It’s easy for most kids to connect to animals like dogs and cats, but all animals have extraordinary superpowers and value to our ecosystems—especially insects! In this sweet activity, kids turn recycled materials into a home for tiny friends—our Tinkergarten community's name for the critters that creep, crawl, buzz and fly around us outside. We can't think of a better way to stoke kids' creativity, curiosity, empathy and love of nature!
This activity is featured in our July Activity Calendar. If you do not yet have your free copy of the calendar, get it here.
Head outside with a clear container to look for tiny friends. Read here for ideas on where to look for critters in your outdoor space. Model how to search for and handle tiny friends with gentle care and fascination. Help kids gently scoop a tiny friend (i.e. ant, worm) into a container for a closer look. Talk together about the shapes of the different body parts you see. Notice how each body part helps the tiny friend to move, gather food, etc. As you notice the body parts and movements of the tiny friends, try out moving like them, too.
Create a Home for Tiny Friends.
Now that kids have had a chance to get to know the tiny friends in their space, wonder aloud what the friends might need to feel comfortable and stay alive. Offer some recycled containers of various shapes and sizes, tape or glue and some objects from nature and invite kids to make a worm or bug home or "hotel" out of the containers. Wonder aloud, what kinds of things would this tiny friend want in their space? What makes them comfortable? What would be a nice treat? Step back and let kids drive the design process, offering support with materials as needed.
Invite kids to make tiny friends out of mud or forest putty and nature treasures. Offer a ball of dough or mud and wonder if it could be used to make the bug’s body? Talk about the bug body parts that you saw and how they moved. Offer a collection of nature treasures. What could be used to make those parts of the bug? Invite kids to add their tiny friends to their home and move them within the space they created. As kids play, welcome them to continue adding to the critter home or hotel.
Want more ideas like this? Try our Forest Putty DIY to make pretend critters kids can add to their tiny friend homes. Or, search for real tiny friends with our Critter Hunt DIY.
Why is this activity great for kids?
As kids observe the bodies and movements of tiny friends, they develop their curiosity, focus and connection to nature. Thinking about and building a home to make a creature smaller than them feel safe and comfortable is a powerful way to help kids develop empathy. And, connecting and transforming materials to create something new is a super way to foster kids' creativity.
Try a Free Lesson
Tinkergarten for Teachers
Teach Tinkergarten in your community or classroom!
By creativity, we mean the ability to both imagine original ideas or solutions to problems and actually do what needs to be done to make them happen. So, to help kids develop creativity, we parents need to nurture kids' imaginations and give them lots of chances to design, test, redesign and implement their ideas.
"Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Why, you ask? For one, it is through being creative that a person is able to get senses, sensibility and spirit working together. Simply put, without creativity, we don't think our kids will live a full life.
On a more practical level, it's also the means by which humans of all ages make an impact on the world and other people around them. A lot of heavy stuff is going to go down in our kids' lifetime, and their generation will need to imagine and implement solutions to big and very complicated problems. Although our kids are still far from public office or the boardroom, today's political and business leaders worldwide are already pointing to creativity as the most important leadership quality for the future.
Although years from the art studio or design lab, little kids can learn to think and act creatively if you give them time and the right practice.
What does it mean to develop Curiosity?
Curiosity means the ability and habit to apply a sense of wonder and a desire to learn more. Curious people try new things, ask questions, search for answers, relish new information, and make connections, all while actively experiencing and making sense of the world. To us, curiosity is a child’s ticket to engaging fully in learning and, ultimately, in life.
Why does it matter?
As a parent, this skill is, perhaps, the easiest to grasp and has the clearest connection to a young children’s learning. We all want my children to wonder, explore and drive their own learning and, better yet, to experience the world fully. Most teachers would agree that the curious children so often seem more attentive, involved and naturally get the most out of time in school. Even the research suggests that being curious is a driver of higher performance throughout one's life, as much if not more than IQ or test scores.
What is a Naturalist?
The oldest and simplest definition, “student of plants and animals,” dates back to 1600. The term has evolved over time, it's importance changing as the values of dominant culture have changed. 400 years after that old definition, Howard Gardner, the paradigm-shifting education theorist, added “naturalist” to his list of “multiple intelligences.” Gardner challenged the notion that intelligence is a single entity that results from a single capability. Instead, he recognizes eight types of intelligence, all of which enable individuals to think, solve problems or to create things of value. To Gardner, the Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment.
A true naturalist has not simply Googled and learned the names of plants, animals, rocks, etc. Rather, he or she has had direct experience with them, coming to know about them and using all senses to develop this intelligence. A naturalist also has a reverence for nature, valuing and caring for living things from the smallest mite to the tallest tree. A naturalist comes to not only knowing the creatures and features of his or her environment, but treasuring them in thought and action.
Why does it matter?
In the process of becoming a naturalist, children become stewards of nature, a connection that is associated with a range of benefits, including greater emotional well-being, physical health and sensory development (not to mention the benefits to nature itself!). In a world in which primary experience of nature is being replaced by the limited, directed stimulation of electronic media, kids senses are being dulled and many believe their depth of both their interest in and capacity to understand complicated phenomena are being eroded. To contrast, the naturalist learns about the key features of their natural environment by using all of his senses and be interpreting open-ended and ever-changing stimuli.
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!