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With Halloween just around the corner, some of you may be pulling out the spider decorations or designing spider-themed costumes. What a perfect time to do some spider science activities with your children or students. And while you're at it, be sure to stop by the Halloween Hands On Blog Hop links at the bottom of the post for more spooky ideas.

As is often the case, today's post was inspired by the new children's book, Fatima and the Clementine Thieves by Mireille Messier and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard.

At first glance doesn't the type of children's picture book that we'd feature in a science blog post. However, it serves up surprises because spiders play an important positive role in the story. See a full review, and suggestions for accompanying math and art activities at our sister blog, Wrapped in Foil.

1. Make a Spider Climber

An opportunity to learn about spider anatomy in an activity that combines art and science to make a spider that climbs a sting.

Gather:

  • Construction paper or tag board
  • Yarn or string
  • Scissors
  • Pencils, crayons, or markers
  • Drinking straw (one for every two participants)
  • Needle and thread (optional- for adult use)
  • Tape
  • Spider photographs and/or spider anatomy diagrams

Instructions:

Show the children photographs or illustrations of spiders like the one above. Tell them to look closely. Ask how many body parts does a spider have. How many legs? Where are the legs attached, to the front section or back?

Note:  spiders have eight legs and two body parts. The front section is the cephalothorax (some texts now call it the prosoma). The rear section or abdomen may also be called the opistosoma. The eight legs are attached to the cephalothorax.

Spiders also have two mouthparts, pedipalps, that kids sometimes mistake for legs. See a more detailed diagram in our post about tarantulas and our post about identifying spiders.)

Fold the construction paper lengthwise (hot dog style). Draw half of two body parts and then four legs attached to the appropriate segment.

Cut out the spider and unfold. Decorate as desired. Add eyes and spider markings.

Cut the drinking straw in half. Tape to the spider along the fold line. Cut a piece of sting roughly 15 feet or 5 meters long. Pass the string through the straw towards the front of the spider, loop it and then send it back through the straw. (See photograph below.) Suggestion for adult help:  Fold the string in half. Thread a needle and tie the end of the thread to the loop where the yarn folds. Pass the needle through the straw from the back of the spider to the front. Pull the yarn loop through the straw with the needle and thread. Cut the thread.

(Note: You don't need the second piece of drinking straw shown in the photograph.)

Final step:  Fasten the loop to a tree branch, door frame or hook on the wall. Pull the spider to the bottom of the string, taking care not to pull it off the end. Then carefully pull the two strands apart (it might be easier for two children to work together to do this.) The spider should "climb up" the yarn or string. Pull the spider back down and repeat.

2. Craft a Spider Web

Gather:

  • Tag board, cardstock, manila folders or light cardboard
  • Hole punch
  • Yarn or string
  • Small spider illustration or clip art (optional)

Cut a square frame out of the tag board, creating a size appropriate for the age of the children you are working with. Make holes in the frame with a hole punch. Now have the child weave a web by placing yarn through the holes.

For young children, this may be a simple lacing exercise. When they are done, leave a tail of yarn and tie or glue on a spider picture.

Have older children draw or photograph a spider web. Watch this cool animation of how a spider makes a classic orb web for inspiration (requires Quicktime). Explain how the spider starts by laying down the anchor and bridge lines, then the radii, and finally the spirals  with help from this labelled orb web graphic.

Other spider web science:

  • At JDaniel4's Mom Blog, they use dental floss and a clothes hanger to make a spider web for a demonstration of tensile strength.
  • Buggy and Buddy have a spider web vibration activity where they string lines between the backs of chairs.

3. Read Spider-Themed Books

Read Fatima and the Clementine Thieves, or one of the many nonfiction and fiction children's books featuring spiders from our growing list at Science Books for Kids.

Disclaimer:  Just so you know, the picture book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon. If you make a purchase after clicking on one of the title links, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you, the proceeds of which will help pay for maintaining this website.

