Not a huge fan of collecting bugs, I do enjoy watching them, and even better, watching my daughters pore over their movements. So today we had a huge adventure in our backyard tracking the bugs we found, and trying to determine which are insects, which are not.
Before we began our backyard adventure we spent a couple days prepping. We read up on what makes something an insect. We read stories about insects, including an article from National Geographic on leaf-cutter ants, and the Ant and the Elephant, by William Peet.
With our definitions intact and a strong sense of connection with some of these little critters, we practiced drawing leaf cutter ants, dragonflies, and butterflies. Accurately. With a head, abdomen, six legs attached to the thorax, and two antennae.
Then we hit the backyard with a homemade notebook and pen. We lifted rocks, peered through leaves, sifted through wood piles, and saw quite a collection of critters. Jasmine, my 5-year-old, drew a picture of each creature and I labeled it for her. She delighted in pretending to be a bug scientist recording her findings in her trusty notebook. And then she paged through her book after our game, reliving the creatures we’d found.
While many of the bugs we found were beneficial or harmless, I must admit I struggled in deciding the fate of really troublesome pests we discovered amidst my organic vegetables – the white butterfly caterpillars demolishing my broccoli and the snails eating everything. Ultimately, I suggested we make a house for them in the front yard tree, far from our garden. No death squad in front of the kids, but it helped me continue to put our veggies on the table!
As I continue to learn more about gardening and school Jasmine in garden maintenance and food-growing, I think this challenge will only continue. She will naturally learn, as I have, that clumps of caterpillars in the broccoli leaves mean steamed caterpillars on her dinner place. Or worse, raw caterpillars in her salad. YUCK. (And yes, we always pick out the bugs, but it only takes one mistake!)
I feel like somewhere along the line, she will learn that there can be a deadly cost to other creatures when we humans try to grow our food. I don’t want to rush that realization, but I wonder when it will come, and what it does to the human psyche to accept the death of others creatures so that we may live.