Newtown Kindergarten studies spiders at Te Papa

This blog provides an excellent opportunity not only for us to share with you, but  for you to share with each other.

How do you use our museum as a learning resource? What do you find to be best practice? Why are museum and gallery experiences important for your tamariki?
Our latest story comes from kaiako (teacher) Charlene from Newtown Kindergarten:

Spiders, spiders everywhere…

Here at Newtown Kindergarten, we have been planning for teaching and learning around the theme of kaitiakitanga: caring for our environment. In order to care for our environment, we must first have an interest in exploring and understanding our world. One of the hot topics for the children at Newtown has been insects, especially spiders. Many questions have arisen, and the children have wanted to go beyond the static photographs in books. We have been watching documentaries on spiders in action, learning about the properties of their silk and how they catch their prey. Children have also been catching live spiders at home and bringing them in to show their peers.

One morning a few weeks ago, I (Charlene) caught a spider in my bedroom and brought it to kindergarten to show the children. I wanted to find out what kind of spider it was together with them. Out came our trusty Life-Size Guide to Insects, by Andrew Crowe, and we began to look at all the photographs of the various types of spiders that can be found in New Zealand.

We put the spider under a magnifying glass to get a good look at its shape and markings, and then we compared it to each photograph in the book.

We asked each other, “Is it this one?” and we would discuss how our spider compared to the one in the photograph:

“Nah! It’s too small…” “But that one has shorter legs…” “Ours has a brown middle and grey tummy… that one is all grey…”

Identifying our spider, Photographer: Newtown Kindy,  © Newtown Kindy

Identifying our spider, Photographer: Newtown Kindy, © Newtown Kindy

 

Identifying our spider, Photographer: Newtown Kindy,  © Newtown Kindy

Identifying our spider, Photographer: Newtown Kindy, © Newtown Kindy

We realised it was not that easy! Some spiders had the same colouring as ours but seemed too small or too big. Some spiders had the same shape as ours but had different markings.

The possibilities! Photographer, Newtown Kindy,  © Newtown Kindy

The possibilities! Photographer, Newtown Kindy, © Newtown Kindy

From the guide, we also learnt that there are web-spinning spiders and those that do not use webs to catch their prey but hunt them down and jump on them!

Guide book we used,  Photographer: Newtown Kindy,  © Newtown Kindy

Guide book we used, Photographer: Newtown Kindy, © Newtown Kindy

We decided to do some research online, so we brought out a laptop and looked at some more photographs of spiders. Soon we had a small group of avid “spider fans” around the laptop. We also ‘googled’ the names of spiders we knew to see what kind of photographs would pop up. While we still were not sure exactly what kind of spider we had, the children really enjoyed looking at the great many different kinds of spiders that exist and would ask to enlarge the photographs just to get a better look at some of them.

In the end, the spider’s identification was not the most important thing. It was more important for us to have had fun investigating, learning about the world of spiders and coming up with our theories about our spider. That is what science is all about: discovery, investigation and theories.

Doing science together, Photographer: Newtown Kindy, © Newtown Kindy

Doing science together, Photographer: Newtown Kindy, © Newtown Kindy

During our searches online, we discovered that Te Papa has a spider collection and thought it would be great to extend the children’s learning with a visit to see this collection. So a visit was arranged with Rebecca Browne, Te Papa’s Early Childhood Educator, and Phil Sirvid, Te Papa’s “spider expert”. Needless to say, the children were very excited and looking forward to this visit with great anticipation!

On the great day, we (teacher Erin, our student teacher Debbie, a parent Susanne and I) brought 10 of our “spider fans” by bus to Te Papa. There at the entrance were Rebecca and Phil to welcome us. They took a few moments to get acquainted with us and inform us of our programme. Rebecca also had a surprise for us: a gift of 9 beautiful, large laminated posters of various spiders found in New Zealand!

Meeting Rebecca and Phil at Te Papa, Photographer: Newtown Kindy,  © Newtown Kindy

Meeting Rebecca and Phil at Te Papa, Photographer: Newtown Kindy, © Newtown Kindy

Rebecca and Phil brought us to NatureSpace where we sat in a circle around Phil as he showed us his treasures: a huge tarantula and many other spiders, preserved and enclosed in glass or resin.

What followed was a lovely, interactive and very informative session for the children as Phil introduced us to the world of spiders in simple language and vivid descriptions.

Sharing stories, Photographer: Newtown Kindy,  © Newtown Kindy

Sharing stories, Photographer: Newtown Kindy, © Newtown Kindy

The children could really relate to Phil’s story about how a big tunnel web spider once crawled up his leg when he was little, scaring him to death, after which he became very afraid of spiders. A few of the children were actually afraid of spiders despite being interested in them. But then Phil explained that as he was growing up he was fascinated by how an orb web spider could catch wasps – tricky if you think about how dangerous a wasp is with its sting! He realised that the more he learned about spiders, the less he was afraid of them.

Phil and his tarantula! Photographer: Newtown Kindy,  © Newtown Kindy

Phil and his tarantula! Photographer: Newtown Kindy, © Newtown Kindy

Holding up the huge tarantula, Phil also explained what the various parts of the spider were called and what they were for. We found out that tarantulas have a bad reputation but are not as dangerous as many people think. They only use their fangs to catch their prey so it is not their bite that hurts. They spray hairs off their bottoms onto anything that threatens them and it is these hairs that cause painful stings.

Phil also introduced us to the only really dangerous spider in New Zealand – the katipō spider – and we discussed how the red markings may be a warning to its enemies that it is poisonous. There are however katipō that sometimes do not have these markings! We also learnt about how the nursery web spider actually spins a tent-like web to protect her eggs and guards them herself.

We were able to ask Phil a question about the mystery spider too. I told him how it seemed like a house spider but the colour did not quite match the photograph in the guide. He replied that often there can be many variations to the colour of a species other than what is shown in a guide and that it was entirely possible that it was a house spider.

 

Some other facts we learnt from Phil:

  • Spiders have eight legs while insects have six.
  • Spiders have 2 parts to their bodies while insects have three.
  • Web-spinning spiders can go up to 6 months without eating as they wait in their web in a hibernation-like state until something gets caught and they spring into action.
  • Many spiders have a coating of oil on their feet to stop them from getting stuck in their own webs.
  • Some spiders eat other spiders!
  • Some tiny spiders are real smart and hang around the larger spiders’ webs to “steal” a meal when insects that are too little for the big spider to eat get caught in the webs.

 

After Phil’s talk, we were able to hold the spider specimens in resin and examine them under a magnifying glass with the lovely support of Rebecca.

Examining the spiders in the resin blocks, Photographer: Newtown Kindy, © Newtown Kindy

Examining the spiders in the resin blocks, Photographer: Newtown Kindy, © Newtown Kindy

We all, adults and children alike, thoroughly enjoyed the session and went away with our heads full of new and interesting spider facts. We were able to appreciate the world of spiders much more and look at them in a different light when we think about their amazing abilities.

We also carried away a very important message: if you are afraid of something, learn more about it! Phil says it is hard to be afraid of something that you understand!

The teachers, children and whānau of Newtown Kindergarten would like to thank Rebecca Browne and Phil Sirvid for this wonderful visit. We are still catching spiders to identify them and when we look into our guides, we remember what we learnt from our visit! We hope to visit again soon with another little group. Perhaps this time, we might explore volcanoes?

 

Wonderful story Newtown Kindy! It’s great the see you using our collections and experts to support your mahi (work) around spiders!

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