Hi. I’ve been browsing this site for a while, but this is my first post.
I teach a group of four-year-olds, and among the many, many things I find myself repeating daily is “Let it be! Insects are helpers!” with respect to whatever critter my kids have discovered, whether indoors or on the playground (of course, when something is discovered inside the classroom, we find a way to get it outside).
The children, of course, are fascinated by insects, and, while insects’ identities could be taught through photographs and books, to teach the children to appreciate and respect animals and their purposes is best reinforced in practice. That is, to tell a child that a spider is beneficial and to smash it in front of him is counterproductive.
Unnecessary carnage and a lost moment for education. Terrible shame.
However, because of the age of the children I teach and their tendency toward kinesthetic learning, we do have an insect collection in the room. I want to teach respect, not hypocrisy, so the insects pinned to the board were all found dead. When a child finds an empty exoskeleton or a fallen butterfly on the playground, we pin it to the board and talk about what it is and how it might have come to its current state. Then, of course, comes the “Insects help us” talk.
I try to balance respect for a child’s preferred method of study with respect for the insects themselves. This is why we have only pre-deceased findings in our collection, imperfect though they may be when they are found.
To rely on photographs alone is a difficult way to keep kids interested. They need to experience more than an image can allow. An insect, living or dead, that is in front of the children makes it relevant to them and gives them more patience to listen while we talk about that insect.
Occasionally, however, my philosophies are put to the test, as was the case the day I found an adult, female black widow spider scooting across the playground. I had to get her off the playground and far, far away from my class. There was a considerable amount of panicking on my part, but no one was harmed, and the children learned that, even though we shouldn’t hurt any minding its own business, there are some creatures that, when discovered, need to be reported to mom and dad.

Hi shellyc,
Though your letter arrived as a comment on a previous posting regarding the merits of starting an insect collection, we felt it needed to stand alone as well and post to our homepage.  Thanks for your valuable perspective on this point.

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