I originally had a plan to explore igloos for the letter sound “i” but after a fun experience on our vacation — along with a great souvenir — I decided to go with “‘ih’ is for insects” for this week’s phonemic awareness unit. Here’s what we got up to in our mini insect unit study!
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I introduced our letter sound of the week the way that I have been introducing all of the sss for sound series unit studies, by showing the children the sandpaper letter associated with that letter, and having them isolate the letter sound while tracing it with their middle and forefinger.
I read Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar with some help from our Safari Butterfly Life Cycle models (Canadian link), and then I asked if they knew another word for “bugs” that started with the letter sound “i.” After introducing them to the term “insects,” I suggested that maybe insects can make the sound “ih ih ih” when they are flying or crawling around and encouraged the children to try it.
We didn’t have access to our classroom for half of this week, as it was being used as a storage room for Ella’s birthday party (which is fast approaching!) so I set out all of the activities simultaneously in the living room. Our sound series units are more about engaging in learning a sound than in a full-fledged unit study (though you could definitely adapt them to be more comprehensive with the suggestions listed at the bottom of most posts), so we tend to take a break from our normal routine and go through all of the activities in one day. The children normally engage in a mixture of independent and group activities throughout a normal day, but with the sound series units, they seem to engage and collaborate more often.
First up, the children loved exploring this bin of 2 pounds of kinetic sand (Canada) with a few glow-in-the-dark insects mixed in. I provided thick paint brushes and magnifying glasses. The kinetic sand is such a wonderful and soothing sensory material, and it is relatively easy to clean up, so we incorporate it often (the children never seem to tire of it).
Next, we had our Montessori insect puzzles — the fly and the cricket (above in the title image). Most of the children (except our new addition) have worked with these puzzles before, so they worked together to try to remember the names of all of the puzzle pieces (anatomical parts).
I put out this butterfly transfer activity with two sets of tweezers (Canada) and a muffin pan to see what the children would interpret the invitation as; I put in two Butterfly Toobs so each butterfly had a match. Each child had a slightly different interpretation of the activity, either simply transferring individual butterflies to individual muffin cups, or matching the butterflies in pairs in those cups. I tried to encourage the children to add the “ih” sound in whenever they dropped an insect into the muffin tin.
I found this insect excavation activity at the dollar store, and it would have been better to do something like the homemade eggs we used in our dinosaur unit to make enough eggs for all of the children and just embed some of the many insect miniatures we already had. It was a fun practical life activity for the 6 year old, but the younger children became frustrated with it.
I put out a butterfly hole punch to work on hand strength and precision, as well as create an opportunity for the children to engage in keeping an orderly work station. I was really impressed with how well the children maintained the space. Ella tried to get the others to make the “ih” sound as they pushed down on the hole punch, but they were too focused to add that in.
I set out two art activities, crayon insect rubbings using these insect rubbing plates (Canada), and coffee filter watercolour painting (to make butterflies — inspired by a paint-free butterfly craft at No Time for Flashcards). The kids did a few insect rubbings, but they kept forgetting to attach a piece of tape to the top of their paper and became frustrated with it slipping. I engaged and helped them discover the missing step once and left it; while I think it’s unfortunate that they didn’t get much practice out of this activity this time around, I think they’ll process that natural feedback on their own and will take that extra care the next time that rubbing plates are provided.
The watercolouring painting was a huge hit, and the kids keep asking to do more! I’m going to have to find other uses for painted coffee filters once we run out of clothes pins! I didn’t show the children what the final craft would look like, I just let them fill up their coffee filters with beautiful colours, and then after they dried I added two coffee filters to each clothes pin. If you didn’t have (or want to buy) clothes pins, you could simply twist a pipe cleaner (“chenille stems”) around two coffee filters arranged the same way.
We had a “normal” lunch for our insect unit, but you could do a variety of foods that are made possible by insects… or you could go one better and make something like meal worm risotto like they did at the Savour Stratford food festival:
Ella and I saved our dessert from the demonstration and shared them with our friends as a special surprise. The “Bug in Every Bite” cookies were made with a powdered insect “flour” and the Bug Candy had suspended crickets throughout the transparent sugar pieces. The kids got such a kick out of them, and they are relatively easy to track down if you contact your closest children’s educational museum, or butterfly conservatory.
And, of course, real insects had to make an appearance! We purchased some crickets from our local pet store and made our own cricket hotel with a mason jar and some egg carton — I’m also a total sucker and I bought the “cricket water gel” so that our crickets would have a comfortable stay with us. We also used a cheap insect keeper to contain a spider — and I took the opportunity to bring out our Montessori fly puzzle and encourage the children to observe the physical differences between insects and spiders. (All bugs were released after observation.)
One of my favourite moments of this unit was Mr. W suggesting that we all “walk like insects” and making the “ih” sound as he did it! It’s so encouraging that the children are starting to really take the lead with these letter sounds units, and are incorporating the sound into the day without prompting.
We had so much fun learning about insects as part of our ih is for insects unit study, and I think we will do a full fledged insect unit study (or at least a butterfly unit study) soon, as there are so many things that children can learn and discover (not to mention that we now own a bunch of insect miniatures). If you’re antsy to start your own insect unit, Seemi at Trillium Montessori has a great insect practical life shelf, and Renae at Every Star is Different has some great printables, as well as activities for toddlers and preschoolers!