Saturday, August 10, 2013

Critters in the Garden

Gardening with children provides so many opportunities for discovery, observation, exploration, and fun! One of my favorite things about spending time with kids in the garden is watching them interact with bugs, worms, slugs, and any other critter they happen to come across. I'll be posting many more garden adventures, but this one is devoted to one of our favorite insects... the praying mantis.

For the third year, we bought a praying mantis egg case from a local garden center. Mantids are beneficial insects in the garden, as they eat aphids, Japanese beetles, and anything else they can catch. We put the egg case in a mason jar and waited for the babies to hatch. In late June, hundreds of babies emerged. We released them into the garden and watched as they moved out into the world.

As in summers past, we then lost track of them. Today, much to our delight, we discovered an adult mantis, camouflaged so beautifully on a plant that we were lucky to see it at all.  My daughter couldn't wait to hold it.

So what can children learn from a praying mantis?

  • Empathy: Each living creature has a role in nature. Hold an insect gently and return it to its place.
  • Patience: Waiting for the babies to emerge from the egg case wasn't easy. There was no instant gratification here. But when it happened, it was magical.
  • Connection: Finding an adult mantis in our garden, most likely one that we hatched, made my daughter feel responsible for that insect and proud that she had provided a habitat for it to grow in.
  • Joy: The delight on her face, at seeing this insect and holding it her hand, was priceless.
Literature Links
  • Manuelo, the Playing Mantis, by Don Freeman. A story about friendship, cooperation, and empathy.
  • Hey, Little Ant, by Phillip and Hannah Hoose. Great story of empathy and mercy, told from two perspectives.

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