This is part one of Nature Week! There are many activities that can stem from each concept I will blog about, so feel free to post your own ideas in the comments section as inspiration for other teachers and Montessori moms!
Age: 4+ years (Can be done by one child or a group)
What child isn’t buggy about bugs? Go outside with your child, discover the world of ants (or other common insects), and use the tiny creatures as a springboard for science, art, language, math, and music!
First, educate yourself and your child about ant facts. You can go online to find child-friendly ant information or check out a book from the library. Children aren’t afraid of “big words”, so you shouldn’t be either! Use the correct terminology and include it in the context of your activity so your child gains a hands-on understanding of her new vocabulary. Here are some words to consider for the following activities: colony, antennae, thorax, abdomen, harvest, exoskeleton, pupa, hypothesis, conclusion.
Activity: Ant Buffet
Items needed: magnifying lenses, paper plates divided into fourths with a marker, potential ant food items (ripe fruit, bread, cheese, dead leaves, grass, meat, sugar, salt, etc.),
1. Ask the child which foods the ants are most likely to be attracted to, and why she thinks this is the case. Incorporate the term “hypothesis” by telling her: “What you think will happen is your hypothesis. Now you’re going to test your hypothesis.” Let her place her four food selections (about a tablespoon is enough) on the four sections of the plate. (If working with several children, they can each make their own selections and have different assortments on their plates).
2. Go outside and conduct an “ant hunt”. Great places to look are cracks in the sidewalk, under rocks, or near water sources. Show your child how to roll logs or rocks towards you so that any inhabitants (spiders, centipedes, etc.) will crawl away from you. Talk about not harming any animals.
3. Place the plate nearby and wait. While the ants find the food, you can talk about what you learned from the book/online resources. What do ant bodies look like? How do they move and communicate? How does their behavior change when they find food? Observe the ants as they arrive for the food, help your child count how many visit each type of food, and help her record her results. The easiest way to do this is to write the name of each of the four foods on a paper, and make a check-mark next to that food for each ant that visits it.
Note: It’s OK if your child doesn’t do this perfectly. The purpose of this project is to help develop observation skills and introduce the Scientific Method.
4. Restore the habitat and clean up when you’re done!!!
5. If you wish, you can help your child graph the results by writing the four foods at the bottom of a page and pasting an ant picture above each food for each ant that visited it (older children will love this). Discuss your child’s findings with her. Was the hypothesis correct? What does the graph tell her? Talk about how scientists sometimes have to test their hypothesis several times to confirm their conclusions, and sometimes have to refine their testing methods.
Art: Make thumbprint ants by using a stamp pad or washable markers. Allow your child to experiment with the size of her fingers to see which are best for making a realistic head, thorax and abdomen. Show her how to add eyes, legs and antennae. Talk about the ant’s body parts and what they’re used for. She can also make an anthill on her paper by “painting” with glue and sprinkling sand over it. Talk about what the ants in her painting are doing. NOTE: This is art, so there is no “right” or “wrong” way of doing it. Allow the child to create based on her impressions of the insect she studied.
- Sing “The Ants Go Marching…” (You can find several other options for lyrics on YouTube and iTunes, but the one I linked is my favorite version because it shows the movements associated with the verses. My students LOVE doing this song marching around the ellipse and crouching down during the “down to the ground” part. It’s a great way to wear them out!!)
- Sing “Head, Thorax, Abdomen” to the tune of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”
Language: For older children (6+), pose open-ended questions that encourage them to use their imagination. Writing topics might include: “If I were as small as an ant…”, “If I had six legs…”, and “If I were waiting inside a pupa, I would think about…”.
Snack time: Make “ants on a log” by spreading cream cheese on a celery or carrot stick and putting a row of raisin “ants” on top.
Chumiles (ant larvae), a tasty Mexican delicacy!! (I'm serious!)
- - Talk about cultures that eat ants and ant larvae, and show them pictures of these foods. Discuss how foods that might seem strange to us are common-place and even delicacies in other countries (and vice-versa).
- - Discuss how some cultures use ants for medicinal purposes (sutures, anti-inflammatory medicine, etc.)
Stuff to buy (if you’re so inclined):
- Insect eye kaleidoscopes allow children to see the world as an insect would (found in science stores)
- Ant farms are a great way to study the hierarchy and team work of an ant colony (just be careful it doesn’t open up in your living room or classroom!)
As always, when working with animals it’s imperative to discuss and model ethical treatment of all creatures and their environment. Be kind to ants, they play a crucial role in our ecosystem!!!