Let's Talk About: Collecting creepy crawlies

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From ladybugs to butterflies, from ants to grasshoppers, southwestern Pennsylvania has an abundance of creepy crawlies for your early learner to discover this spring. Do you have a young entomologist in training? Grab your collecting tools (an empty plastic jar and some tweezers) and head outside.

An eagerness for collecting bugs often comes naturally to preschoolers, who are anxious to explore and understand their world and the living things in it. What better way to encourage their curiosity than to join in the fun yourself? Ask your children questions to help plan their search. Will they look under a rock or on a bush? What might they find in the grass that they won't find on the sidewalk? Sparking conversations with an open-ended question allows your child to develop his or her skill for discussing thoughts and discoveries.

That Pennsylvania has a wealth of diverse insects is great news for your young scientist, but also for our ecosystem and economy. Insects play an important role in the pollination of plants, and some produce substances humans can use, such as honey and beeswax. You may find some bugs in your exploration that shouldn't be touched, such as ticks or wasps, but most are safe to observe up close. Many physical characteristics of insects are visible without magnification. Once you and your child have collected an insect, can you find the two antennae protruding from its head? Can you count its six legs together? Can you see its bulging compound eyes? As you investigate and compare your insects, your preschooler is gaining new information about living things and honing the important skill of close observation. Although some creepy crawlies are not technically insects, worms and spiders being two examples, they're still just as interesting to observe.

To encounter an impressive insect you won't find in your backyard, visit the Madagascar hissing cockroaches at Carnegie Science Center.

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