Level 1: Insects + Spiders Unit

This unit is all about the creepy, crawly little creatures that outnumber us by millions! 🐝🐛🦋🐞🐜🦟🦗🕷(But don’t worry—they’re actually much more interesting than scary!) You will learn about a few specific insects and spiders while also refining your child’s fine and gross motor skills, crafting, and even taking a field trip or two. Be sure to explore the outdoors and look for insects near you. (Although it isn’t part of our lessons and activities, you could also try collecting bugs as described here or in this idea.) And 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):

Optional chapter book:

Bonus family activity: Plan a family movie night! Pop some popcorn and end your week by watching A Bug’s Life as a family.

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!

Number of the week: 4, 5

Ready to meet a couple new numbers this week? Our numbers of the week are 4 and 5. Introduce counting and writing the numbers (numerically and as words) with this coloring printout. Throughout the week, look for opportunities to count and combine manipulatives (for example, a spider has four legs on each side of its body!) to give your child a holistic understanding of these numbers.

Lesson 1:

Let’s start the week by reading Insect Detective. As you read each page, discuss it. Ask your child questions, and have them narrate the details back to you in a natural conversational way. (Never tried narration before? Watch our quick video to understand why it’s important and learn how to do it.)

Review these key facts as you prepare for the next activity: What is an insect? An insect has 6 legs and three parts to its body. The parts are called the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. Insects also have two antennas. Some insects have wings. All insects start life as an egg.

Activity 1: Let’s practice learning the body parts of an insect with an activity that will also reinforce your child’s number skills—win-win! First, print the game here. You will only need one of the first page for reference, but then you should print enough of the second page for each person who will be playing. Cut apart the second page so each body part is its own piece. You will also need one die.

After reviewing the insect body parts on the first sheet with your child, explain that each body part will correspond with a number on the die for our game. Each player will take turns rolling the die, collecting the parts of their insect. (Depending on your child’s patience and attention span, you can decide if your want one roll of 2 to get both antennae or if you need to roll it twice to get both. Same for the legs!)

If they roll the number of a piece they already have, it’s the next player’s turn. The first person to build a whole insect wins!

Activity 2: Let’s review the parts of an insect by making some play dough bugs! Your child will need play dough, cut-up straws, and some googly eyes. First, have them build a bug with the correct parts (helping them to identify and name the head, thorax, abdomen, antennae, and eyes). Then, let them stretch the limits of nature by creating their own version!

Activity 3: To be or not to be…an insect! Let’s sort out any animal figurines you have at home in addition to your insect and spider figurines (or stickers if you bought those instead). First, print our sorting sheet here. Next, put all your figurines into a bowl or bag and have your child pick one at a time. (Or pick one sticker at a time.) Discuss each animal as you select it and practice using critical thinking skills to determine which category it falls into.

What happens if they make a mistake? It’s okay, we promise! Check out this great video from one of our contributors, Juli Williams, to help you navigate those moments.

Activity 4: Matching activity. Print two copies of these bug cards on cardstock and play a matching or memory game.

Lesson 2:

Bees are one of the most important pollinating insects. 🐝 Let’s begin by reading the book The Honeybee Man to learn more about these fascinating insects. Again, use the narration technique to discuss this book with your child. Focus on what new details you are learning right along with them as you read together.

Activity 1: Let’s watch this video to learn more about bees and their hives. If you are able, visit a beekeeper’s hive in your area. Many offer educational opportunities to help kids to learn in a safe way. (Here are more tips if you do visit a hive.) This website might help you find one close to you. Additionally, many museums also have hives in clear boxes so that students can visit and observe the bees.

Activity 2: Bees are important pollinators. Review pollination using the book What’s Inside a Flower? And Other Questions About Science and Nature by Rachel Ignotofsky from the Flowers Unit. Now, let’s be a bee! First, create this simple bee finger puppet craft (make one for you and one for your child). Next, make your flower bed. You will need a piece of green cardstock or construction paper, mini cupcake liners (ideally in a flower color), yellow pom poms, and glue.

Let your child glue 6-8 cupcake liners on their green paper, and then glue a yellow pom pom in each.

To bring the activity to life, sprinkle some mustard powder or turmeric on some of the pom poms. Tell your child that each flower has pollen and that the spice represents the pollen. You and your child can now “pollinate” the flowers with your finger bees. Point out the transfer of powder as the bees travel from flower to flower, and examine the body of the bee as well.

Activity 3: Bee life cycle printable. Use this poster to reinforce the lessons learned in our book and our video for the day. Review the details with your child or ask them to narrate the cycle to you. To make the activity more hands-on, you can also cut out the cards and have your child rebuild the cycle on their work surface or a separate piece of paper.

Activity 4: Have you ever heard someone say “They are as busy as a bee!” This expression comes from how bees move and how busy they are working all day long. They fly back and forth to their hives pollinating and making honey. Be inspired to be busy like the bee as we listen to the classical song “Flight of the Bumblebee” by Rimsky-Korsakov. In this activity, you and your child can move around your home “working” like a bee. Clean up toys, run around, zig zag, and dance like a bee—any kind of movement will work!

Optional field trip: Have a honey taste test! 🍯 This time of year, you will often find bee honey at farmer’s markets. Sometimes they have tasting straws they sell or to sample so you can taste the different types of honey. If this is available in your area, have a tasting party with your child. Discuss why the honey tastes different and make connections with today’s lessons on pollination and what we learned in our book.

