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Insects and Spiders Lesson
This is part 2 of a 5 part hands-on unit on animals and zoology. Test out various insect mouth types, examine insect parts under a microscope, make and eat edible ants, test out spider webs for vibration, and more! My lessons are geared toward 3rd-4th grade level children and their siblings. These are lessons I created to do with a weekly homeschool co-op. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 14 children between the ages of 0-13. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, family, after school program, camp, or co-op!
Introduction and Review
If you have insect or spider specimens you could show us, please bring them.
1. Stretch & pray. Read & discuss Proverbs 6:6-8.
2. Quickly review classification & invertebrates. Sing the first verse of
The Six Kingdom Song (Tune: Battle Hymn of the Republic)
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species
Six Kingdom Song
3. Give each child a toy spider and toy insect (or use pictures). What are the differences?
TEACHER/PARENT 1: YOU WILL NEED: 1 toy spider per child & 1 toy insect per child
Spiders and Orb Webs
4. Read most of "Amazing World of Spiders" by Janet Craig about spiders. Discuss main characteristics of arachnids.
5. (Optional) Paint an orb web using white paint and black construction paper. You can use the pattern shown here. We had the children draw the non-sticky lines in white crayon and then paint the sticky lines. Note that the spider makes a straight line across, goes back halfway and drops to make a Y. Then she makes radial lines and then 5 circular non-sticky lines with plenty of space between them, going from the middle to the outside. Then she works her way from the outside inward with the tightly-spaced circular sticky lines.
TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED: 1 piece of black construction paper (half or quarter sheets) per child, white paint, white crayons, & 1 paintbrush per child
While "Amazing World of Spiders" by Janet Craig was our favorite picture book on spiders, it's it bit more hard to find since it's out of print. (You can still easily purchase it from amazon.com, though.) This book is another good option.
If you're teaching preschoolers, this might be a better option. It is much shorter yet still covers the basics of spiders.
Webs and Vibrations
6. Ahead of time, tie pieces of yarn between 2 areas. The lines can overlap. (We used a table legs and chairs.) Divide children into 2-3 groups. Have 1 person acts as the insect and tug at the line. Another child will act as the spider and close her eyes and lay a finger on a line. She will be able to feel the vibrations on the line. No matter what line is tugged, the spider can still feel the vibrations travel through the line. This is how a spider can judge when something flies into her web, and she can even tell the size of what flew into its web by the amount of force on the line.
TEACHER/PARENT 3: YOU WILL NEED: 1 piece of yarn or string (about 3 feet long) per group of 3 children
Examining a Spider
7. Look at spider web threads, egg sac, legs, and/or head under a microscope. You can also use magnifying glasses. Meanwhile, let children look at any additional specimens you may have. (We also had some dead spiders and scorpions. The scorpions had been pressed between 2 pieces of clear packaging tape so they weren't dangerous to handle, and you could see both sides of it.)
TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED: microscope and/or magnifying glasses and spider web threads, egg sac, legs, and/or head
8. (If you are not limited by time) Make an edible spider to review the basic anatomy of a spider. Lay 2 round or oval crackers next to each other, preferably with one being small than the other. These are the cephalothorax (the smaller cracker) and the abdomen (the larger cracker). Put peanut butter or frosting on the smaller cracker. Add 8 eyes (raisins or miniature chocolate chips) and 8 legs (pretzel sticks, black string licorice, or small slices of brownies) to the cephalothorax cracker. If desired, add chelicera (the fang-like part near a spider's mouth that holds the venom) by adding 2 halves of an M&M or skittle.
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: a plate or napkin, 2 crackers or cookies (round or oval, preferable with one being smaller than the other), peanut butter or frosting, plastic knife (optional), 8 raisins or miniature chocolate chips, 8 items to use as legs (pretzel sticks, black string licorice, or small slices of brownies), & 1 M&M or skittle that has been cut in half (optional)
This is the best field guide to insects and spiders we have found. It has great pictures and is well-laid out.
9. (Optional) Make antennae. Give each child 2 full-size pipe cleaners and 2 5-inch pieces, all of the same color. Have them twist the full size pipe cleaners to make a circle. Then have them attach each of the cut pieces to the front by twisting the bottom. Have them bend the top of each cut piece so that they resemble antennae. Wear your antennae as you read about insects.
TEACHER/PARENT 3: YOU WILL NEED: 2 pipe cleaners & 2 five-inch pieces of pipe cleaners per child
10. Read "Bugs Are Insects" by Anne Rockwell about insects.
11. Quickly discuss how insects are classified & look at insect specimens we've collected. You can use the last page of "Insects: Six-legged Animals" by Laura Purdie Salas which has the scientific classification breakdown and shows pictures on each line. We selected one specimen and flipped through "National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders" to show children how to identify insects using a field guide. Tip: If you want to collect dead insect specimens, foam egg containers are a great way to hold them.
This was our favorite book on insects overall. It is simple enough so that even my youngest enjoyed the book and is still contains the basic information about an insect that an elementary-aged child will need to know.
