Spiders might seem scary, especially when Halloween decorations include gigantic eight-legged creatures in webs stretching across entire walls. In my preschool class, however, we learn that spiders are really helpful animals because they eat insects that bother people, such as flies and mosquitoes. Fun learning experiences help children conquer their possible fears.
We begin our spider explorations by talking about what children already know about spiders and what they want to learn. Then, we invite children to look for real spiders and webs in our school yard. We tell children that most spiders do not bother people, but they should look with their eyes and not put their hands into an area they cannot see so they don’t get bitten or squish any tiny creatures.
When children search for spiders the dynamics change. Instead of being frightened when they see a spider, they are thrilled that they’ve found one. “Look, look!! There’s a tiny spider in a web,” they call out.
We create a big graph on chart paper labeled, “Where We Found Spiders and Webs.” Children draw a picture in the correct column when they find a spider or web, building math into the activity. Then we tally and discuss our findings.
Children learn to appreciate the richness of language and the variety of organisms in the natural world as they learn that spiders are not a “bug”—they are a special type of arthropod with eight legs and two body parts called an arachnid. Share with them that arachnids are different from insects, such as butterflies, mosquitoes, and bees, which have six legs and three body parts.
On another school day, we built a big model of a spider using a paper grocery bags stuffed with newspaper. A big model helps children see the body parts and discover the surprising fact that a spider’s legs are located at the base of the first body part, instead of the abdomen, where they are often incorrectly shown. Our giant spider wasn’t scary for the children because they made it—plus, it looked a little silly with its pipe cleaner legs.
A giant spider spins a giant web. Children love learning that spiders spin two kinds of silk: strong silk that isn’t sticky (for the framework) and sticky silk (to catch their prey). We brainstormed what materials to use, and then the children got to work, using twine for the framework and transparent tape for the sticky strands. It doesn’t matter if the children’s web doesn’t look like a real web. They are discovering how much work it takes for a spider to build a web, an important ecological lesson.
The giant web and spider provide opportunities for children to play, which is key to preschool learning. As children help build the web, they often become insects buzzing around. “I’m a fly. I’m not getting stuck.” Then, they draw and cut out a variety of insects that they do stick to the web.
We build literacy into spider explorations by reading books such as Be Nice to Spiders by Margret Bloy Graham and Itsy Bitsy, the Smart Spider by Charise Mericle Harper. We also invite children to draw pictures and dictate their own spider stories.
Have fun learning with spiders!
The curriculum ideas in this post come from the author’s book, Thinking BIG, Learning BIG: Connecting Science, Math, Literacy and Language in Early Childhood. Marie Faust Evitt is head teacher of a preschool class for four- and five-year-olds in Mountain View, California. Prior to teaching, Marie was an award-winning newspaper reporter and freelance journalist for more than 20 years. Her articles and essays on education, parenting, and child psychology have been published in Newsweek, Parents, Child, Parenting, Scholastic’s Parent & Child, Scholastic.com, and Family Fun. She posts about her classroom activities at www.thinkingBIGlearningBIG.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thinkingBIGlearningBIG.