Nature Table for July

July’s Nature Table is Ready to Crawl Away

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new nature table whose contents inspire learning along a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. A tradition carried out by teachers, environmental educators, and nature-curious families, nature tables bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. The idea behind a nature table is to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season, and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves. A nature table can include a variety of items, and is often accompanied by a set of books and/or field guides so that children can take part in further learning at their own will.

There’s nothing scary about mammals. There’s nothing scary about birds. Fish are perhaps a bit odd looking, and might produce a scare when discovered in murky waters, but they’re pretty safe creatures too. There isn’t much to be truly scared of within the plant kingdom, either. Bugs, on the other hand, have the power to produce negative reactions the likes of which other creatures can only dream of eliciting from humankind. There’s just something about them – or many things, maybe – that can induce panic in humans of any size. So what is it about these miniature beasts that bothers us so much? This month’s nature table contains a collection of potential panic-inducing specimens that may lead us closer to forming an answer to this question.

In the heat of July in western Massachusetts, the small-yet-intrepid youth explorers leading me this summer have begun to discover a wide range of creepy-crawlies in all kinds of different habitats. We’ve found mites in rich soil, giant beetles amongst wild strawberries, wolf spiders on river rocks, spittle bugs frothing on buttercup stems, and ticks (the least welcome of all discoveries) navigating their way through forests of leg hair. For the mini-naturalists I’m adventuring with, these creatures have been met with kindness and curiosity rather than shrieks of terror (the ticks received a slightly less warm welcome, but still no shrieks), but for many kids, the discovery of anything small that can crawl is a terrifying experience. The discovery that a small crawling creature can also fly – well, let’s not imagine the panic that might induce. 

So what is it about these fascinating miniature beasts that is so surprising, or intolerable, or displeasing? Of course, their bodies do seem to lack faces, despite clear head and rear parts, but the camouflaging body markings that some bugs display are surprisingly beautiful. It is true that the long, spindly legs supporting some bugs can resemble something that belongs in a horror movie, but the ability of those hair-thin legs to run and jump with lightning quickness is truly a marvel. Bugs have also been known to bite or sting from time to time, a fact that can range anywhere from minor nuisance to major pain or a debilitating disease (Lyme) depending on species, but isn’t it spectacular that something so small can possess body parts strong enough to chomp straight into human flesh? And, well, it’s not especially fun when a bug surprises you by flying up your nose, landing on your sandwich, or flapping up your sleeve. However, the next time there’s an unexpected flying insect near you, consider the fact that it is suspended in the air thanks to a set of miniscule wings that it’s using its own power to control. Pretty incredible, no matter how gross it is to have a black fly in your nostril.

As we continue to explore the changing summer landscape around us, we’ll surely encounter a great deal more bugs, big and small, living and dead. We’ll inspect them, carry them, share them, and love them, and hopefully learn more about what makes them so scary.

So far, our insect-themed collection contains:

  • – two spider exoskeletons
  • – many stonefly exoskeletons
  • – wasp’s nest
  • – wasp galls
  • – dead wasps
  • – dead beetles
  • – empty cocoon

Some children’s books featuring fascinating and fearsome things that crawl include:

Robin Morgan Huntley, Community-Based Education Correspondent

A native to Maine, Robin joined Hilltown Families in early 2011. She is a graduate of Antioch University with a masters in education. Her interests within the field of education include policy and all types of nontraditional education. For her undergraduate project at Hampshire College, Robin researched the importance of connecting public schools with their surrounding communities, especially in rural areas. Robin lives and teaches 5th grade in the Hilltowns of Western MA and and serves on the Mary Lyon Foundation Board of Directors.

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