Lesson 3:

Let’s learn about a few of our favorite insects today. Review or re-read your Insect Detective book, and take note of the dragonfly page. That’s where we will begin our activities today.

Activity 1: Let’s learn more about the dragonfly. This blogger has collected 10 facts about dragonflies and has a wonderful craft to engage your child’s fine motor skills.

Activity 2: Next, let’s learn about the leaf cutter ant. Introduce the book The Life and Times of the Ant and look for the pictures on pages 26 and 27 about the clever leaf cutter ant. Watch this video and then let’s make a leaf cutter ant craft. You will need a piece of white paper, a pen or marker, dot-to-dot markers or black circle stickers, and leaves or green construction paper.

Start by drawing a wavy line on your child’s paper. Next, have them use their dot marker or the stickers to create a row of ants (three circles per ant to create their three body segments). Let them use the pen or marker to add legs and antennae. Finally, glue a piece of leaf or green paper to their backs to resemble leaf cutter ants.

Want more ant fun? Play this song as you work on your craft. 

Activity 3: Praying mantis. Read or watch the video of the book My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis. Afterwards, let’s make our own praying mantis puppet.

First, print this praying mantis on white cardstock, then cut out the mantis, separating the legs from the body. You may want to use tape or paper hole reinforcements to reinforce the legs and body where you’ll be attaching them.

Hinge the body at the joints with brass fasteners. If it feel like too many legs or too many fasteners, try using one fastener to connect two legs onto the puppet, one for each side of the body.

Now your puppet is ready for play!

Activity 4: This week, our fine art lesson takes a creepy, crawly turn. Click over to this website and have fun asking your child to examine each piece of art and have them find the bugs! If there is any one art piece your child shows a particular interest in, dig deeper and learn the name of the artist and the piece and more about it.

Lesson 4:

Spiders are not insects…but they are pretty cool creatures! 🕷️ Start by reading this funny introduction to spiders, I Am Trying to Love Spiders.

Activity 1: Let’s strengthen fine motor skills as your child weaves a web of their own! Note to parents: You will need to have this complete before moving on to the next activity.

Begin with a paper plate. Cut out the center and use a hole punch to add holes around the circle.

Give your child some yarn and have them start weaving a web back and forth. The actual pattern is not important, so let them use their own creativity to create their own spider web!

Activity 2: Spider silk strength experiment.

Activity 3: Spider web walk activity.

(-) Activity 4: Rescue the bugs with this fine motor activity bin! Start with a sensory bin or a deep baking dish. Fill the bottom of the dish with about half an inch of rice. (Note: To dye the rice to look like grass, add your rice to a large zipper plastic bag with a drops of green food coloring and shake until the rice is evenly coated in color. Allow to dry overnight before playing. The color is optional, but you will be able to use it again in an upcoming unit—so save it if you make it!)

Next, add several plastic bugs and spiders to the bin and wrap the whole thing in a “web” of black yarn.

Finally, let your child use plastic tweezers (or their fingers if the tweezers make it too difficult) to rescue the bugs from the web!

Lesson 5:

Let’s continue our spider fun today. We are going to learn about two specific types of spiders. The first is called a tarantula in this video. Next, this video about a very clever spider called Portia, a jumping spider. (Note: She is a spider eating spider, so you might want to watch it first to make sure it won’t scare your child.)

Activity 1: Today, we are going to use the spider life cycle to practice some writing and math skills. We’ll begin by reviewing the life cycle of a spider, using this printable. Next, practice writing spider words with these three-part spider cards. Use your Montessori letters or another letter manipulative from a previous lesson to practice these new words.
(+) If your child is ready for copy work, provide them with the sample word and lined paper and ask them to copy the words.
(+) Ready for a bit more? Write out a sentence for your child and have them copy it.

Activity 2: Next, let’s do some spider math! Review the math options below and find the one that’s right for your child:

  • Working on their counting skills and number identification? Print these number cards and use clothespins to identify the correct number that matches the picture.
  • If you are working on addition, print out these cards and use clothespins to identify the correct sum.
  • If you are working on subtraction, print these cards. Give your child beads or other small manipulatives to count out the first number and then subtract the second number to find the difference.

Activity 3: Let’s create a climbing spider craft! You will need cardstock, pipe cleaners, a straw, yarn, tape, googly eyes + glue, and two beads.

  1. Cut out a spider head and body from cardstock and glue them together. Glue or tape on some eyes and pipe cleaner legs. Your child may also wish to draw some spots or other markings on their spider.

2. Attach two plastic straw pieces (about 2 inches long) to the back of your spider body with tape, like this:

3. Pass one long thread or string through both straw pieces so you end up with two ends to hold at the bottom of the spider and several feet of string or thread for the spider to climb. (We also tied beads to the ends of the yarn to keep them from falling back through the straws.)

4. Hang the loop of that thread some place high like a door knob or sturdy curtain rod.

5. Hold the two ends in your hand. Next keep your hands apart, strings stretched and begin gently pulling the ends one side at a time to get the spider to crawl up the string.

Activity 4: Make an antenna headband and have your child be a bug while they do this spider’s web obstacle course. This blogger had several ideas, but we are just going to borrow one. Scroll down to the obstacle course for instructions on how to put it together, and let’s get moving! Ask your child to pretend to be a bug trying to avoid the spider’s web. This is done with a party streamer, but you can also use yarn to do the same thing.

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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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