Ants Go Marching: Science and Math Activities for Elementary Ages
Ant Activities for Kids Because Ants Are Everywhere!
Well-Organized Social Creatures Are Interesting to Study
Ants may seem small, but their social life is well developed and they have managed to take over almost the whole planet.
Many of us struggle to keep ants out of our houses. We see ants in sidewalk cracks and anywhere there's a bit of earth.
Yet watching ants can be a hobby for many. We admire their social organization and the way they can get things done. Watching a tiny ant dragging a pine needle longer than its body to place on its ant hill is impressive. So is noticing the way ant colonies seem to be everywhere buzzing away beneath the grass or in the sand.
Ant Activities in the Classroom
Ant farms are a great way to study these social creatures. This hub will offer some suggestions on the different types of ant farms available today. I have also gathered some ideas and activities for using ants in learning math and language arts in the classroom or in the home-school kitchen. Come explore these amazing creatures with me.
Classroom Ant Activities
Ant Projects for Classroom or Homeschooling
Ant Farm with Colored Sand
When I taught fourth grade, I had an ant farm in the classroom that used colored sand as a medium. As the ants tunnel through the sand, they transform the layers of colored sand into interesting mosaics and patterns. What great artists our little friends can be!
An ant farm isn't a very realistic look at the life of an ant colony, however. The ants you introduce into a colony have no queen, as they are just worker ants. There are no eggs laid and the care of the young, which many of the worker ants are usually involved with, is not present. As long as you are aware of the difference and are able to teach the children about a true ant colony, the experience of an ant farm can be informative. Certainly, the children can examine the ant's body and watch them tunnel.
Giant Ants in Parade
To extend the theme, I also drew an ant on 8 1/2" X 11" paper and traced it on black tagboard. (Construction paper also works, though it tears more easily.) I made as many of these paper ants as I could possibly stand, cutting out several layers at a time. Then I hung the ants up on the walls, starting in the hallway, spaced out so that it looked as if giant ants were crawling single file along the walls and into the classroom all the way to the ant farm which was in the back of the classroom.
Ants for Math Facts and Word Walls
You can attach light colored paper letters or numbers on the black paper ants, setting out math facts or using them as part of a word wall, so that the children can enjoy checking the ants now and then to help them with their writing and memorization of their math facts. It's a fun way to bring together different areas of learning. And, of course, the science vocabulary of head, thorax, and abdomen, were perfect when placed on the ant bodies!
Let the paper ants hold your science vocabulary words or your math facts. Invite them to your word picnic.
Two Versions: Simple and More Realistic
Rainbow Ant Farm
This was the first ant farm I used in my 4th grade classroom. It was fun to watch the ants rearrange the colors into new patterns. After a while, there were no more colored stripes as the individual grains of sand were moved from place to place.
Fascinations AntWorks Rainbow Ants
Ants in Multi-colored Sand
These Ants Create Their Own Art Project
Using this ant farm with multi-colored sand can become a fun project with your kids. Because the ants will move the sand around as they build their tunnels, the color pattern you lay down at the beginning will change. Kids can observe the changes over time and record them. You can talk about how the earth is composed of layers and yet see how these layers are not rigid, but are affected by many factors, of which the workings of insects is one. You can also observe how the ants move the sand and how they make tunnels in the real world.
Be aware that you cannot see the ants and their tunnels in as much detail with this sand medium as you can with the gel ant farm, but there is value as well in knowing that sand is the medium ants usually work in and so a sand ant farm is more realistic.
Another advantage to using a sand ant farm is that after the ants have died off, you can dump them and the sand and replace the old sand with new sand. Because sand is readily available, this is not a problem. The gel, however, is more difficult to replace.
All ant farms come with an order form to buy the ants, which come separately. If you want to find your own ants to use, try to get larger ants if you want to successfully observe them. Also be sure to always get ants that are from the same colony. Although ants from the same queen work together beautifully, ants from different colonies will fight and even kill each other. Also, when using an ant colony, be sure the lid is on securely. You wouldn't want the ants to escape!
Illuminated Gel Ant Farm
A Science Project That's Beautiful, Too!
Gel ant farms were developed with space age technology. The gel is a nutrient-rich medium that ants can eat as they build. This is not only an efficient way to make an ant farm -- because you don't have to feed the ants anything else -- but the gel also makes for a beautiful to look at object in your room, especially when it is illuminated.
Both adults and kids have found these gel ant farms to be enjoyable ways to watch a colony of ants do their work. Some people keep one of these ant farms on their desks. Teachers sometimes set them up in their classrooms as an educational experience. Because they are illuminated with LED lights, many people enjoy using the illuminated gel ant farms as a night light. Do note that there's no on/off button, and you have to actually unplug one of these units if you want to turn off the lights.
