Long Live the Bug!

I’m lucky to have a daughter who is absolutely, completely in love with bugs.  And not just pretty ones like butterflies or ladybugs, but all kinds.  Spiders, worms, millipedes, bees… if it flies or crawls and is small, she’s a fan.  She calls sow bugs her “friends” and has been known to collect worms in a big bowl to bring them inside to watch TV with her, watch her take a bath, and then sleep on the night side table, close enough to “hear” the bedtime stories we read.

Wanting to follow her natural love of bugs, I found myself stuck on how to do it in a way that actively engages her.  Knowing that children learn so much more by being involved in something, I know it’s my job as a parent to create ways for her to be eager to learn.  Although we have fabulous bug books at home that we read regularly, I know she’d learn so much more by being involved with the bugs she loves so much.

Enter the bug habitat.

For those of you who are looking for a good family pet idea, let me suggest the bug.  Seriously.  A few pros of the bug-as-pet policy:

  1. They are easy to find – just go outside.

  2. Mostly they are more resilient than some other animals, having been used to different conditions in the natural world.

  3. They won’t poop in the house, or rather, they won’t poop in areas of the house you care about, just their own habitat.

  4. They can be short-term or long-term pets depending on the degree to which your child is interested in maintaining the pet.  And you don’t have to put them to sleep after, just put them back outside.

Most importantly, though, having a bug as a pet means your child can get deeply involved in learning all sorts of things about whatever insect you choose.  In our case, my daughter found a very lovely snail one day at the park and insisted upon bringing him home.  I decided this would be our bug pet #1 and it has been a lovely experience.  Of course, I myself didn’t know much about how to set up a habitat for a snail but luckily this little Internet thing can tell you loads.  So we found a site and started prepping, my 3-year-old daughter taking part in each step.

How do you set up your bug’s home?

First you need the habitat.  We used our old fish tank, but a clear plastic container will do just fine (like the one here) and in fact may be best.  The plastic containers are lightweight and easy to clean, which is important especially if you plan to rotate bugs and habitats (which I would recommend as it increases how much your kids learns and gives you a break in between caring for the critters).  Just make sure there are air holes in the lid or like us, just leave the lid off and use tin foil with holes as a make-shift lid.  Just remember you want a clear container, regardless of what you use, so that you can see your bugs at all times.

Next you need to fill that habitat with whatever it is your bug needs to survive.  That will completely vary bug to bug, but make sure you include your kids in the process.  For our snail, we read up and learned we needed leaves, sticks to climb on, a base of soil or peat or mulch, a water dish that was shallow, and a dish for food.  My daughter and I took our empty tank outside and filled up the bottom with dirt then went out to search for sticks and leaves and she helped set up the habitat, even including some of her toy bugs to serve as friends for her snail (see image below).  Finally we had to learn about food for snails and that we needed to keep the environment moist at all times.

[caption id="attachment_8244" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Our bug habitat. The plastic bugs are there to serve as "friends" to Slimey the snail.[/caption]

By involving your children, they can learn why the bugs need certain things while the act of helping them get it (and then seeing the bug use it) will instill this knowledge in ways reading about it won’t.  When we learned that our snail needed calcium for its shell, we also learned that egg shells are a great source.  Then when my daughter saw our snail spend hours on the egg shell, presumably eating up that calcium, it was a moment, and it’s now a fact she has remembered.  So every day when we change the food, she makes sure there’s eggshell on the plate for her snail so his shell can grow.  When she was at the dentist, she explained to the dentist that her snail needed eggshells for his shell, and at that moment I knew she had really learned something.

And like all pets, having bugs still means daily maintenance.  Our snail needs to have water and food changed daily, sprayed with water (to keep the habitat moist) twice a day, and leaves and sticks changed on occasion if they get too damp and start to rot.  The tasks tend to be easier than with larger pets like dogs and cats, meaning that younger children can safely take part and learn the value of caring for a creature and the importance of having daily responsibilities, something I know that some parents struggle with when it comes to younger children.

For all these reasons, we love our bug pets.  I don’t know how long Slimey (our snail) will be with us before he returns to the wild, but we are all more knowledgeable for having him.  Long live the bug!

By Tracy Cassels

October 07, 2013