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Looking for low cost ideas to add some STEAM to your week? How about bird safaris, plant identification chalk art, and/or making a permanent record of the animals and plants in your neighborhood?

Idea 1:  Birdwatching Safari

Have you seen people putting stuffed animals in their windows or yards? Those are part of Teddy bear scavenger hunts for children. Take the idea to the next level:  walk, bike or drive through the neighborhood looking for birds.

Virtually every neighborhood has birds perching, singing, flying, swimming, and feeding. See how many birds you can spot. Write down what you see or record using voice recognition on your phone.

For more bird-related lessons and activity ideas, visit:

Extensions:  If birds aren't your thing, consider an insect safari.

Idea 2:  Sidewalk Chalk Plant Identification

On the same vein, have you seen driveways and sidewalks decorated with chalk artwork and inspirational/positive messages?  Wouldn't it be cool to take those ideas and incorporate a little science? Leave chalk notes about plants you see.

Butterflies love desert marigolds.

In England, "rogue" botanists are using chalk to identify common plants along sidewalks (Guardian article gives details). As they emphasize, when people learn the name of plants they can find out more about them, such as how they provide nectar for pollinators or are food for butterflies.

 

Note:  Make sure you have permission before applying chalk to sidewalks.

Idea 3:  Make a Nature Notebook or Journal

A nature journal is a physical record of your observations.

Below, children's science author Loree Griffin Burns shares a wonderful nature notebook that her children made when they were younger. She explains what they learned and gives suggestions for making your own.

 

Notice that they used both photographs and drawings.

Curved-bill thrasher and grackle

You can choose either or a combination. Be sure to jot down your observations and date every entry, as well.

Suggestions for starting a nature journal

Idea 4:  Start a Nature Blog

If you are more comfortable with the digital world, then keep you journal as a blog that you can share with friends and family. Some platforms -- like Blogger and WordPress.com -- can be free.

From the start of this blog in April 2008, the Bug of the Week has been a photographic record of the insects and plants I've encountered, mostly in my own neighborhood. Why might this be useful?

Firstly, it helps me remember the names of insects, especially those that I don't see often. There are more than a million species of insects, so even experts need help.

Blogs can also be a record of life cycles, for example our recent discovery of lady beetles on brittle bush and two weeks later we found lady beetle larvae.

Because I show the insects I've photographed that day or within a few days, it is also an archive of seasonality of insect appearance.  For example, this week I noticed two damselflies in the back yard.

This mainly brown one perched on the rim of an old flower pot.

Every minute or so it would launch into the air and grab a gnat. Can you see the gnat snack in its mouth?

About two feet away a bluer version perched on some radish flowers.

With a quick search, in years past I had seen damselflies in August and September.

It is fun to look back over the posts and see what was happening.

Which ideas do you find appealing? Be sure to let us know if you try one or if you have other ideas to suggest.

 

I haven't really made a big announcement about it, but on October 6, 2020 my picture book, How to Build an Insect (illustrated by Anne Lambelet) is coming out. There is a preorder page on Amazon, but -- sorry -- no cover yet. Edit:  The publication date has been moved to April 2021.

To celebrate, I'm starting a series of posts to encourage children to learn about insects through building models, creating art and making crafts. Each post will feature ideas for a particular insect group.

making bee models for kids Just in time for spring, let's make some bees!

Because we are looking at bees from a STEAM perspective, it is important to emphasize that bees are insects. They have three distinct body regions:  head, thorax, and abdomen. Bees have six legs and four wings attached to the thorax. They have eyes and antennae on their heads. Creating an accurate model will reinforce these facts.

First, gather photographs of bees and age-appropriate books on the topic. Freshly emerged this month and with many starred reviews, we recommend the picture book Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann. For a full summary and review, fly over to our sister blog, Wrapped in Foil.

Activity 1. Paper models of bees

Gather:

  • Construction paper
  • Age-appropriate scissors
  • Markers and/or crayons
  • Glue sticks or tape
  • Computer paper or newspaper for wings

For the youngest children, cut out ovals for the head, thorax and abdomen, as well as paper strips to be the legs and antennae. Cut elongate triangles of white paper or newspaper for wings.

Have the children assemble the parts and glue together.

Add wings and decorate.

Honey bee paper model

For older children, make a copy of the  honey-bee-body-template (PDF).

Cut out body parts from construction paper or computer paper, assemble, and decorate.

Detail Note: What color are bees?

Check out any bee craft on the internet and they are likely to have contrasting yellow and black stripes. Bold, contrasting colors like that are examples of warning coloration, a sign that animal is defended in some way.

Not all bees are yellow and black, though. They can be almost any color.

Honey bees are orangish to brown and black.

Public domain photograph from USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab Flickr page.

This sweat bee resembles the hues of a peacock:  teal, blues, and purple.

Public domain photograph from USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab Flickr page.

This one is green and gold.

The bottom line is to let the children explore color. No need to limit them to yellow and black.

Activity 2. Draw bees

Older children may want to use their art skills and draw bees. Check out the video below for step by step instructions. Cool!


If a child is not confident about drawing, consider starting with a stencil.

bee-stencilThe stencil can be filled in using crayons, colored pencils, or markers, but I chose oil pastels.

bee-stencil-step-1

Make a heavy outline of the stencil with the oil pastel.

stencil-fill-inUsing a finger or bit of tissue, draw the pastels from the edge by rubbing. This creates a shading effect.

finished-bee-stencilRemove the stencil and fill in details like antennae, if desired.

Activity 3. Model bee


(Amazon Affiliate link)

Gather:

  • Model Magic or air-dry clay
  • Chenille stems (also known as fuzzy stems or pipe cleaners)
  • Plastic water bottle (empty)
  • Age-appropriate scissors

Form the head, thorax, and abdomen out of lumps of air-dry clay or Model Magic. Join them together. (Hint:  Using short pieces of chenille embedded between the body sections will create added support.) Add contrasting-colored ovals to head for eyes.

Cut 2 chenille stem pieces for antennae and insert into clay head. Cut 6 chenille stem pieces for legs. Insert into clay thorax.

Cut elongate triangle wing-shaped pieces from an empty plastic water bottle to form wings. Overlap and embed the attachment end into the thorax, so the bottoms of the wings cover the abdomen.

I purposely left the instructions a bit vague to allow for creativity, but if you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

Hope we've inspired you to make a bee!

Want more activities?

See our Pinterest board of bee crafts with some fun ways to display the work, too.

Pinterest Board

For activity suggestions sorted by age, check out Africanized Honey Bees on the Move lesson plans at The University of Arizona, for example Lesson 1.1, The Honey Bee Body.

For more children's books about bees, visit our growing list at Science Books for Kids.