It’s a Bug’s Life Education Project – Update from Imagine Childcare

It’s a Bug’s Life Education Project – Update from Imagine Childcare

In 2015, Te Papa is creating a teacher resource to support you to ‘do science’ in your own backyard/outdoor environments – with a focus on the invertebrates who make these places home.

It is very exciting to share our first update from one of the three Early Childhood Centres working with us!

Thank you Adela, Kaiako (Teacher) at Imagine Childcare in Petone, for writing this learning story. 

March-April 2015

How do spiders make their webs?

This was the big inquiry question that we decided to investigate at the end of Rebecca and Scott’s visit to our centre. An initial hypothesis included that pungawerewere (spiders) make their webs from their legs, however it was debated that they perhaps use their bottoms instead.

This discussion brought us to our next decision – Where do we start our investigation?

It would be ideal if we could observe real spiders spinning their webs, so we asked the learning community for spiders to be brought into the centre. Spiders came from far and wide some as close as Korokoro and others as far as Wainuiomata and Plimmerton! (Thank you to all families and teachers that have participated in this).

We investigated the spiders’ names using images from Andrew Crowe’s book on New Zealand spiders. On one occasion we concluded that we had two large brown Vagrant spiders, and a green Orb web spider. Our tamariki (children) brainstormed what their enclosures needed: “leaves, water, flower-petals, sticks, bark and plants”, and retrieved these items from our garden. A few of us were pretty sure that the spiders needed the leaves (Catie & Olivia. L) and plants (Emily) to eat, whereas others thought that they would prefer ants (Emmaline) and flies (Alex).

We took photos of our new friends and posted them online to the Spiders with Te Papa page – a citizen science initiative with NatureWatch NZ that is part of the Declassified: Nature’s secrets exposed exhibition. Phil Sirvid, an entomologist (an insect scientist) from Te Papa, commented on our posts adding the genus species.

Spider specimen, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa
Our Vagrant spider specimen, Uliodon albopunctatus, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa

Sammy’s mum Kim also bought in two spiders to us to observe. “My mum found us lots of spiders at her school and at home” (Sammy). The Daddy long legs was of particular interest. I read some facts about how they shake their bodies to scare off intruders and soon after this we noticed the spider shaking, when we carefully lifted its container!

The Orb web spider, which was initially found in our maple tree here at the centre, was an interesting specimen to watch.

Our Orb web spider specimen, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa
Our Orb web spider specimen, Colaranea melanoviridis, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa

Prior to its release we had a closer look at the web that it had made encapsulating an insect. Once released, it built a new orb web in full view within our decks eaves! One day, a large leaf was blown onto its web and a number of us watched as the spider busily work to break parts of its web to remove the leaf.

Through observation we found out that many spiders make their webs at night which meant it would be hard for us to observe them in action. So we needed to look to other resources to help us answer our big question. Books were borrowed from the local library and we watched spiders making their webs on YouTube too.

Using reference books, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa
Using reference books, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa

Finally, we found our answer…

“Out of their tails!!”.

Their liquid silk web comes from their tails, the bottom of their abdomen from tubes within their spinnerets. Spiders use their legs to help them to form their webs.

Through our research, we also found out that not all spiders make webs, and that some spiders catch their prey (as they are what you call predators) by hunting for them. Some jump onto of their victims and kill them with the poisonous venom from their fangs! We acted out these ideas by either being a jumping spider leaping on its prey or spinning a web and waiting for an insect to get stuck in it.

We were able to have a closer look at a spider’s fangs thanks to Maggie’s dad who brought in his Rose Tarantula specimen for us to view. The dead spider was within a glass frame and its size made it easy for us to see all of its structures. Some of us even had a go at drawing some observational pictures.

Another thing that we learnt is that spiders don’t just use their webs to catch food – they also use it as a safety trail. This line, a bit like a bungee cord, is released in case their fall. Webs have sticky parts for catching food and non sticky parts to ensure that they can move about. Charlotte, Olivia L. and Emily created an interpretation of this fact by treading wool through cardboard, creating the spider’s web and then covering parts of it with PVA glue to act as the sticky bits. From there, they covered the glue with glitter to represent insects that had become stuck. Pompom spiders were made to reside on top of the web. Nichola (another one of our kaiako) also made a web with the children using wool, glitter and a large dead branch.