The Ants Go Marching - A Song About Ants and Counting with Rhymes
Ant Farm Revolution
Hand Held Gel Ant Farm that Can Project Ant Shadows on the Wall or Ceiling
This ant farm would be a fantastic gift for an science teacher or for a child studying ants. Imagine seeing the shadows of humungous ants crawling along the ceiling. The tales you could tell with this as a prop!
Other ant activities will flow naturally from this product. For instance, children may be inspired to draw the ants that are projected on the wall. Maybe the children will choose to write about ants during writing time. They could think up adjectives about ants. Adverbs may come to mind as the students watch the ant movements.
What Do Ants Eat?
And How Is Their Colony Organized?
There are ants that eat other insects. There are ants, like the leaf-cutter ants, that are purely vegetarian. Some ants have even managed to move from a hunter-gatherer society to a more agrarian one, including "milking" aphids for the sweet liquid they contain.
A Well Organized Home
Within the colony, ants are organized around their queen, who is the only one who lays the eggs. A highly matriarchical society, it is the females who do most of the work. Some ants in a colony are warriors, some care for the young. Others clean, build tunnels, forage for food, and tend to their queen. One ant can do several duties, depending upon what's needed. Ants from rival colonies are even sometimes kidnapped and made to work as slaves.
Male ants have wings, like the queen herself. At mating time, the queen and the males fly off together. However soon afterwards the males, having done their job, die. Then the queen finds a suitable place where she makes a tunnel. She seals herself inside and lays her eggs. Once they hatch, she feeds them with her saliva.
What does the queen eat during this time of caring for her young? Her wings, which fall off as she no longer needs them to fly, become her food. Her hatched larvae will grow into the worker bees who industriously create the colony and tend to their queen. This queen, who is the mother of all the worker ants, can live as long as fifteen years.
The Ants Go Marching -- Sung to the tune, "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye"
The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah!
The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah!
The ants go marching one by one,
The little one stopped to suck her thumb,
And they all go marching
Down into the earth,
To get out of the rain
Boom, Boom, Boom!
The ants go marching two by two . . .
The little one stopped to tie her shoe.
The ants go marching three by three
The little one stopped to climb a tree
(Keep adding numbers and have the children act out the rhymes.)
Giant Ant Hill
Watch These Ant Activities for a Lesson in Perseverance!
Thatching Ants Make Giant Ant Hills
This ant hill was built by thatching ants. They have red heads and black thorax and abdomens. I wish you could see the way the ants squirm over this ant hill! It reminds us of a bustling city. In the autumn, when the black bears pass through looking for fruit, they usually swipe the top off the hill and gobble up the ants. Then within days, the ants have rebuilt the ant hill so that you wouldn't know anything had happened.
Fighting Off the Ants From Our Homes
We have seasonal infestations that we treat with eco-friendly products containing diatomaceous earth. A product with borax is even more effective.
What does this have to do with teaching elementary-aged kids? Well, as fun as learning about ants as a species may be, children like to be involved with finding solutions to concrete problems in their lives. Many households struggle with the problem of ants, and getting kids to help find solutions to dealing with these problems can help them become more invested in the other parts of learning about the ants as a science or math activity.
Teaching children how to take care of the problem using environmentally friendly solutions can extend the learning to other questions about taking care of the planet and learning how solving one problem doesn't have to lead to greater problems. Using poison to get rid of ants, on the other hand, can have an effect on birds and helpful insects such as honey bees, not to mention pets that may get into an area sprayed with poison. When children understand this problem first hand with ants and pets, it becomes easier to teach them about larger environmental issues.
Is your house infested with ants? What have you done about it so far? Do you have advice for others?
When I asked a group of people about their experiences with ants, here are some of their responses.
Tell Us All a Story About Ants. - How Do You Deal with Ants?
sheilamarie78: Yes, it's pretty neat!
Erin Mellor: I love the rainbow kit
sheilamarie78: Gel ant farms really are astounding, I agree.
LouisaDembul: I would really love to have a Gel Ant Farm! Never seen anything like that before.
anonymous: Ants are fascinating little beings for sure. My Mom uses to wash her counter tops down with vinegar to combat ants but I've never had a problem with them in the house and am at peace with them outside. "The Ants Go Marching" will be in my brain all day now! Sweetly done.
Virginia Allain: Great photo and information about the ant hill and the bear. I'll bet you could add some more teaching topics/activities here and teachers will love it.
ChickenHouseKit: Conserving the red-barbed ant in the UK My local common is now host to 20 colonies of red-barbed ants including 23 queens which have been re-introduced. This is only one of two places in the UK that they exist, the other being the Isles of Scilly. Before being re-introduced they were kept at London Zoo while a habitat could be created for them over at the comon. The work has been backed by the Heritage lottery fund, which even included training 30 people. I have seen the ants and they are quite big so hopefully they will thrive quite well in their new environment. The reason that the trust would go to such lengths to re-introduce the ant is because they are beneficial to the whole heathland ecosystem promoting vegetation succession, removal of nitrates from the soil and providing habitat for many other BAP species such as sand lizards and wood larks. It also benefits the visiting public by providing a diverse heathland landscape in which a plethora of wildlife can be seen and enjoyed. Great lens by the way... Thank you.
