Classroom minibeasts

  • Published on June 23, 2017

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:

  • Silkworms
  • Meal worms
  • Stick insects
  • Cockroaches
  • Spiders

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

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

Minibeast project information checklist, which supports use of the resource Minibeast project, can be used by students as a personal checklist of information gathered.

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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’.

© Norah Colvin

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.

Schoolyard discovery

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.

Many existing readilearn resources also support learning about minibeasts; including some with a Busy Bee theme and others about Ladybirds, for example:

Ladybird spots cover

And don’t forget to check out the Insect Series by Rebecca Johnson.  The books are an excellent resource to support classroom learning. You can read an interview with Rebecca here.

Pop back next week for more minibeast discussion when I interview Karen Tyrrell about her new book in the Song Bird Superhero Series The Battle of Bug World.

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    My grand nephew is fascinated by minibeasts. I’m not as thrilled, but his enthusiasm is catching and I helped him hold a firefly he caught. I can see how this lesson would be great interaction in the classroom.

    A firefly! How awesome. It reminds me of the book Sam and the Firefly, one of the Dr Seuss books by P.D. Eastman. I wonder if he has read it. It’s a lot of fun. I’m pleased that all members of my family share my fascination with minibeasts.

    Brilliant word Norah – Minibeasts. A wonderful topic for children to explore as it seems they are (as I was) fascinated with little bugs and flying insects when young. 🙂

    There are so many great resources and ideas here. I can imagine planning a whole years worth of activities just from this post! I wish I had a classroom to do so!

    Hi Bec, Thank you for your lovely comment. Children would be privileged to have you as their teacher.

    Okay. This is great. I just have the heebie jeebies now. I’m sorry. Bugs. Insects. Arachnids. Minibeasts. No matter what you call them, I am icked by them. Perhaps if I had all this in my classroom growing up, I’d be better about them. They are a wonderful learning experience, though. We had a butterfly garden last year and it was amazing. Thanks to you, by the way. You had mentioned those and we got one. Really icky and amazing. 🙂

    I’m sorry, Sarah. I know you don’t like these gorgeous little creatures. You did very well to have a butterfly garden at home last year. I’m pleased to hear you found them amazing, but surely not icky! 🙂

    This is admittedly my first time hearing these little creatures called “minibeasts.” Children can explore and learn, having fun the whole time with the projects you describe here 🙂

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Christy. The term ‘minibeasts’ is used widely – but maybe that’s mainly in early childhood classrooms. 🙂

    This is so interesting, Norah. I have never heard insects called mini beasts before. When I was at school we used to have silk worm season and everyone used to have a box of silkworms to feed and look after. We used to put bits of cut cardboard inside the boxes so that the silkworms would build their cocoons around them. It was great fun.

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Robbie. I’m pleased you found the post interesting. The term minibeasts includes more than insects. It includes other invertebrates including spiders and snails.
    I can remember having silkworms as a kid too. I used to like winding the silk from the cocoons around the pieces of cardboard. How amazing is it that so many garments and other items are made from silk made by these little caterpillars!

    Hi Norah, Thanks for mentioning The Battle of Bug World Blog Tour for next week. Can’t wait to show everyone my new book and the prizes and giveaways … Cheers, Karen 🙂

    Hi Karen, You are welcome. I’m looking forward to being part of your blog tour and sharing your book next week. 🙂

Please share your thoughts. I love it when you do.

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