Creating webs, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa
Creating webs, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa

We endeavoured to create our very own spider webs in the garden out of wool and rope too. We had learnt a lot about the different types of webs that are created by different spiders. “There are orb web spiders and tunnel web spiders too, and there are sheet web spiders” said Ava. We had a go at constructing webs like an orb web spider, as well as a sheet web spider, a nursery web spider, and a tunnel web spider!

As I assisted the children in creating our Orb web spider web, I talked about how the spider forms the spoke shaped frame first before creating the circular patterns around. To reinforce this concept, some children also had a go at drawing Orb webs on the concrete with chalk. Many children wanted to help in erecting the web, and once it was up it had become a real talking point! Some children questioned how it got there and others explained that a huge spider had made it! Kayla pointed to the top corner of the web and said “look the big spiders up there!!”. Other children attempted to climb through it like giant insects, some of them becoming entwined. Oh no!

Once the Orb web spider web had become disfigured (there was a lot of prey after all!), Alex and Ava planned to make another one in its place. The end result looked very much like a line web spider web – a different web again.

Emmaline's Nursery web spiders, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa
Emmaline’s Nursery web spiders, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa

When we made a web like the Nursery web spider, it was discussed that a mother and her baby spiders should be included inside. “The babies are inside the web and the mother dies” stated Emmaline. She came up with the idea of making the spiders by scrunching up pieces of paper into balls, painting them black and then sticking them together. She decided to use pipe cleaners for the legs and dotted on eyes with paint.

From Rebecca and Scott’s visit we knew that spiders have 8 legs but since then we have found out more about the bodies of our arachnid friends. Unlike insects, that have three body parts, spiders only have two. Spiders have an abdomen (like an insect) and a cephalothorax (this means their head and thorax are fused together). This word proved to be quite tricky for us to say and remember but from then on we often pointed out the spiders “abdomen”. To extend this idea of different body parts further, we had a go at making spiders out of clay. Some of us made two body parts with the 8 legs coming off the cephalothorax, and an abdomen with a trail of web. Some of us included 6-8 eyes, and hairs which are used by a spider to feel vibrations. We also had a go at painting spiders with puff paint!

Puff paint spiders! Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa
Puff paint spiders! Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa

Observations continue outside on a daily basis. We have made some very interesting discoveries. One afternoon a Daddy long leg’s spider was found in the back shed carrying an egg sank on its back. Inside the play house another Daddy long leg was found on its web surrounded by many tiny baby spiders. I am frequently called to check out spider webs. It has been noticed that spiders tend to wait on the out reaches of their webs during the day. They sometimes enter the web if they feel their web moving indicating that something may be present.

A web on our shed, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa
A web on our shed, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa
Spotted by a keen scientist! Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa
Spotted by a keen scientist! Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Te Papa

What’s happening here?

Our tamariki have been engaging with some of the five key science capabilities, by having had a number of opportunities to gather information through observations (Capability One), and think about how we might find the evidence to back up or dismiss our theories (Capability 2). They have found and used many different ways to represent their findings to others (Capability 4).

These experiences have presented opportunities for our tamariki to participate in active inquiry and develop their confidence in offering ideas and understanding (Contribution strand, Te Whāriki). They have learnt strategies for active investigation, thinking and reasoning (Exploration strand, Te Whāriki ).

Where to next?

We plan on reading Patricia Grace’s The Kuia and the Spider story, which touches on a number of different uses for a spider web. Learning the pungawerewere waiata (song) from the Four Seasons CD is another must do. It mentions the making of webs for catching flies and laying baby spiders inside. How much fun would it be to re-enactment this with our own dance!!.

We also have other inquiry questions about spiders that we could look to investigate, including: “I wonder if spiders live in flowers” (Charlotte) “Why do they live in their webs so long?”, “How do spiders walk” (Augustine) and “Are spiders born with 8 legs or do they grow later?”.

Interesting… I wonder what we think the answers to these questions maybe? How we could go about finding out?

Stay tuned!



  1. Great inspiration Thank you!!

  2. This is a very exciting inquiry with many great ideas and questions coming from the tamariki. Tino pai, teachers and children! A great example of how to do science research in early childhood.

    1. Thank you for your feedback. Spiders are definitely an on going interest of our tamariki

    2. I’m glad you have found it helpful. If you have any further ideas please feel free to share.

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