By Dakota L. - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18521528
What child doesn't have some kind of fascination with bugs? They either love them, hate them or have an unreasonable fear of them. My daughter was always afraid of moths and butterflies and got traumatized by grasshoppers when she was about 5 or 6. The brother closest to her age was fascinated by all creepy crawly things. He once collected a whole goldfish bowl full of caterpillars to watch. He filled it with leaves and sticks but didn't realized when he put it in the sunniest window in the house that the glass would intensify the sunrays, cooking them to a crisp. That was a tough lesson, but a valuable one. When we lived in Stephentown on a dead-end dirt road in the woods, there were yellow and black garden spiders that showed up in the late summer/early fall and made webs all over our porch rails and the plants and bushes surrounding the front of the house. They were quite big and made beautiful webs. They eat the center of the web each night, recycling the chemicals and reweave it in the morning. They are fascinating to watch. My son and I would catch bugs to throw into the web and watch the spiders race over, paralyze the bug and wrap it tightly. There are always craft projects that reinforce each topic. Spiderwebs, can be made by punching holes along the edge of a paper plate and let your children weave across the plate in any direction they want. You can even carefully cut out the center after they're finished.
When I ran my summer camp program, we made our own spiderwebs, hatched butterflies, built an ant farm, hatched sea monkeys and triops and identified various bugs. Beautiful butterflies can be made out of white coffee filters and a wooden clothespin or pipe cleaner. Drip watery paint onto the filter so that it spreads throughout the absorbant paper. Once it dries, pinch it together in the middle and attach the clothespin or pipe cleaner to the pinched middle. You can add googly eyes and antennae, if you want, and can paint the clothespin. There are butterfly hatching kits available to buy at a science store or online. Farnsworth Middle School, in Guilderland, runs a butterfly garden that is open to the public during the summer. Hours are limited, so be sure to check the schedule before heading out.
Ants can be made out of cardboard egg cartons. You can teach your children about the different sections of the ants' bodies, the head, thorax and abdomen. Use three sections, one for each body part. Paint them and add pipe cleaners for legs and antennae. How many legs do they have? They have three. Paint or glue on eyes. Ant farms can be purchased inexpensively and are fun to watch. They are such busy creatures. You can find them in the wild, too. Just lift up a large rock, a board or a log and watch them scurry. If you collect your own ants for your farm, be sure to take them from the same colony or they will fight to the death.
You can see that I've barely scratched the surface. Worms are fun as well as beetles, lady bugs, and how about praying mantises? As always, use your imaginations, and also ask your children what they would like to learn about? They may surprise you. There are so many things to learn and places to visit with this topic. I love the Pine Bush Discovery Center with exhibits about Karner Blue Butterflies and more, the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center at Thomsons Lake that houses a bee hive encased in glass where you can watch the bees doing their busy work, Five Rivers Environmental Education Center and on and on. This area is very rich in educational adventures. I encourage you to go out exploring but, speaking of bugs, be sure to protect yourselves against ticks! And remember that in the late summer and during the fall, yellow jackets and ground hornets are very active and just looking for something to sting. Common plantain, which grows everywhere, is wonderful for taking the venom out of bee stings. Chew a few leaves (they taste horrible, but the saliva activates the healing properties) and apply the paste. It's like magic! Also remember to teach your children that not all bugs are harmless. Some spiders and ants bite and can cause a harsh reaction.