Little Bugs, Big Difference

Using live insects in the classroom to model empathy and promote scientific inquiry

Photo of Kristine Feleo Smith
2 10

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I'm an informal educator (children's museum) who works with a lot of preschoolers and their teachers. I always get questions about our live insect displays- a lot of negative ones, but also (the bright spot of my day) wonder and curiousity. 

Keeping live bugs is a classic way to provide an authentic scientific experience and  practice STEM inquiry. Lately, though, I've been thinking about how we can use them to model empathy and acceptance. Young children are emotion-centered beings, and educators have to understand the message they're sending when they say "Oh, I'm so scared of bugs/I don't like spiders." I ask our guests what bothers them- is it because it looks different?  Is it okay to dislike something because it's different?  What do you know about this animal?- as a way to unpack base fears and create a dialogue. 

We're raising the next generation of scientists, researchers, and conservationists. Live insects are a perfect entry point into child-led explorations of the sciences. So try turning your "ewwwws!" into "oooohs!"


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Photo of Mervat Aly

Kristine, I thnk that usinf bugs in the classroom to build empathy is a ver creative way to engage our students. For example in my classroom, we raise silkworms, so my students are engaged in the whole life cycle, and they own their roles of leadership and responsibility. I have students cleaning after the silkworms (and they poop a lot), others are in charge of getting them their mulberry leaves, and so on. When we leave for Spring Break most of them want to take them home to care for them. Kristine, you picked an innovative and down to earth great idea for empathy. Thank you!

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