Looking for more ideas for Halloween-themed science activities? Check out the Hands On Halloween Blog Hop at the following links:

Fluffy Zombie Slime - Little Bins for Little Hands

Discovering a Pumpkin: STEM Investigation - Share it! Science

Halloween Ghost Balloons - Mama Smiles

Halloween Science: Static Electricity Ghosts - The Homeschool Scientist

Bubbling Pumpkin Experiments - Preschool Powol Packets

Halloween Robot Spider Craft - Inspiration Laboratories

Halloween Rock Painting for Kids using Physics - From Engineer to Stay at Home Mom

Science Experiments with Pumpkin Peeps – JDaniel4’s Mom

Candy Corn Slime- Teach Beside Me

Happy Halloween Stained Glass Window - From Witty Hoots

Insects are not always easy to identify.

Take this cute little guy. Is it a beetle or is it a bug?

Because it has a shield shape in the middle of the back and a beak (the mouthparts you see tucked under the head), it's a shield bug (also called stink bug).

Now comes the hard part. Some shield bugs, like harlequin bugs for example, feed on plants. Some are predatory and feed on soft-bodied insects like caterpillars. How do you tell which is which? A rough rule of thumb is if the beak is thicker than the bug's antennae, then it is a predator. If the beak is about the same thickness as the antennae, then it is a plant feeder.

This little guy is a predatory kind in the genus Perillus. Best to let it go about its business.

We've been focused on storms here on Earth lately, but there's been activity on the sun, too. On Wednesday last week (September 6, 2017), the sun produced an unusually large solar flare. This flare results in an increased likelihood of auroras lighting up the night sky here on Earth. To learn more about how this works, let's look at the timely middle grade book Stories of the Aurora: The Myths and Facts of the Northern Lights by Joan Marie Galat and illustrated by Lorna Bennett.


As the title suggests, Stories of the Aurora is a combination of science and folklore. On the folklore side are legends from Inuit, Norse, Greek, and other cultures. On the science side, readers learn about the Earth's magnetic field, how the auroras form, how they behave, and the environmental effects of auroras.

It's a surprisingly informative mix. For example, on page 18 we learn that the Sami (also called Laplanders) call the aurora "The Light You Can Hear." This might not make sense until the sidebar on page 30, when we learn people for centuries have reported hearing crackling and hissing sounds during bright auroras. In 2012 scientists were able to verify the sounds and lights were related and began to piece together how they are created.

In this video you can hear some recordings of the sounds (towards the middle of the lecture, about 1:30).

Sometimes they sound like clapping. Isn't that amazing?

Auroras making sounds is just one of the cool things readers will discover in Stories of the Aurora. This award-winning title will surely light up the faces of youngsters interested in finding out more about their world.

Science of Auroras

The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) occur when waves of charged particles traveling as solar winds from the sun strike the gases in the upper atmosphere of the earth and make the gases glow. The Northern Lights typically occur around the Arctic Circle, but large flares can cause a glow that can be seen throughout Canada and into the northern United States. Here is a photograph of an aurora taken in Wisconsin.

Photo from NASA Images

Activity Suggestions:

  1. Predicting when an aurora will occur is difficult, and at best happens only two or three days after an observed solar flare. Often scientists can only give about 30 minutes notice. Check the NOAA Aurora website to learn about current predictions.
  2. Visit the author's website for a list of links to cool aurora and general astronomy sites to visit.
  3. Collect images of auroras. Make a poster, lapbook, or slide presentation explaining how they form and facts about them. For example, find out why are some auroras green, some red and some a mix of colors. Share your results.
  4. Try an art project with colorful auroras as a backdrop to arctic animals. Oil pastels on black paper can give a lovely effect. Add some black silhouettes of trees or land forms to the bottom for contrast.

The book is the 2017 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner for the Canada region and 2017 Skipping Stones Honor Award winner.

Age Range: 11 - 13 years
Series: Dot to Dot in the Sky
Publisher:  Whitecap Books; 1 edition (September 6, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1770502106
ISBN-13: 978-1770502109

Disclosure: Book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title or cover links and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Looking for more children’s nonfiction books? Try the Nonfiction Monday blog.