I remember when I was about 7 years old, I worked really hard to capture a huge toad in our backyard. I found a clean pickle jar in the garage then carefully scooped him up and carried him inside to the kitchen to show my mother. It was a classic, “Can I keep him?” moment, but my mom convinced me to let him go because his family would miss him. That made sense to me, and so, back he went.
I learned years later that my mother, who had kept a calm, kind voice throughout our brief discussion, was not at all a fan of reptiles and that she had had a case of the heebie jeebies after I left the kitchen. I had no idea because she never showed it and I imagine that that is one reason why I never had a problem with creepy crawly creatures.
Fast forward to today, and I am mindful of the way I treat and discuss bugs – not just the pretty ones like butterflies and ladybugs, but also the hairy, slimy and alien looking ones – with my kindergarten students. Many of the students live in apartment buildings and do not often get a chance to dig in the dirt, climb trees or splash in puddles. A few families may have home gardens and compost bins, but the majority don’t have the luxury. So when it comes to getting down with the small creatures that crawl or slither, we are thrilled to see that a few students who used to shriek and recoil at the sight of a spider or worm are now hanging around when someone finds a bug, curious to see what the creature is and what it does. For example, today, a jk student found a curled up centipede. She showed it to everyone and carried it around for most of our Outdoor Learning in the morning. She was so excited when the centipede got used to her hand, then uncoiled itself and started crawling in her palm. She asked for a bucket and carried it around for much of the day, understanding that she would have to put it back where she found it so that he could survive.
April offers many opportunities to teach respect and care for bugs. We have begun to notice tiny ants on the floor in the classroom at this time of year. At first, many were repulsed by the ants crawling around near the doorway to the outside, but the other day, while waiting in line to go out, we noticed that a group at the end of the line had all picked up tiny ants to let them crawl on their hands and arms. Playtime will occasionally come to a halt if someone notices a small bug crawling on the floor. Immediately, space around the bug is cleared of people and toys until a solution is found to save it from being accidentally stepped on. Often, I will grab something handy to scoop up the bug and put it outside (our windows do not have screens). Since the students have seen us do that with spiders, beetles and ants in the classroom, they are now doing it themselves. It was wonderful to see a little girl carefully use the book she was reading to rescue a spider and help him escape outside.
While it is not necessary to have a love of creeping creatures in order to impart a respect for them, it definitely helps. Students will want to show you what they’ve caught, and it is hard to share in their excitement if the thing they crawling in their hand turns your spine to jello. Not all bugs are adorable or beautiful, and some can be genuinely hard to love – especially if there is a serious “Eeeewwww” factor or they sting or bite, but teaching respect for all insects is considered essential for encouraging young children to become guardians of nature. Moreover, it is a small step, albeit an extremely important one, towards having compassion for all living things. The following articles support this perspective and have some at-a-glance information about some common bugs you may find in your school yard;
In the yard last week, a student found an enormous dew worm after a big rain – the worm was as long as a garter snake and almost as thick – not as cute as the wee red wrigglers we have in our vermicompost because the student needed both hands to hold all of it – but fascinating, nonetheless. The worm/snake was gently carried and cared for, and although there was a request that we put him in our classroom worm compost bin, the big guy was finally, but reluctantly, left outside, “Because his family would miss him.”