Level 2: Insects + Spiders Unit Study

This week, some of the smallest creatures reign supreme! We’ll get on a roll with some dung beetles, explore what gives fireflies their signature glow, and spend a couple of days exploring the world of spiders (all while strengthening literacy, math, and science skills). Don’t forget to download our printable tracker to record all the books you read and activities you try!

Note: Occasionally we include project upgrades (for kids ready for more) and modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings). We’ll mark those with the plus (+) or minus (-) symbols.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Bonus family activity: Plan a family movie night! Pop some popcorn and end your week by watching A Bug’s Life as a family. How many of the bugs can your child name?

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Phonics Guide:

New to our phonics guide? Start here. The Phonics Guide this week will highlight the GN phonogram. GN is found in words like “gnat” and “sign.”

Lesson 1:

There are so many amazing insects and spiders in the world—how can we tell them all apart? Let’s start by familiarizing ourselves with a variety of creeping and crawling critters in The Big Book of Bugs (or whatever encyclopedia-style bug book you have). Don’t worry if your child doesn’t want to read every word—the point is to demonstrate how many varieties exist and talk about some of their features that you see. Read as much as your child is interested in learning about.

Activity 1: Before we dig deeper, let’s make sure your child is clear on the differences between insects and spiders with this egg carton craft. We’ll be making an insect and a spider and then labeling their parts.
(+) If your child is a LEGO fan, you could also do this LEGO insect anatomy project instead. Use the labels from the egg carton craft to create a version for flying insects and spiders as well.

Activity 2: Ever wonder how insects eat? Explore the answers in a hands-on…er, mandibles-on way with this activity.

Activity 3: Fly cutting (fine motor) practice.

Activity 4: Can you act like an insect? Get some gross motor movement in with this insect movement dice. Feel free to repeat this activity throughout the week whenever your child needs to self-regulate or has ants in their pants. 😉

Lesson 2:

Do you know the most common type of bug in the world? The answer is beetles! Beetles are characterized by having two sets of wings, the outer of which are hardened to cover and protect the beetle’s body. The cover wings meet in a straight line down the middle of the beetle’s back. Before emerging as winged adults, beetles undergo a very different-looking larval stage. The larvae of beetles all look very different, but are generally are elongate with three pairs of jointed legs at the front of the body. (source)

One of the most fascinating beetles? The dung beetle! Let’s learn more about them in Steve the Dung Beetle: On a Roll.

Activity 1: Want to see a real dung beetle in action? Watch this video to learn more about them. Next, let’s work our gross motor skills with a little dung beetle walk of our own! Using a large fitness ball or beach balls, have your child try to walk on their hands with their feet propped on the ball. See how far they can get across the room! (Odds are, you now have a new appreciation for the dung beetle’s strength!)

Activity 2: Next, let’s look for patterns in this beetle matching coloring sheet.

Activity 3: Let’s practice some consonant blends with this game. Print out these jars and bug consonant blend cards on cardstock or regular paper and laminate if possible. Print enough jars for however many people are playing. We have also included a page of blank cards to create your own blend bug cards.

Place all the bug cards in a container that is not transparent and have player 1 read the first bug. You may need to demonstrate how to read the blends for the first few bugs. The purpose is not to create a word with the cards, but simply to become familiar blending the consonant sounds (a skill that will be useful for sounding out words when reading). If the player reads the card incorrectly, then the bug card can be placed back in the container. If the card is read correctly, then it is added to that player’s bug jar. You can also ask your child to think of a word that starts with this blend sound to reinforce the lesson. The winner is whoever has the most bugs when they are all read!

Activity 4: Finally, let’s reinforce the bug body parts we learned yesterday with this roll-a-bug game.

Lesson 3:

Another thing found on many bugs are wings! The fancy word for the class of winged insects are pterygota. (Wingless insects are in a class called apterygota.) Pteryg- is Latin for “wing.” (source) Can your child think of another winged animal with this sound in its name? (Pterodactyl!) Here’s a really cool video of a winged insect (a moth) taking flight to get them excited. Today’s lessons will be all about a winged creature they may have seen many times but still don’t know a lot about.

Activity 1: The firefly’s basic lifecycle is similar to other beetles, but the whole story has some notable differences. First, let’s color and make this life cycle spinner to reinforce the basic pattern of egg, larva, pupa, and adult firefly. Next, let’s read How to Survive as a Firefly for an in-depth look at the life of these amazing insect.

