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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Insects Inside, Insects Outside


"The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity 
and invite the child to conduct his own experiences."
Maria Montessori


Parents only hear or see bits and pieces of our curriculum, so I like to give you the big picture now and then.   This summer our special theme has been insects, spiders, and invertebrates.   Amidst all the swirl of life and learning at Chickadee - experimenting with water and growing our garden, telling stories and inventing games, playing in the forest and sawing at the workbench, making new friends and enjoying familiar buddies - and yes, working with classic Montessori materials -  through all this, a strong thematic thread has been this focus, using many materials and activities about these most amazing, indispensable fellow creatures.

I start these blog posts with a relevant quote from Maria Montessori, but this time, the quote I really want to emphasize is this one, from E.O. Wilson, the great naturalist:

"If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos."

Such a striking statement and reminder for us as adults.  Given this interdependence, and given the perilous state of bees and other insects in our world, learning about them is a natural and important work.  For the children, we begin at the beginning.  We strive to cultivate the children's interest, deep respect, and understanding in a fun way, and as much as possible, we dispel those feelings of bug annoyance or fear which are all too common.

The good news is that this is easy to do with children. They have a natural affinity for small creatures, and they love to learn.  How many times have we heard a voice cry out, "I found an ant!"  So we did exactly what Maria Montessori advised in the quote at the top: we created an environment rich in motives which lend interest to activity, and invited children to conduct their own experiences.

Here are some glimpses of those motives and experiences....

The butterfly life cycle is most familiar. We put out these classic cards, with plastic models, and the children make booklets.  I ordered the painted lady caterpillars from Insect Lore, and watched them form their chrysalises (as it happens, they emerged over a week-end - I saw it coming, fourth of July week-end, and sent them home with a family.)  The five butterflies came back to us on Monday morning, and on Wednesday we released them out in the garden, where they lingered for a while (the top photo).

For a whole year I had saved a wonderful new collection of life cycle models with a big mat to lay them out, a set that I found at the Montessori Congress last summer.  Ant, bee, meal worm, and ladybug, along with the life cycle of bean seed and frog - these models have been used daily. Here you can see the ant and bee part of that mat.

I brought in a bag of 1000 ladybugs, which led to a wonderful morning of watching, holding, and releasing ladybugs.  We searched for and found some aphids, their favorite food, in our kale plants. "Stay with us, ladybugs!"  We looked at the model of the ladybug larva, and the children painted ladybugs.  They too lingered for a while.



These hands-on materials, books, and living insects led the older children into making "reports," a project often seen at Chickadee.  Children of 4, 5, or 6 do their best with careful drawing and big writing, sharing something they have been learning about, something they care about, and they feel well-deserved pride when they are put up for all to see.  Here are five of them:

 the morpho butterfly has blue wings that are brown underneath
(written by Cara, our oldest child)

scorpions are poisnus
(Brady's drawing took a whole morning)

bumblebees make bee bread
(Rex learned so much more,
but this was his limit on writing)

grasshoprs yoos their powerfl legs to get away
[Charlotte showed a grasshopper sitting and flying)

praying mantis
(working from a big picture in a book, and with my grounding and guidance,
 Seamus could hardly believe he drew such a magnificent creature)

Meanwhile, out in the forest, the children went on bug hunts, looking under stumps and logs, finding black ground beetles, centipedes, and other small unidentified creatures, and of course, slugs.  For a while, we set out a big plastic bin as a temporary home for invertebrates.  It was quickly populated with banana slugs, and some little land snails appeared out of nowhere, along with black ground beetles and a few other mystery insects.  After a week or so I was concerned about their survival, and we returned them all to the forest.









We read lots of books about spiders and insects, most of them factual.  Just last week at the library I found this treasure, The Secret Life of the Wooly Bear Caterpillar.  Great illustrations, lots of new vocabulary, and we learned so much about this caterpillar often found in the fall.  I hope we find one soon!
  

Yes, summer is the best season to learn about insects and spiders, because it is their time.  From the native swallowtails we see flitting at the edge of the forest, to the bees buzzing in the clover, to the random insects which make their way inside through our open doors, to the spiders who are now spinning their webs everywhere, these creatures are all around us. Kids started bringing in bugs they found at home, alive or dead, each one important.  And in a gift of pure lovelieness, last week these girls found bumblebees sleeping overnight on the speckled zinnias in our flower garden. As it warmed up in the morning, the bees slowly began to move, and then when the sun hit the flowers, off they flew on their day's adventures. For a while longer, we can look at them up close and personal, every morning. 

So the summer rolls on, and we shifted some shelf work over to ocean invertebrates to ignite fresh interest, but the living encounters with insects continue.  May the children's hands remain gentle, their hearts open, and their minds inquisitive, as they share life with these, the earth's most abundant life forms.