Doing lots of activities, reading, writing, research, etc. on topics children are very interested in, is a great way to encourage them in learning their literacy skills! Even children who really struggle with their literacy skills become very motivated if the lessons focus on a high-interest topic.
As an example, one of my students loved bugs and other “buggy” critters! We spent a dozen lessons or so on bug-related activities, and her skills improved dramatically. Below are examples of some of the things we did for this “bug theme.”
This is part two and covers: Math; Science; Social Studies; Research; Arts and Crafts; Music; and Reading and Movies/Videos. Part 1 covers: Reading; Phonics, Sight Words, Spelling; Reading Comprehension; Poetry; Listening and Following Directions; and Handwriting.
I gave J a set of bug-shaped cards with the “5s” numbers to 100. First, we laid them out in order and practised saying them. Then I mixed up the 5s to 50 and J put them in order; then the rest to 100. Next, I took out the 5s and had her practice the “10s.” A good way to practice skip counting (you can make cards with whatever numbers you want to work on).
For “bug math,” we worked on two “bug addition” worksheets in which J added double-digit numbers of bugs. For each question, there were pictures of bugs (such as 23 + 14) and I first had her count and add (I reminded her it is best, when adding this way, to start with the larger number). Of course, counting 30 or 40 bugs takes quite a while. Then we practised adding the numbers (which were given under the pictures), and she quickly saw that learning to add the numbers, first the ones, and then the tens, was a lot easier and faster than counting each bug. Next, we read together the Winnie The Pooh story with the “bee song.” We followed that with a subtraction sheet, called “Pooh’s Predicament.” This featured bees and the questions were simple subtraction, such as 10-6. Again, we did pictures first (count the total bees, cross off the “take away bees,” and then count the bees that were left). Then we talked about how much easier it is to learn simple subtraction facts and be able to quickly do the problems, rather than counting backwards.
Insect patterns: Cut out lots of pictures of different kinds of bugs from old magazines. Then have your child design “insect patterns.”
Insect addition cards: I made a set of cards with different bugs and different numbers (to 9) on them. The cards were placed face-down, and J picked up two, turned them over, wrote them as an addition equation, and used the abacus to figure out the answer. I reminded her, when using the abacus, to start with the big number, and then just count the extra small numbers (eg. 9+5: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14) instead of starting from 1.
As mentioned, there are dozens of free “bug-themed” worksheets available free or very cheaply online and in workbooks. Here are some examples of the kind of bug-themed math worksheets you can find:
– “Wormy Apples” worksheet: counting and graphing (to 6); then “read” the graph and answer questions based on it
– “The Inch Worm” worksheet: measuring the length of different worm sketches, in inches
– “Measurement” worksheet: a cm graph paper sheet with bugs shown at various locations; draw “routes” from one bug to the next and record the distance in cm
– “Those worms”: fractions: circle the total number of worms in the fraction (bottom) and then colour the fraction of the worms (top).
Children love working with charts. You can make charts of your own; there are also many available online or in workbooks. I had J work on a chart called “Insects or Not.” She had to glue a bunch of little squares with pictures of various insects, birds, and animals in the correct columns.
I gave J an “entomologist worksheet” and a magnifying glass. She had to go outside and find a bug to examine. On the sheet, under the magnifying glass picture, she drew the bug. Then, in the jar picture she drew the bug’s “habitat” (leaves, grass, twigs, pebble). At the bottom of the page she wrote two observations about the bug (for a child who struggles with writing, she could draw her observations and “sound out”/write keywords. Finally, J gave the bug a name, and at the top of the page wrote her own name under the word, “entomologist.” (Of course, you can easily design worksheets like this, yourself.)
Butterfly life cycle: J put in order and glued pictures and words of eggs, larva, pupa, and butterfly on a life cycle chart. Note: If you can’t find a pre-made worksheet like this, it is fun (and probably more colourful and more likely to create a lasting memory) to do some basic research together, and then look through old magazines (or download pictures from the internet, or have your children draw their own sketches) to make their own chart of this kind.
There are lots of free/low-cost bug-theme science worksheets available. For example, “Ant City” has a cut-away map of an ant colony; J coloured the different parts of the colony according to the directions given.
There are lots of books, videos and documentaries to do with bugs from all over the world. Get out an atlas and, while you read or view about bugs, find their locations and habitats in the atlas. Check out maps of precipitation, vegetation, topography, etc.
