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What Can you Learn from a Bug?

Happy June! It’s my favorite month for nature walks and insect spotting! People are often surprised that my daughter willingly picks up almost any insect she sees and willingly touches spider webs or other questionable items within nature. It’s always been a goal of mine as an educator to teach children to cherish, respect, and to not fear nature. Though I might not be picking up every insect I see, I always encourage children to do so; as well as to be gentle, to observe, to ask questions, and to put insects back how we found them. 

While holding a bug teaches an appreciation of nature and living things, there’s so much more to be learned to help you meet many early childhood standards. I always enjoy picking a topic and breaking it down using The Montana Early Learning Standards, so here we go! 

Science: This one feels obvious but let’s look into some not so obvious science standards like Standard 4, Approaches to Learning.  Learning about insects, asking children questions, and then encouraging them to ask and answer questions, too, fosters curiosity, a skill that will help them in all future learning endeavors. Also included in standard 4: persistence, attentiveness, reflection, and interpretation. Searching for, and then handling a tiny living thing causes children to think, to focus, to get down and to slow down. They may have to be persistent in their bug quest, stopping to ponder, to lift heavy things, to look in cracks and crevices, and then finally, they find something. They have to slow their movements down and handle the tiny thing with delicate hands as they look closely, start to reflect upon their hunt, and plan what to do next with this fragile being. Children might wonder what this insect eats, where it lives, if it has a family, if it bites or stings, and will start to figure out ways to answer their own questions using cause and effect and problem solving. 

Arts: Art can be easy to implement when learning about insects. Simply bring some paper and writing utensils outside for the children. You might begin by encouraging children to sketch or paint their insects before they put it back into the wild. Children can also draw or paint what the insect eats, where they live, or even create their own ideal habitat for their new insect friend. All of these activities fall under Standard 4.9 in the Visual Arts by allowing children to demonstrate a growing understanding and appreciation for the creative process to express what they see and feel. Try letting children use a sharpie on card stock to draw their insect and then use watercolor paints to fill it in. Holding and studying insects is a great opportunity to teach children about textures (rough, smooth, bumpy), patterns (this lady bug has a pattern of three spots on each side of its body), camouflage, and different hues and shades of color (that lady bug is a dark orange color while this one is dark red, let’s paint them!). 

Math: There are so many wonderful ways to implement math with anything outside, but with bug hunting especially! You can start small by counting the insects the children find. Then you can get more advanced by grouping bugs with their pairs or by creating a graph for the week or the month to see which bug you find most often. Counting, grouping, talking about more or less, same or different, are all examples of Math Standards 4.10-4.13 which include number sense and operations, data analysis, and algebraic thinking. You can also discuss the different sizes and lengths of different insects and bring out a ruler or measuring tape to get children measuring in a concrete way. The possibilities are endless!

Geography and Ecology: Again, a seemingly obvious standard for spending time in nature and learning about living things, however, a critical thing for young children to live and learn! I am a very strong advocate for getting children outside in nature every day so they can get down on their hands and knees, get dirty, and learn about their world from their own senses. Children can create a map of your yard or the playground and draw pictures of areas where they know bugs live. They can build habitats or bug hotels and put those on the map too. They can begin to recognize that the centipedes live in the northern part of the yard and the roly polys are in the southern shady parts of the yard. Children will meet each benchmark in Standard 4.22 for ecology just by being outdoors and observing, asking questions, and learning about nature and living things. 

Technology: I am not one to use a lot of technology in the classroom. But, taking pictures of insects before releasing them can be a very beneficial use of technology. If we are to teach children that they respect and release insects, photography and videos are an excellent way to allow children to revisit their finds. Allow children to be in charge or documenting their own finds, if possible which falls under Standard 4.23 Technology. At the end of the month/semester/year, you can compile all of the children’s photos and videos into a printable book or a digital slideshow to share with families. 

A bug in a child's hand
A bug in a child's hand

I hope this helps you realize how many wonderful things children are learning each time they get down on the sidewalk to check out a tiny ant or lift a stump to look for a roly poly. You can easily meet the Montana Early Learning Standards in various ways by allowing your children to play with bugs!


Meghan is a born and raised Montanan, mama to a new baby boy, a busy preschooler, and a bonus mom to two amazing teenagers. She holds both a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Early Childhood Education. Meghan is currently working part time with Raise Montana as a project specialist where she writes blogs, curriculum guides, and hosts the seasonal book clubs. Meghan is passionate about using her experience as an early childhood educator and as a mom to bring knowledge and inspiration to Montana child care providers.

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