This was our second favorite book that gives an overview of insects. It has more information than the above book.
Insects Pets: Mealworms
12. (Optional) Pass out mealworms. They don't bite and tolerate lots of handling. Let children each hold one as you discuss their life cycle and care requirements. Let each child take one home in a sandwich bag if their mom would like. This is a great way for children to observe the life cycle of insects.
TEACHER/PARENT 4: YOU WILL NEED: 1 mealworm (purchased at pet store) & 1 sandwich bag per child
13. Look at insect legs, antennae, wings, and tongues under microscope.
TEACHER/PARENT 3: YOU WILL NEED: at least 1 microscope or magnifying glasses & insect specimens
Insect Mouth Types
14. Test out types of mouths. Pretend like the juice is a flower filled with nectar. Tape a leaf to the "flower" filled with nectar. Use the scissors to rip off the leaf like the sharp jaws of a grasshopper. Use the straw to jab into the "plant" like a mosquito or spittlebug. Butterflies and bees have tongues like the party blowers. Let children demonstrate. After they uncurl their tongue, they suck in nectar like a straw. Take the straw out and put the blunt end in. Children can suck some juice. House flies have sponge-like mouths. Let children pour a bit of juice on the paper towel and have them use the straw to try to suck up some juice. Let them finish the juice in their preferred manner as you review the types of mouths.
TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED: 1 Caprisun-type pouch drink per child, 1 leaf (can be from a bush outside) per child, 1 party blower (that blows out and rolls back up) per child, 1 sheet of folded paper towel per child, 1 pair of scissors or pliers per child, & tape
15. (If you have extra time) Go outside and observe some insects & try to classify based on character traits.
15. Discuss molting. Show clothing in various stages (baby, children's, & adult) to demonstrate how we grow out of clothing sizes and "discard" the old ones. Pass around an exoskeleton. Show a balloon and tell them that is the nymph or baby cricket. Wrap tissue paper around it and tape near the hole of the balloon. This is the cricket's exoskeleton. Slowly blow up the balloon to show the cricket growing. As it becomes bigger the tissue paper will tear and break off. This is molting.
TEACHER/PARENT 1: YOU WILL NEED: clothing of different sizes, a balloon, tissue paper, exoskeleton, & tape
17. Read some of "Ant Cities" by Arthur Dorros.
18. Follow an "ant trail" to food. While mom is reading the book, wind yarn ("pheromone chemical trail") around a few rooms (under the table, between chairs, etc.) and have it end at a treat. If desired, have the teacher/mother who made the path hold up two fingers over her head as her antennae and have the other children do the same. She can tap her two fingers next to each of the children's two fingers in order to tell them, "I just found food, so follow my trail." Have the children follow the trail in a single file line to get the treats. Have them use their "mandibles" (mouths) to carry the food back to "ant pile" to eat it. You can also have 2 children work together to carry the entire container back to the ant pile using only their "mandibles." If desired, you can leave one ant in the living room ("ant pile") to act as the queen. She can have some of the food brought back by the 2 worker ants who worked together to bring back the container.
TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED: a long piece of yarn, a snack (like a bag of pretzels), and hand sanitizer
19. (If you have extra time) Go outside and observe ants.
Edible Ants & Invertebrate Song
20. Make ice cream or banana ants. At some point during co-op, scoop 3 small scoops of ice cream each onto 1 plate for each child or cut a banana into 3 parts and lay it on a plate, 1 banana per child. Set these aside in the freezer. These are the 3 main parts of an insect. Name them. (head, thorax, & abdomen.) They are soft and squishy. There are no bones, so what are they? (invertebrates) How many legs does my ant need? (Six) Does it have anything else? (Antennae and mandibles on the front of the head). Give each child a plate with ice cream/banana, a spoon, three Skittles or M&M's candies (2 whole & 1 cut in half), and 7 pretzel sticks (1 stick cut in half). *If you want to make a clear distinction between the legs and antennae, use 2 pieces of string licorice for antennae. Let the children place the two whole skittles candies on the ant's head. Place the two halves just below the eyes as the mandibles. Insert the two half pieces of pretzel or strings of licorice for antennae just behind the eyes. Ants have six legs, three on each side. Insert three pretzel sticks on each side of the thorax (the middle scoop of ice cream). What protects the ant's body? (an exoskeleton). Pour a thin layer of Magic Shell topping over the entire ant. The Magic Shell topping will then harden over the ice cream.
TEACHER/PARENT 3: YOU WILL NEED: 1 container of ice cream or 1 banana per child (Bananas are a much healthier alternative to ice cream, but it will be slightly more difficult to have the candies stick to the banana.), 42 Skittles/M&M's/other round candy (14 cut in half), 98 pretzel sticks (14 broken in half), Magic Shell, 14 plates, 14 spoons, & ice cream scoop
21. As children eat their ants, do the below 2 activities:
a. Let each child select a phylum/class on which to present for our end-of-unit dinner and presentation evening. Also give directions for the presentations.
b. Sing part of the "Invertebrate" song (Tune: "Oh Susanna") from "Lyrical Life Science." We sang the 1st verse and the verses on arachnids and insects. We ended the song with:
Oh, phylum arthropod,
Keep the creepy crawlies from me!
