Creating Preschool Entomologists – Bringing the Bugs Inside

BUG IN A JAR - July 2003 by the bridge.

When it comes to exploring bugs, you just can’t really beat bug collecting as an activity!  Getting bugs into an enclosure -whether it’s the time-honored classic jar with air-holes in the lid, or something like this– allows children to look closely at the bugs to examine their characteristics.  Having a barrier not only keeps the bug in one place, but it often makes little ones feel a bit less skittish. 

We’re Going on a Bug Hunt

A bug hunt is a lot of fun, but it also helps the child to become more familiar with the bug’s environment and needs.  Children soon learn that they can find more bugs under a rock than on the sidewalk.  You can talk about why that is, and what needs are being met in the different environments.  Children also have to be aware of what the bugs need if they are going to keep them in the enclosure for much more than about an hour.  What kind of food do they need?  What kind of things can be added to make their environment similar to where they were found?  Answering these questions through careful observation requires the child to use scientific inquiry.

Feeling Sluggish

While you’re out catching bugs, may I suggest one amazing specimen to observe?  Garden snails are a menace, but I caught a few to observe with some children a while back, and it was amazing to watch them at work!  You can quickly learn why they are such pests when you watch them devour a leaf right before your eyes!  Watching as they climb up the side of the container gives a unique view of the wave-like undulations that propel these crazy creatures.  I detest these intruders in my garden, but in a container, they fill me with child-like wonder!  I realize they aren’t insects, but I would put them in the creepy-crawly category for preschool purposes.

Bug Sources

In addition to your own backyard, there are a lot of other sources that can provide you with unique bug-observation experiences.  Here are a few suggestions to consider.  (Just so you know, none of these are paid sponsors.  Just places I’ve seen or used.)

  • Watch the Metamorphosis!  I’ve had very good results with this Butterfly Garden from Insect Lore .  You receive caterpillars in the mail (complete with their own food) and within about three weeks, you have butterflies that you can release in your own backyard.  When we received our most recent batch, my son and I broke dry spaghetti noodles into the same sizes as the five caterpillars and taped them to a paper as a reference point for comparison later.  It’s absolutely amazing to see how quickly these guys grow!
  • Try Gel Ant Farms!  I haven’t used one of these myself, but our local library did, and my son would have stared at them all day if he could have!  You can check out a  wide variety on Amazon.
  • Go Organic!  Organic garden supply stores usually carry beneficial insects that can be released in your garden as natural pesticides.  I know in the garden center at one of our local grocery stores, about $5 could buy you a package filled with Ladybugs or a Praying Mantis egg case.  The egg case can be placed in a garden and allowed to hatch Praying Mantis nymphs while you observe these unique new tenants.  Ladybugs are fantastic bugs to have children examine as they gently hold them in their own hands(while sitting outside, so the bugs can fly away without becoming trapped in a room).
  • Find the Sugar Ants!  Now this is NOT one I want to bring inside, but I noticed yesterday how quickly sugar ants will swarm a cookie accidentally dropped at the park.  I also noticed how fascinated young children are with watching that sea of black at work!  As long as you promise to clean it up afterward, you might “bait” some sugar ants while playing outside.  (Parks are perfect for this because the ants are used to finding sugar there!)  Set out a cookie or orange slice and check on it periodically while you play.  Bring magnifiers to get a closer look, and maybe use the opportunity to talk about the importance of cleaning up so that the insects that are so fascinating outside don’t become a pest inside!


Encourage children to internalize the information they gathered through their observations by making sketches of their bugs.  Drawing an image requires them to recall the information they just acquired and use it in a meaningful way, which helps comprehension. 

You could also extend this bug viewing activity by having your children dictate fanciful stories or non fiction books about the bugs you encountered.  Put their words into print and have them illustrate the book – or illustrate with photos.  It will become one of their favorite books and they’ll build language and literacy skills along the way!

Have fun getting buggy with your young entomologists!

For more bug-themed ideas, check out this brainstorm! 

Top photo by the bridge.
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Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, science activity

6 responses to “Creating Preschool Entomologists – Bringing the Bugs Inside

  1. Aaah, a subject close to my heart. When my 11 year old was first at preschool I swear he spent the whole time catching bugs, building houses for bugs, looking at books about bugs. His teachers supported and encouraged his interests and gave him lots of time and space to explore outdoors and to this day he is still interested in learning about all creatures great and small.

    Just today we went on the 3rd of a series of mini trips to the zoo with his class to observe creatures of their choice over a period of time, and spent 1 hour watching reptiles and insects.

    I enjoyed your post 🙂

  2. My daughter received the butterfly house from insect lore for her birthday. I’m a little nervous about getting them because she also got the ladybug one for Christmas. We ordered our lady bugs and they all died. 😦 Not sure what we did wrong, they looked fine and then dead. I really don’t want dead caterpillars. Was it pretty easy to get them to do what they were supposed to do?

    I love the idea of the sugar ants and taking a magnifying glass with you. Great ideas for exploring the world of bugs. Thanks!

    • notjustcute

      I’ve had good luck with the caterpillars twice now. This year they arrived on a fluke snow-day in spring and I thought for sure they would be dead, but they were great. The caterpillars arrive in a little cup with everything they’ll need to survive. Once they transform into chrysalids, you move those to the butterfly house and wait and watch. When they emerge they need food (sugar-water or fruit), but other than that, they take care of everything themselves. Which means less room for error! Both times I’ve had all five caterpillars transform into butterflies. They sometimes look a little rough if I keep them as butterflies for too long so I focus on the transformation part and then let them go, rather than treating it as a “pet”. Good luck!

  3. Have only recently discovered your blog, and I’m loving it! I have a couple of budding little entomologists at home myself, and we do sing “We’re going on a bug hunt!” in the backyard!!

  4. Pingback: How Not to Be the Last Child in the Woods. | Love Bugs and Legal Pads

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