With two weeks left till the kindergarten year finish line, I figured I’d turn on cruise control and coast home. No sense starting any new projects now. Let’s just finish that math workbook and call it a year, so said I to myself. Then a kind friend pointed out the Brighter Day Press Ants Unit Study and well…you can see for yourself what happened to us!
As you may remember from previous posts, I’ve been resisting with all my feeble strength the urge to buy MORE – more curriculum, more printables, more manipulatives, more STUFF) – and instead making do with what we have, using what’s out there for free, or heck, just reading books and talking about them. But, perhaps, there’s a balance to be found. Just perhaps, a time comes when everyone’s inspiration flags, when to make a teensy purchase might mean the difference between being engulfed in apathy and igniting a love of learning. And by the way, did I mention that the unit study was available for an amazing deal? And what’s a nature study without some actual nature to observe???
I’ve actually wanted to try an ant farm since the very moment I had an inkling I’d homeschool one day. Don’t ask me why, but it seemed like so much fun – until I began reading the Amazon review horror stories. Ants jail breaking and running all over the ill-fated reviewers’ homes? Escapee ants inflicting bites that swelled and burned for days? What, oh what, had I gotten myself into? All this drama forced me to purchase the Cadillac of ant farms, the one and only one that, after hours of Amazon scouring, offered any peace of mind as to ants actually staying put within their lodgings.
But the horror had just begun. Sure, we enjoyed the excitement of getting the ant farm in the mail, filling it up with sandbox sand, and setting it in a place of honor on the sideboard. But after all this came the dreadful knowledge, day after day, that one of these times the mail truck would actually drop off at our very own house a vial of ants with my name on it. Oh let it not be today! my heart cried every time I heard tires crunching down the drive.
I knew I had to be strong for my girls. The fateful day arrived, as all fateful days inevitably do. I hardly recognized myself, tearing open that package of ants like I expected to find chocolate inside. As per the instructions, bedraggled from much anxious perusing, I gingerly placed said vial in the sanctum of our refrigerator (praying it was indeed tightly corked) and paced anxiously while the requisite five minutes ticked past. At four minutes, I could stand it no longer. I peeked inside the fridge to find the ants duly subdued by the cold. Not so much as an antennae twitched.
Flutterbudget flung open the deck door as I raced outside, vial brandished high. Half Pint wrenched the impossibly small ant doors open, and I (“firmly but gently,” of course) shook the hapless creatures into their new home before utterly losing my composure. As for the ants? They curled into motionless balls on the sand. “We’ve killed them!” I wailed. “This is the worst science experiment ever!”
But when the worst happens, the only thing to do is to keep on keeping on. Consulting the wrinkled and wrung instructions, I obeyed the injunction to place our new pets in a dark, solitary place for the first hour. Sliding the whole mess into the bathroom, I slammed the door with a sigh of relief. Maybe I could dump the tiny corpses out in the woods under cover of night and put this escapade behind us?
I almost wish I had a less anti-climactic ending to my melodramatic tale, but, lo and behold, after just one short hour of seclusion, we witnessed sleek, plump, lively ants tunneling industriously and none the worse for wear! Flutterbudget grabbed her sketch book, and Half-Pint, who usually flees screaming from creepy crawlies, enthusiastically prepared them a snack.
Now, if after all this, you still harbor notions of undertaking an ant study yourself, do allow me to share a few items that brought delight to our own scholarly pursuits. First, of course, the books! Here are a few we particularly enjoyed on ants and insects in general:
And we truly loved the aforementioned Brighter Day Ants Unit Study. It’s artistic, informative, thoughtful. There’s a little something for every age, and it makes connections to math, poetry and Scripture without overstraining the connections as unit studies are wont to do. The girls each created their own book about ants using the unit study worksheets and their own drawings of our ant farm. I struck gold when I found these blank books, ideal in size and page number for making books on all kinds of topics. I’m already plotting dozens of uses for these in the future!
Finally, I loved watching the girls instruct their teddy bears in the marvels of insect metamorphosis with the help of this life cycle figurine set. The insects accompanied the girls down our slip-and-slide today. Can’t imagine what adventures are in store for them tomorrow!
But truly, what delighted me most about our ant study – and all the studies we’ve enjoyed together this year – is the spiritual truth glimmering beneath the surface. Observing our ants this week, I kept thinking back to another time I shared my home with ants, more than three decades ago.
Growing up in a pinewood house deep in the forests of Maine, we harbored more than our share of critters. Somehow, I maintained a philosophical outlook toward the bats that lived in our eves and left surprises on my bed. And the flying squirrel that swooped from the bookshelf to the rafters was simply too amazing to get upset over, but the ants…trooping across the ceiling, crunching beneath our feet…they were another matter entirely.
As a counterbalance to my frayed emotions, my big sister adopted a “since we can’t beat ’em, let’s join ’em” attitude. If we were to be surrounded by insects, why not have some fun with them? “Let’s draw a picture of a bug picnic,” she snickered, and so we did. We became so engrossed in our project that I forgot my woes. Here’s my sister’s drawing, treasured over the years:
See how much fun we had? I never looked at ants the same way again. This was one of my first lessons in refusing to take life too seriously, in extracting humor, comfort, and joy from the less-than-ideal raw material life hands us. I imagine this isn’t quite what Solomon had in mind when he exhorted us to “Go to the ants,” but it just goes to show what great wisdom can be gleaned from our Father’s tiniest creatures. I would love to hear how you’re creating joy, kindling a love of learning, and keeping on keeping on at the end of your school year.
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