In some parts of the world, bugs are an important food source. This is a fun Social Studies activity to research (you might even try out some bug recipes if you have access to suitable bugs!). You can also find out about how different places deal with bugs, what bugs are useful in the garden, what kinds of clothes (and netting, etc.) people use to protect themselves from bugs, what kinds of bugs are dangerous to humans, and so on.
I gave J a worksheet called “What Do You Know About Insects?” She read the sentences (she needed a bit of help, but that’s fine!) and filled in the correct word for each one from the word bank. At the bottom of the sheet were sketches of 6 different kinds of insects; she had to name each insect from her own memory, and then she looked it up in a “Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!” book and wrote the correct spelling on the worksheet beside each picture.
Arts and Crafts
The magazine, “Chirp” (April 2013) features an article, “Monarch Butterflies” (pages 20-21). It also has many other interesting stories, poems, and activities, which we looked through. Besides reading the butterfly article, J chose to make a wind chime with natural items and odds and ends from around the house.
I had J create her own “bug.” She looked at bugs around her yard, and then used her imagination to draw and label a “new kind of bug”–including its habitat, what it eats, what eats it, how it survives/protects itself, etc. Then on a second sheet, she created an imaginary story about her bug. I suggested maybe an adventure it goes on, or a story about its family, or whatever she liked. She dictated the story to mom, then copied it, and finally read it to her younger siblings. A child who does not like to draw could make a plasticine model or something similar. The child could also create a “habitat” for the bug with twigs, grasses, etc.
Have your child create her own “bug booklet.” Have her cut out pictures from old magazines or download pictures online, or draw her own pictures. Have her make a title page/cover with her name as author. J’s booklet included: ladybug, fly, butterfly, bee, ant, beetle, and mosquito. She coloured and labelled it at home and read it to her siblings. J was very excited to have her own little book with her name on the front!
There are lots of “How to Draw” books for children–and lots of them have “bug” instructions. Children really enjoy learning how to draw butterflies and other colourful bugs, which they can use to illustrate their other work–or make into a mobile or a garden collage, etc.
We learned the “I’m a Bug Watcher” song, to the tune of “Frere Jacques.” (“I’m a bug watcher, I’m a bug watcher, Don’t you know, Don’t you know, When I’m finished watching, When I’m finished watching, I let them go, I let them go.”) Music can be a great way to help children with literacy skills. Songs often have lots of repetition, and its a great way to practice reading new words, as well as developing rhythm, understanding rhyme, and even learning word families.
We read together a book, “Insects at Your Fingertips.” I did most of the reading, but J did her share–and she really enjoyed the pictures and the information. It has a lot of surprising information about different kinds of insects, like a “Goliath Beetle” that weighs 1/4 pound. She didn’t know what “Goliath” meant, so I sang her the Sunday-School song “Only a boy named David” and did the actions, too. Then she sang it with me and did the actions, which she enjoyed very much. (“Only a boy named David/ Only a little sling/ Only a boy named David/ but he could pray and sing/ Only a boy named David/ only a rippling brook/ only a boy named David/ but 5 little stones he took/ And one little stone went in the sling and the sling went round and round (repeat)/ and round and round and round and round and round and round and round/ One little prayer went up to heaven and the giant came tumbling down”). I told her that Goliath was the giant’s name, and that lots of times when people want to say someone or something is really big, they say it is a “Goliath.” After learning that song, I’m sure she’ll never forget the “Goliath” reference. Our language/culture is full of references to ancient stories and events, and it is amazing how many songs, ballads, and instrumental pieces there are related to such references. If you can’t find a song, a good both of myths and legends or a children’s history book can provide interesting background.
“Insect Parts Song”: a song, to the tune of “Head and Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” that teaches the parts of insects: “Head and thorax, abdomen … and eyes, wings, s-iiiiix legs!” Kids love to make up their own words to this song, for different kinds of insects, and it’s such a great way to memorize those words/facts.
Reading and Movies/Videos
J and I read a “bug book” from Disney Pixar: one of the “A Bug’s Life” series. She had seen this story before on video. It was definitely a “challenge” reading level for her, but as she had seen the movie, and we read the book together (partly “choral” reading, partly “I read/you repeat”), she was able to read-and-tell (read the parts she could; “tell” the remainder) the story to her younger siblings.
Now it’s Your Turn!
What other kinds of “buggy” learning activities can you think of? If you can’t come up with any, just ask your child–I’m sure he or she will have some great ideas. And of course, if “bugs” isn’t your child’s “thing,” find out what is instead and explore that!