With an exoskeleton to molt.
Oh no, here comes a bee!
TEACHER/PARENT 4: YOU WILL NEED: Words to song printed out
A CD of well-composed songs with original lyrics to well-known tunes teach biology in a fun way. The CD can be accompanied by a well-written book with line drawings and much more information of all the animals by classes and orders. This volume covers "bacteria to birds”: the scientific method, characteristics of all living things, vascular plants, algae, fungi and non vascular plants, invertebrates, birds, and several types of microscopic organisms.
Below are lapbook pages you can print out and have your child complete to review the information we learned at co-op. Children will be able to show off their completed lapbooks at our co-op dinner. Feel free to add more or less lapbook pages than the below links.
Ants : http://www.homeschoolshare.com/ant_lapbook.php
Looking for more great picture books and YouTube video clips?
Our Favorite Picture Book Series on Insects
We read MANY wonderful picture books on insects. In addition to the ones we used in this lesson, the below books were our favorite series and authors. Ant Cities (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Arthur Dorros is wonderful! We especially enjoyed the books in this series, Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science including From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman, Honey in a Hive by Anne Rockwell, and Chirping Crickets by Melvin Berger. Backyard Books, such as Are You a Grasshopper? (Backyard Books) by Judy Allen, are great for younger children (ages 3-6) as they cover the basic traits and habits of the insect and then it uses humor to compare the insect's habits with a child's habits. Look for all the Backyard Books by Judy Allen (Are You a Dragonfly?, Are You a Ladybug?, Are You a Bee?, etc.). Jerry Pallotta has created a number of wonderful insect-inspired alphabet books, such as The Beetle Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta. It includes a small amount of information that you can read if you have younger listeners and then it includes slightly more facts you can include if your listeners are older. The illustrations are gorgeous as well! Also look for The Icky Bug Alphabet Book, The Butterfly Alphabet Book, and The Icky Bug Counting Book by the same author. Inside a Beehive (Magic School Bus) by Joanna Cole is part of one of my children's favorite series, the Magic School Bus books! We also read The Magic School Bus Gets Ants In Its Pants: A Book About Ants by Joanna Cole and The Magic School Bus: Butterfly And The Bog Beast by Nancy E. Krulik.
Our Favorite Books on Spiders
In addition to the books mentioned above, these were our favorite picture books on spiders and arachnids. Are You a Spider? (Backyard Books) by Judy Allen and About Arachnids: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill are especially wonderful for young audiences, though older children can also enjoy them. We also really enjoyed Time For Kids: Spiders! (Time for Kids Science Scoops) by Editors of TIME For Kids and Spins a Web : A Book about Spiders (Magic School Bus) by Joanna Cole.
Great YouTube Clips on Insects & Spiders
Ready for the next lesson?
Examine pond water and yeast cells under a microscope, test out various insect mouths, dissect a fish, create an egg model, perform a play about mammals, present on a specific animal phylum or genius, and more during this fun 5 part hands-on unit study on animal classification!
- Taxonomy, Animal Classification, and Invertebrates Lesson - This is part 1 of a 5 part hands-on unit study on zoology. Examine pond water and yeast cells under a microscope, dissect an oyster, sing “The Six Kingdom Song,” eat 5 of the kingdoms on a supreme pizza, and more!
- Insects and Spiders Lesson - This is part 2 of a 5 part hands-on unit on zoology. Test out various insect mouth types, examine insect parts under a microscope, make and eat edible ants, test out spider webs for vibration, and more!
- Amphibians, Reptiles, and Fish (Cold-blooded Vertebrates) Lesson - This is part 3 of a 5 part hands-on unit study on Zoology. Peel your “skin” like a reptile, dissect a fish, make origami jumping frogs, compare amphibian and reptile eggs by feeling tapioca and grapes, and more!
- Birds Lesson - This is part 4 of a 5 part hands-on unit on zoology. Create an egg model, make edible nests, test out various types of beaks, compare bird bones with mammal bones, examine various feathers, dissect a gizzard, sing a song about bird traits, and more!
- Mammals Lesson - This is part 5 of a 5 part hands-on unit on zoology. Perform a play about mammals, experience how blubber keeps marine mammals warm, sniff out your “baby,” examine animal skulls, dissect an owl pellet and piece together a rodent skeleton, and more!
- Zoology Presentations and Field Trip Ideas This describes the culminating activity for the 5 part hands-on unit on zoology. The children each presented on an assigned phylum, class, or order of animals. They also sang some of the animal classification songs and enjoyed an animal-themed meal. (Recipes are included.) Also included are the field trips we attended during this unit.
Would you like to teach this way every day?
I use Konos Curriculum as a springboard from which to plan my lessons. It's a wonderful curriculum and was created by moms with active boys!
If you're new to homeschooling or in need of some fresh guidance, I highly recommend Konos' HomeSchoolMentor.com program! Watch videos on-line of what to do each day and how to teach it in this great hands-on format!