Louis Wery: There are fire ants in our part of the world. We try to keep our distance!
Ellen Brundige: Diatomaceous earth and Ecosmart spray (concentrated cinnamon and rosemary oil) work pretty well, but for the little black ants of southern CA, which are an invasive species, I've had to resort to the old borax + sugar home remedy.
One Hundred Hungry Ants - by Elinor Pinczes
With a big book, you can make reading this story part of your class ant activities. Read the story through once. Then read it again, and this time the children recreate at their desks the combination of ants on the page. This adds another dimension to reading the story.
One Hundred Hungry Ants (Mathematics Big Book Series)
When I was a student teacher, my mentor used this book for teaching second graders about number concepts. I think this book would be useful for children in grade 3 and some children in grade 4, as well, as the ants and their combinations could help introduce students to multiplication and division.
A hundred ants on their way to a picnic try different combos to get there more quickly. Have fun developing math skills with a book with funny illustrations.
The big book format is useful for teaching a class or a group of children.
This story also comes as an individual book.
One Hundred Hungry Ants: Ant Activities in Math
Math Lesson with a Useful Children's Book
Reading this book in the classroom is a great way to tie more math and language arts into your ant theme.
After reading the story together have children work in teams, each with a container of 100 objects. Together they divide their 100 objects in as many ways as they can and record their findings on a team chart.
If there is enough space, you could have the children lay out their "ants" in groups on the floor. (An alternative would be to have the teams make 100 little chalk lines on the chalk board and circle small groups of lines, counting the different combinations they come up with. For this version of the activity, however, the children may need more support, as they may have a difficult time being accurate with the number of lines they have drawn. I strongly recommend starting this activity with concrete objects the children can manipulate. Even just collecting and counting the objects -- stones, beans, or whatever is plentiful -- would be beneficial.)
Have the children start with the combinations you read about in the book; then they can make up their own combinations. Show them how lots of different combinations can work. As long as all of the 100 objects are accounted for, the children can record their combinations on their own charts.
Children can then record on a large class chart the combinations they found. If all the children just repeated the combinations they heard about in the book, see if they can come up with some different combinations, too. (If you had two groups and one group had 12 ants, how many ants would be in the other group? How many different combinations of two groups can you think of? Three groups? etc.)
You can see how open-ended this investigation can be. The children could continue finding more combinations during the week as an ongoing activity.
Ant Math Activities
More Ant Math Fun
Here is another math activity you can do with the ant theme! While learning about the three parts of an ant's body -- head, thorax, and abdomen -- you can add a few questions for the children to think about.
Give each of the children a handful of beans or stones. Ask them to make three "ant bodies" on their desk, using one bean for each body part. How many ant heads are on their desk? How many abdomens?
Give them some little pegs (or strips of paper) to use for legs. How many legs go on each ant? (6) Where do they attach to the ant's body? (The thorax.) If there are three ants on your desk, how many legs are there altogether?
Need More Ant Images?
Check Out This Site!
Antweb is an online site where scientists have posted detailed photos documenting ants that exist worldwide. The site consists of a database of ant images and natural history information on ants. Their mission is to document all 15,000 or so ant species, and as of May, 2012, they have completed 8,304 species. That's only a little more than half way.
Expect more images and information on the world's ants to come.
It's worth a look.
Ant Farms - Ant Theme Options
When choosing an ant farm for your children or for the classroom, consider how you plan to reuse your ant farm. The gel ant farms are convenient and beautiful, but it you plan to reuse your ant farm again and again, you should consider an ant farm that uses sand that you can replace. It is easier to find new sand or a sand and soil mix to reuse your ant farm after the initial ants die off, than to find the gel product.
I have used the colored sand variety and both the children and myself were delighted with the results after the ants had been tunneling for a while.
Ants That Take Over the World! - And Other Ant Stories and Activities
Here are some links to stories about ants that may surprise you. Some great databases, too.
- Ant mega-colony takes over world, by BBC's Matt Walker
Amazing report on how a colony of ants from Argentina have spread all over the world and how scientists know the ants are from the same colony.
- THE ANTS OF BRITISH COLUMBIA: ABUNDANCE, SIGNIICANCE AND ECOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
Strangely enough, no one knows for sure how many species of ants exist in British Columbia, according to this author. This article, however, does a really good job of describing what is known about ants in BC and their importance both in the food cha
- FORMIS: A Master Bibliography of Ant Literature
Comprehensive searchable database for all things ant. For the serious student who wants to delve more deeply into scientific knowledge about ants. Great research database of academic papers and research.
Zombie Ant Fungus
Read About the Fungus that Makes Carpenter Ants into Zombies!
- Live Science's Report on the Zombie Ant Fungus
Read about the zombie ant fungus from livescience.com. Carpenter ants, watch out!
© 2010 Sheilamarie