Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
A mistake in the hand

Today’s post was written by Alida Lemieux, Discovery Program Coordinator at Ontario Parks.

Children seem naturally attracted to insects. Maybe it’s because the errors are small and easy to handle. Maybe it’s because they are abundant and easy to find. It could be because they are beautiful, funny, strange or creepy!

Whatever the appeal, insects (used colloquially here to refer to insects and other arthropods such as spiders, millipedes, etc.) are wonderful subjects for gentle play with and close observation.

Two kids in bright t-shirts, one with a dixie cup and large glass in hand, and the other with a pink net probing a bush.

While there are times when adults should warn children about direct contact (for example, black-legged ticks and bees/wasps, especially for those with a known allergy), most insects in Ontario are safe to manipulate. And in doing so, they can teach us valuable life lessons!

Insects teach positive attitude and self-regulation.

If insects make you squeamish, try moderating your screaming or squishing response around children. Naturalist educator Joseph Cornell wrote in his classic book Sharing nature with children“Remember that your own enthusiasm is contagious and that is perhaps your greatest asset as a teacher.”

Large stick insect on forearm

Likewise, your negative reactions to a spider or bee can influence a young child’s impression of them. Challenge your family to adopt a catch-and-release policy for unwanted insect guests in your home!

Insects teach respect

Perhaps because insects are small, abundant, and often considered a nuisance, they don’t always get the respect they deserve. Interacting with insects is a great opportunity for children to learn to be kind to them and appreciate their place in the world.

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Large green, yellow and black caterpillar on a plant

“When you follow an ant closely for a while, even for a couple of minutes, it makes you stop and think before you step on the next one you meet.”

Anna S., 10 years old (Discovery participant)

Try letting a caterpillar crawl onto your hand instead of holding it with your fingers. Encourage children to return the bugs to where they found them after playing and explain why, for example: “We’d better let this child eat his favorite leaves again so he can grow into a healthy butterfly!”

Insects teach dexterity and concentration.

Whether wielding a butterfly net, putting a beetle in a cup, or crawling behind an ant to see where it goes, kids can practice their fine motor skills and hone their powers of concentration while immersed in nature.

Large yellow, white and black spider in a field closeup

If you’re near a beach or sand dunes, keep an eye out for funnel-shaped sand traps, one to two inches in diameter, for antlion larvae (doodlebugs)! Crouch down and carefully “tickle” the sides of the hole with a pine needle or blade of grass, causing a small slide of sand. The trap keeper may even surprise you by trying to catch the pine needle in its jaws. Warning: May cause screams of delight in both adults and children!

Insects provoke amazement and curiosity

There are 10 quintillion insects on Earth! You can bet they’ve come up with an equally impressive variety of ways to survive through form, function, and behavior.

Front half of a grasshopper on a green leaf

Look for strange egg cases, galls, chrysalises, and cocoons on trees and other plants. Can you find an insect with giant jaws or a straw to suck on? There are bugs that spin on the water, bugs that blow bubbles out of their butts, and bugs that glow in the dark!

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Encourage children to ask what, why and how, and to come up with their own theories. Sometimes you can find the answer by looking a little closer….

Provincial parks are protected areas and some species may be at risk. Most insects are safe to handle; however, some, such as hairy caterpillars, can cause irritation. Handle with care and return the insect to the place where you found it.