learns effectively. She loves art, blocks, music, fairy gardens and picture books and wants all caregivers of children to know how important their job is to the children they care for. Summer is currently home with her baby, navigating this new role as Mama. She blogs about her family at www.summerplayshouse.com.