This week, I have been undertaking shared planning meetings with the teachers at Mile End Primary School in Aberdeen. All the P1 and P2 classes happen to be studying minibeasts as one of many foci this term.
It’s been a long cold spring here in Aberdeen, so the numbers of active minibeasts will be less than average. However, this is not to say there are no worms, insects and other little creatures being active, simply less of them.
Most children, when asked, were keen to hunt for minibeasts. Many wanted to use different equipment such as magnifying glasses. In one class the children want to make homes for minibeasts.
Get involved in the OPAL bug survey
The bug survey is suitable for young children and best undertaken between May and November. You can download their free packs and upload your results to contribute to the UK wide survey. It is genuine citizen science and guidance is given so that realistic accuracy is achieved. It also includes ID charts.
What creature, where and how many?
Encourage the children to consider where in the school grounds would they be most likely to find minibeasts and why. Put together a list of suggestions and reasons. It’s worth showing the OPAL posters which provide a range of suggestions as to where to look – including hard (man-made) surfaces.
If appropriate, introduce the term ‘habitat’ as the scientific word for the home or place where a plant or animal lives. Also children are fascinated with the idea that whilst they have a backbone (vertebrae), minibeasts tend to be all invertebrates and do not have a backbone. Instead many have an exoskeleton to help them keep their shape.
Then go out and see if their predictions are correct. For recording purposes, show children how to draw and use a table with the following columns: creature, place found, how many?
What equipment will help us look and find little creatures?
This is an eye-opener when discussing with young children. One of the most important skills being developed is that of observation.
- Children can design and make their own viewing frames. These can be three-dimensional such as toilet tubes or a simple as a two-dimensional frame cut out of cardboard. These can be decorated using the colours and patterns seen on common insects and other creatures.
- Magnifiers come in a range of sizes, magnifications and colours. It is good to have a variety – as each serves a different purpose and provides a different skill to use. Also some children will find one type of magnifier easier to use than others. There’s also magnifying apps that can be download onto tablets and iPads.
- Have a white or cream-coloured cloth to put underneath a tree or shrub. If you give a branch a gentle shake, then creatures that land can be easily seen.
- Small nets can be used for sweeping through long grass.
- Mirrors or a piece of clear Perspex are useful for looking at creatures in different ways, including underside of a creature.
- Bug pots – clear pots with lids with breathing holes are also helpful for close up viewing.
- A light-coloured collection tray is also useful. For example, you can put a handful of leaves or ground litter into the tray and then show the children how to gently sift through it.
- A camera or digital device to take photos.
If you work in a nursery, then having this equipment ready for children to use both in the outdoor space and off-site can be very helpful.
How can we be kind to the creatures we find?
Ask the children for their advice about finding creatures and how to keep them happy. Wild creatures are fragile and are not used to being picked up and handled – this includes little ones such as worms or woodlice.
Discuss ways of doing this gently and whether certain creatures simply should be left alone such as bees, wasps and ants and others which nip, bite and sting. Using bug pots, soft brushes, teaspoons and cups are all ways of carefully moving, collecting and holding one or two minibeasts. Only handle or move a creature if you absolutely have to. Always return creatures to where you found them.
Remember to brief any adult or older children volunteers to model good handling of minibeasts and also positive body language and comments. Speaking quietly, moving gently and being sensitive to the creatures’ needs is a must.
How do we know what we have found?
Again, it is worth asking children for their thoughts here first. They may have some good ideas. They also may have a family member who knows and can assist. There is a lot of merit in developing your own collection of photos based upon what children find in your local area.
- The OPAL bug charts are good for basic bugs and help you and the children classify the invertebrates you find.
- iSpot is a website that you can upload photos and others will help you identify what you have seen.
- The Nature Detectives website has free downloadable spotter sheets.
- The Field Studies Council have beautiful charts which can be purchased.
Rather than worry about the names of creatures, focus on other scientific matters such as:
- The habitat: what does this tell you about the creature’s needs? Is it damp or dry? Up in a tree, on the ground, under a log or below the surface?
- The numbers of the creature: it is alone or part of a group? Consider the pros and cons of each.
- How does the creature move? Does it wriggle, crawl, fly? Why do you think it moves in the way it does?
- What does it look like? Look at the body parts. Is it an insect, arachnid or from another family?
Whilst tick charts and tables are good, many children may prefer to sketch the creatures they find and take photos.
What can we do with our findings?
As well as uploading your survey results to the OPAL website, there are lots of follow on possibilities from a bug count. This could include deciding how to organise the data found and represent it in different ways. Ask your class for ideas – some possibilities include:
- Using Venn Diagrams to show the location of where creatures were found.
- Making a pictograph of the numbers of different invertebrate counted.
- Creating a simple key to help identify which bug is which through the creation of good questions.