I was a child, my parents let my sisters and I play with bugs,
and pretty much any other type of creature we could find. My dad
frequently took us out to look for animals in the wild, and he'd let us
touch whatever we could get our hands on, literally. On summer day
trips to the Atlantic coast, my parents would go out of their way to
take us to places where the water was shallow and calm, and filled with
life. We'd spend hours wading in water up to our knees, playing with sea
creatures of all shapes and sizes. Hours were also spent closer to
home, at local ponds and other freshwater ways, catching small fish,
tadpoles, snails and crayfish, with nothing but our hands and an old
food container. Toads were raised in makeshift ponds in our mother's
garden, using an old tarp to hold water. We'd drive home from our
uncle's house in the country, with newts trapped safely in coffee cans
strewn on the floor of our spacious 70's gas guzzler, only to find
they'd somehow escaped by the time we got home. In our backyard,
earthworms and slugs were lovingly gathered and placed in beds made of
paper napkins, so they'd have a cozy place to nap. Millipedes and moths
were especially attractive to me (for reasons still unknown, perhaps
just because of their gentle nature and appearance). Millipedes were "pals"; there was nothing like turning over a rock in the garden
and finding a pal. I made my first insect collection using old poster
paint containers and rubbing alcohol I stole from the medicine cabinet.
My mom helped me find a box to contain the bottles and label it Nina's Insect Collection. I will never forget the day my first wild silk moth emerged from its dense silken cocoon I'd found attached to our front porch (the memory now immortalized in a photo taken by my father!).
Nina collecting insects in Costa Rica
you read about me in the About section, you know that I eventually went on to
become an entomologist, or a scientist who studies insects (or a "bug
scientist" as I like to say). Then, I embarked on the most difficult task of my lifetime -- parenting!
I began to formulate my ideas for this feature column over the years
that I worked in science museums, when I first had the opportunity to
observe parents and children and insects, together. Based on numerous
observations over more than twenty years, I strongly believe that children have an instinctive curiosity and
interest in nature and its myriad creatures.
Young children are naturally attracted to, and curious about insects
(and most all creatures). But, at a very young age many children learn
from either their parents or our bug-phobic society (or both) to be
afraid of insects, to dislike and even despise insects.
As parents, we have the
opportunity to foster the curiosity of our children, and help our children build a
lifelong relationship with nature and the outdoors. The purpose of this
Feature column is to encourage parents to let their children play with
bugs, and to provide practical information and advice on how to do
Allowing your child(ren) to play with bugs will:
1. Get your child playing outdoors and reaping the benefits
of simply being outside, such as breathing fresh air and gazing into
2. Motivate your child to exercise outside by walking/running around and looking for bugs.
3. Facilitate your child's education about nature, and the environment in general.
4. Foster a respect for, and eventually a love of nature.
5. Help prevent "Nature Deficit Disorder" (Louv 2006).
Children should never be left alone while playing near water.
Regarding insect stings: the insects that I will discuss in up-coming posts to this site will be non-stinging insects. Even if one is stung by an insect, insect venom is not harmful unless a child has an allergic reaction to the venom. However, I am not a medical doctor. Concerned parents and parents of children with allergies should seek the advice of a medical practitioner before playing with bugs.
Louv, Richard. 2006. Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Algonquin of Chapel Hill.