Learning about minibeasts in the classroom is a great way of engaging children with science knowledge, appreciation of nature, the interrelationships between people and the environment, sustainability, and caring for our planet. It fits beautifully into the science curriculum in an early childhood classroom when children are learning about living things, their needs, their external features, and their life stages.
With live minibeasts in the classroom, it is possible for children to observe all these aspects of a tiny creature. They can use their observations to consider how the life stages of minibeasts compare to those of others, including themselves.
My personal favourite minibeasts for the classroom are butterflies, but there are many others equally suitable; such as:
- Meal worms
- Stick insects
The timing and choice may depend upon your location.
For Australians, Minibeast Wildlife is a great resource.
This week I have uploaded some new resources to support a unit of work about minibeasts in an early childhood classroom. These are resources I used for many years in my own classroom. I hope you find them useful too.
Butterfly diary is a free printable resource for recording observations of butterflies in the classroom. Observing the stages in these brief lives helps develop an appreciation for all life. Recording observations integrates science learning with other subject areas such as English and Mathematics.
Code for caring is a free printable poster that reminds children to care for the environment and the creatures found as they go exploring.
My minibeast diary includes instructions for completing a diary of minibeast observations at home or in the neighbourhood. The activity encourages children to observe closely and to record what they have seen. It helps to develop an appreciation for nature. The activity could be set as a daily homework activity, or perhaps a holiday project.
Minibeast project suggests six ways minibeast project information can be presented. Suggestions include making a book, a mobile, a diorama, and others. The ideas can be used to stimulate even more ways of presenting information.
Minibeast project information checklist, which supports use of the resource Minibeast project, can be used by students as a personal checklist of information gathered.
Live learning kits
Live learning kits are great for the classroom. I always obtained my live butterfly kits from Butterfly Encounters in Brisbane. The kits included an enclosure, food plants, eggs and baby caterpillars. There was always great excitement when the classroom guests arrived. (The enclosure was a once-off purchase and could be re-used each year.)
The guests require little more maintenance than occasionally watering the plants, but give many opportunities for observations; for example:
- Observe the tiny caterpillars munch away at leaves, and grow, grow, grow.
- Observe the ravenous caterpillars strip the plants bare.
- Observe the fully-grown caterpillars form a ‘j’ shape, and turn into chrysalises.
- Observe the changing colours of the chrysalis as the butterfly readies to emerge.
- Observe the butterfly as it emerges, then pumps up and dries its wings to take flight.
It is an amazing experience not often observed ‘in the wild’.
However, it is possible, as I discovered a year or two ago, when my wattle tree was flowering for the first time. While inspecting the flowers, I noticed that the tree was covered in ladybirds. Hundreds of ladybirds. I thought, ‘If there are ladybirds, I wonder if there are ladybird larvae.’ Closer observations revealed that indeed there were larvae, also pupae, and eggs! Being able to observe all life stages ‘in the wild’ was pure magic.
It can be so for children at school too. Explore the playground and fields. Look for places where minibeasts might live. If you see one minibeast, look for more. If you find one life stage, look for more. Observe the features and behaviour of the minibeasts. Be aware that many minibeasts have just one source of food and will not survive if removed from the supply.
It is important to ensure that minibeasts are observed carefully without interference to their habitat or effect to their safety. Even the bugs we don’t like, have a role to play in the environment. They may be pollinators or decomposers, or an important food source for larger creatures.
Other opportunities for learning about minibeasts in the schoolyard are suggested in this post by Peggy Ashbrook on the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) blog. Coincidentally, this week from 19 to 25 June, is National Pollinator Week in the US. Australian Pollinator Week is celebrated from 12 to 19 November. Celebrating these events in your classroom helps children realise the importance of these tiny creature to the health of the environment and, ultimately, our survival.
Other suggestions for enthusing children about these tiny creatures include:
Visits by entomologists
Invite guest speakers to show specimens and explain the importance of minibeasts.
Explore the local environment
Extend your observations out into the local environment where there may be a green area or waterway.
Visit a museum or butterfly house
The opportunities for learning when observing minibeasts in the classroom are not just for science learning, but extend learning across the curriculum.
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