Jack has a fear of certain bugs, like high pitched screams are reserved for such encounters. I asked him to crawl under the bed when I was cleaning the other day only to place him right in the path of a spider cricket. He was completely undone. I have to admit those little suckers are quite jumpy and unpredictable.
The experience made me think of my friend Jess. Science lover, friend to bugs, photographer extraordinaire, and she is a mom to three amazing boys. Jess and her crew actually hunt for bugs, all together, for fun. So I wrote this fellow supersister and asked if she would guest post to tell us how she cultivated this love of bugs, wee beasties and all living things. Welcome Jess!
Facebook status update, Sunday, June 7, 9:19am: "discovered the source of the backyard stench. An impromptu lesson on the life cycle of blowflies followed."
Gross, right? I'm beginning to think that perhaps we're not normal over here. My six-year-old and I got enthusiastic yesterday over frass. What is frass? Caterpillar poop. On the other side of the yard, my patio is torn up, partly because maple roots pushed the slate all around, but partly because we just plain couldn't control ourselves when we figured out that there were bugs underneath every piece - ant tunnels! Termites! Crickets! Bigger ants! And not too long ago, my 4-year-old kissed a cockroach. Not normal.
How did we end up this way? My best guess: a mix of ADD and the scientific method. We are constantly distracted by tiny turtles, tinier mushrooms, pill bugs, and caterpillars - then drawn in to investigate them and find out what they are and how they work. Of all the bits of nature we enjoy, bugs get center stage, perhaps because they let us get closer than larger animals, and do more (or at least do it faster) than plants, but also because, well, they are just so cool. Did you know that ladybugs develop from these freaky looking things? Or what a click beetle is? Have you ever seen a giant American millipede? Or an assassin bug? I love what we find and how it teaches us to notice more and ask better questions.
What if you're just not a fan of all creatures great and small, especially not some of the smallest and leggiest ones? No worries. Everybody is entitled to their own personal phobias and creepy-crawlies, and there's a whole world of vertebrates out there, not to mention plants and fungi. Or rocks! (But can I confess something? I hate touching bugs and have been known to shriek when surprised by a spider. So maybe see if you can push our own boundaries just a little, and see if your kids will follow suit.)
Are you ready to explore? Where to start?
1. Go wild. We're hearing a lot these days about how fundamental outdoor experience is to childhood. Don't fret if a camping trip isn't in the cards - the wilderness can be as close as the edge of the playground, or your own unweeded veggie garden.
2. Follow your bliss. Be willing to get sidetracked and go wherever your wandering attention leads you. You don't need a lesson plan. You don't even need to look for any particular thing. Just see what finds you, and share your discoveries with each other. Enthusiasm is catching.
3. Everybody starts somewhere. I only learned the word frass last year. You may not be a walking field guide - hey, I'm not a walking field guide. I share the knowledge I already have and to the rest, say "let's find out."
4. Details, baby, details. Take note of what you see and use your resources. What stands out about the critters you saw today? What were they doing? Where were they? You might want to keep a journal and a field guide; I use my camera and my skills as High Priestess of Google. Hmmm, black, yellow, and green caterpillar on parsley? Could it be a black swallowtail? And what was that orange stinky thing coming out of its head when I poked it? An osmeterium, you say?
5. Keep asking questions! What hypotheses can each member of your family come up with? How can you test them? What will you discover tomorrow?
What are you noticing, and where is it leading you?
Jess Lucia is a relentless idealist, perpetual dabbler, and slightly-crazed mother of three boys. She doesn't believe there's any such thing as "overthinking," loves learning new things, and sporadically shares parts of her journey on her blog, Spark. She's pretty sure nobody in her family has kissed a cockroach in at least a week.
all photos by Jess Lucia