Activity 2: For today’s math lesson, we’ll use fireflies to help us review even and odd numbers with this printable activity. If this is a newer concept for your child or they are having trouble grasping how to tell if a number is even or odd, we highly recommend printing the help mat in that post as well to give them a visual reference. (If you have trouble printing, try saving the document to your desktop first and opening it from there.)

Activity 3: Of course, the most fascinating part of fireflies is their signature glow! Let’s learn how they do it in this video. Then, let’s make our own glowing fireflies with this craft.

Activity 4: Now that we’ve learned a lot about insects, let’s apply our knowledge to a STEM project and create our own insect! Use materials you already own (bonus if they’re upcycled!) to create the body. You might also need pipe cleaners, yarn, googly eyes—whatever it takes to bring your little one’s imagination to life. (They may want to draw it first to organize their ideas.) Next, encourage your child to tell you about their bug, including where it’s found, what it eats, and what kind of life cycle it has. You can see if they want to write down these details, or they may simply want to orally present them while you scribe for them.

Lesson 4:

Of course, not all creepy-crawlies are insects. Today, we’re learning all about spiders! Begin with the book The Spider: The Disgusting Critter Series by Elise Gravel.

Activity 1: Spiders have a life cycle very different from most insects. Let’s reinforce your child’s understanding of it with this craft.

Activity 2: Next, let’s use spider legs and some spider figurines to introduce some basic multiplication concepts to your child. Print and laminate (if possible) our Spider Leg Multiplication download. You can either use real spider figurines or print and cut out the spider illustrations we have included in the printable. Start by showing your child one spider. Write the number one (1) above the “spiders” box. Ask them how many legs one spider has. (8) Write this (or have them write it) in the “legs” box. Show them how one spider times 8 legs equals 8, and have them write the final answer. Next, present them with two spiders and repeat the activity (the number of legs will remain 8, or you can try with insect figurines and make the number of legs 6). Repeat, increasing the number of spiders, for as much as they are able to grasp and have the attention span to do.

Activity 3: Ready for a little spider language arts? Let’s introduce your child to the idea of nouns with this spider web noun sort activity.

Activity 4: Did you know that one of the world’s largest sculptures is actually of a giant spider? It is called Maman by Louise Bourgeois, and you can see it here. You can also see more of Louise Bourgeois spiders in this article about her. Here is an excerpt about how the sculptures were made:

“Her spider sculpture was created using steel and marble. Supported on eight thin legs, the spider’s body was suspended above the ground, which allowed audiences to walk freely underneath. Each ribbed leg was created out of two pieces of steel. Underneath the spider was also a wire-meshed sac that contained 17 white and marble eggs.

Bourgeoise’s spider sculptures were always large, but they got more massive between 1995 and 1999. Her largest spider installation was approximately 21 feet tall and showed a body and round head of a spider supported on eight stick-like legs. Over the years, Bourgeoise made spiders in a range of media and ranging in size. The smallest spider she ever created was a 4-inch brooch, but her largest by far was the Maman sculpture close to 30 feet tall and could only be installed outside. Today, spiders have become synonymous with Louise Bourgeoise’s work.”

Here are some question prompts to get your child thinking about this sculpture:

  • What do you think of this sculpture?
  • The Maman was made 30 feet tall, meaning people could walk freely beneath it. What do you think that would feel like?
  • Do you think Louise Bourgeoise was happy when she made these sculptures? Why or why not?
  • How does it make you feel to look at it?

Next, make your own mini version of this sculpture using pipe cleaners using this tutorial.

Lesson 5:

Someone who studies bugs is called an entomologist. (Maybe your child wants to be one after this week!) Let’s learn about a real entomologist in the book, Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist: The True Story of a World-Traveling Bug Hunter by Christine Evans before learning more about spiders.

Activity 1: Do you ever wonder why bugs stick to spider webs but the spiders slide along freely? Let’s illustrate this in a hands-on way. Between two chairs, create a simple spider web using some kind of sticky tape (packing tape or masking tape will be easiest to see the effect) with the sticky side facing your child. Have them touch the tape gently. What happens? (They stick!) Next, have them dip their finger in some kind of cooking oil. Now what happens when they touch the web? (Their finger should slide along freely!) That’s because one of the reasons why many types of spiders can avoid sticking to their webs is because of a special non-stick coating on their feet. But there are actually three ways that spiders avoid getting caught in their webs! Let’s learn about them in this video.

Activity 2: Next, let’s do some web hopping with this spider skip counting activity. (If you have trouble printing the web, try saving it to your desktop first and opening it from there.)

Activity 3: Let’s get some reading practice with these spider word families.

Activity 4: Finally, let’s end the week with this spider cracker snack that your child can make all by themselves!

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.

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