What should you do when your kids have been home for months, and summer is just getting started? How will you keep them occupied and entertained? Here’s an idea – create your own bug camp!

summer bug campKids are naturally curious about insects, and you don’t have to go far to find them. Even common house insects can be fascinating when observed closely. Use your kids’ natural inquisitiveness to teach them about bugs, from common household pests to exotic and weird creepy-crawlies. Insects are perfect tools to introduce science and biology to kids, to broaden their young minds, and to teach them how to observe the world around them.

Here are some ideas to host a do-it-yourself bug camp.

Start with safety. Before venturing outdoors to explore, teach kids about outdoor bugs that are potentially harmful – like stinging insects, mosquitoes, and ticks, and how to avoid bites and stings. Be sure to dress appropriately with long pants and sleeves, and practice safety measures before going out bug hunting. Remind younger kids to “look before they leap” – to observe before getting too close. Most bugs won’t bother you if you don’t bother them; model ways to watch without disturbing nests or habitats.

Good bug, bad bug. Just as “The Lion King” teaches about the circle of life, you can use this same concept to explain that insects have an important role in the ecosystem, even though we want to keep them out of our homes. It’s also important to teach children that not all insects sting or bite, and that there are many cool and beneficial insects as well. Here’s a couple “did you know” fun facts:

  • Fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, are actually beetles, and in some places like the Great Smoky Mountains, millions of them synchronize their light patterns during a certain time of year.
  • Spiders are beneficial because they prey on other insects.

identifying insectsYou can read more about how to explain good bugs and bad bugs here. You can also use our YouTube video to teach children how to spot which spiders are dangerous, like the black widow and brown recluse.

Insect safari. Grab an insect field guide and a magnifying glass and head out for a bug identification bonanza. Dig up a bit of dirt and see what insects emerge. Look in trees, under rocks, on plants and flowers, or between cracks in the sidewalk. Explain the difference between insects and arachnids: insects have six legs; two antennae; and three parts: the head, abdomen, and thorax. Wings are always in pairs, just like on airplanes. Most arachnids have eight legs; two main body sections called the cephalothorax and the abdomen, and do not have antenna or wings. Amazon offers a variety of kits for outdoor exploring for children ages 3 to 10, as well as a selection of colorful bug jars and critter cages.

Make a caterpillar bughouse. This is a great activity for preschool and children ages 3 to 9. Teach the difference between a chrysalis and a cocoon, then head out for a field adventure. Give each child a jar or other clean container. Poke holes in the lid, or cover the top with a piece of mesh. Ask the kids to find a caterpillar and put it in their container, along with a stick and a few leaves. Make sure they take notes on the habitat, so they know what to feed them. If you are lucky, the caterpillar will build a chrysalis or a cocoon. A few weeks later, a butterfly or moth will emerge, and you can release it into the wild.

kids learning about bugsExplore online. If the weather is bad, create a playlist of YouTube videos and watch them together. Google “teach kids about insects” or “teach teens about insects” to find plenty of free videos for any age group. Enjoy anything from short animated musical videos for toddlers and preschoolers to more sophisticated documentaries for middle-school children and teens. For school-aged kids, have them write a list of the bugs featured in the video as they watch.

Make a bug craft. Preschoolers can mold brightly colored modeling clay (such as Play-Doh) into simple insects and label their parts. Elementary-aged children can make paper chains to create caterpillars, or use egg cartons to make ladybugs. Older children and teens might enjoy crafting butterflies out of clothespins and tissue paper. Glue magnets on the clothespin and use them to hang reminders on the fridge. We’ve cultivated many more insect crafts and treats on our Pinterest board!

Make a bug map. For middle school-aged children and teens, insects can serve as a starting point for a geography lesson, because they can be found almost everywhere on earth. Some bugs can even survive in the extremely cold temperatures of Antarctica. Print out or draw small pictures of some of the most interesting insects. (Here’s a fun place to start.) Grab a globe or spread out a world map, and pin or tape the places where these bugs can be found.

Bug culture. Read books featuring bugs as main characters, such as Eric Carle’s classics for preschoolers: “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “The Very Busy Spider,” or “The Grouchy Ladybug,” or, for school-aged children, E.B. White’s classic “Charlotte’s Web.” Or sing about bugs! Insects have inspired a surprisingly long list of songs. Sing along with old favorites like “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” a great favorite for preschoolers, or teach school-aged kids about the industrious ant with “High Hopes.” Older children and teens may enjoy listening to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s classical favorite, “The Flight of the Bumblebee.

With their endless varieties and fascinating life cycles – from common household bugs to weird and colorful bugs found only in remote regions – insects are a great starting point to keep kids learning and to teach them how to be respectful of all creatures. Start your bug camp now and keep their minds active and engaged this summer.

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