I noticed from my stats that someone was looking for bug catchers, and it so happens I've got a boatload of ideas for bug collecting. Most of these are for preschool, pre-K, and kindergarten, but I'll add some adaptations for the big kids. Ahh, bugs. Love them or hate them, they're a prime source of interest for younger kids. Although many teachers balk at bringing bugs inside, there are plenty of ways to do so without hurting the bugs or the kids.
Disclaimer: Know your kids and know your region. I don't have any students with insect allergies, and I live in a region where we don't have dangerous critters. I'm not responsible for what happens if you take the deathly-allergic-to-bee-stings kid bug collecting in a field full of nasty venomous beasties. I'm just sayin'.
Another Disclaimer: Please don't try to catch adult butterflies, no matter what the net's called, unless you're doing this with older kids. Younger kids almost always kill the poor creatures. If you want them to see butterflies, collect caterpillars and watch the changes. And for heaven's sake, whatever kind of bugs you catch, don't hurt them. Observe and release.
DIY Butterfly or Bug-Catching Net
To make a bug-catching or butterfly net, you'll need a pole of some kind, strong wire, netting (see below), and duct tape. The pole should be something of an appropriate length and weight for your students. I really like the 3'-4' bamboo poles you can get at the garden store; they're light and seem sturdy. You could also use lengths of dowel, strong sticks, sections of a broom handle, lengths of PVC pipe, or even rulers for smaller nets.
Next, you'll need netting. The obvious DIY choice is old pantyhose, but the problem is finding pieces large enough. A better choice is cheesecloth or that material they use in bridal veils - tulle. Both are pretty cheap and easy to obtain. In a pinch you could really use almost any thin fabric.
To make each net, take a length of strong wire (a cut-up coat hanger works well) and bend it into a circle, with two prongs at each end to attach it to the pole. Place these prongs against the pole and affix them with duct tape. (If you're using bamboo or pipe, you can stick part of the prongs right into the pole before you apply tape.) Now, cut a circle of netting that's about an inch or so greater in diameter than the wire circle. It doesn't have to be perfect.
To attach the net you can go fast and easy or painstaking but better-looking. For fast and easy, just duct tape the edge of the net circle right around the wire loop. For slow but more professional, sew the netting on with strong thread. You may be tempted to use the slower method, but remember this is an item with will likely be dragged through dirt, weeds and mud puddles. I'd save the sewn version for older kids or for kids who will use the net to catch fish or frogs.
You can make a deeper net by using two rectangles of netting whose short lengths are about 5" longer than the wire loop's diameter. Sew or tape three sides of the rectangles together. Attach the open part to the loop. You could also use two long, thin triangles of netting.
Another option for making the net is to use an embroidery hoop. Separate the two parts and insert your netting. Put the parts back together and tighten the screw. Then use wire to attach the hoop to the pole.
Tube: You can just use cardboard tubes, or get some lengths of wide, clear plastic tubing at your local Home Depot-type store. (Ask for the plumbing or jacuzzi supplies section.) To use, gently push the bug into the tube and cover one end with each hand. Alternatively, take two lengths of tube. On each one, seal off one end with a binder clip. To keep bugs in this type you just hold the open ends together.
Cup: Tried and true! Give each kid a clear plastic cup and a square of cardstock. Scoop the bug into the cup with the cardstock and then put it on top to keep it inside. Great for spiders!
Bug sucker: Okay, I know some of you are going to cringe at this one, but it looks like a cool idea. Check it out here.
Cut bottle: Cut plastic bottles in half and keep the ends with the caps. Use cardstock circles or butter tub lids to capture the bugs, guide them into the bottle and keep them inside.
Bottle: Just give them empty plastic bottles and caps. Poke holes in the bottles first even if you're only keeping them in there for a few minutes. (When the kids put the covers on the bottles, heat can change the pressure inside them and quickly kill the insects. Please do not ask how I know this.)
A temporary bug holder can be simple or fancy. All you really need is a closed, transparent container with small holes poked in it for air. Soda bottles work fine.
For something a little more long-term, cut a rectangle out of the side of a soda bottle and tape window screen material or netting over it. You could put soil and small plants inside it first.
I've yet to find a really good, cheap DIY ant farm idea. A few weeks ago, I was inspired to DIY my own gel ant farm, like this commercial one. I figured I could just use Jello - ants like sugar, right? I made some double-strength red Jello and poured it into a soda bottle. Poked some holes near the top and dropped in some ants (yes, from the same anthill). Result: total failure. Glad I only used a few ants, poor things. So if you've got a better idea for a DIY ant farm that's really cheap and lets the kids actually see the tunnels, please put it in the comments!
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