A deserted wasps’ nest displayed in a curiosity cube at Dunky’s Day Nursery in Runcorn, Cheshire prompted lots of questions, wondering and investigations.
The nest was brought in by a four-year-old whose grandmother had found it in the walls of her house while doing renovations. He was keen to show his friends and find out more about it.
‘The child helped me place the nest into our curiosity cube, we spoke about it being “delicate” and how we had to handle it carefully,’ says deputy manager Kellyann Spellman.
‘We chose to present the nest in this way because at our recent Ofsted inspection, where we received Outstanding, the inspectors were enthralled by the conversations they had with children around an object inside the cube. We knew this would provoke questions and critical thinking. We placed a lightbox on top so we could all see the intricate detail.’
It caught the attention of children and parents as they arrived at nursery, and the boy was eagerly on hand to tell them what it was.
Children’s initial observations
Children inspected the wasps’ nest closely and observed its appearance. They noted that it was light brown in colour and looked ‘papery’. They were also fascinated to see that inside the nest there were layers of egg cells that were hexagonal in shape – leading to children finding six-sided shapes in the setting.
The nest inspired many questions and discussions, including:
- What’s inside?
- What do wasps look like?
- Where have they gone now?
- Have they got babies?
- How is it built?
Learning about wasps and wasps’ nests
‘We realised we didn’t know much about wasps and their nests, so we used the computer to find out more information. We do this quite a lot with the children’s questions, such as researching what worms like to eat when children find them in the garden,’ says Ms Spellman.
‘We found out that it’s the queen wasp that chooses the location of the nest. This sparked conversations around the children wanting to be the queen wasp because it’s a “big job”, and one child commented that the Queen lives in London, linking it to a trip they had made there.’
They found that wasps build nests in locations that are dry, safe and structurally sound, which can be a natural location, such as a hollow tree or in a man-made structure, like where this nest was found.
Both children and staff were fascinated to learn that wasps create their nests from materials such as cardboard, tree bark and small pieces of wood, which they chew together with their saliva to make a malleable pulp that is perfect for moulding the hexagonal shapes of the nest. This led children to remark how clever wasps are and that they must have been very busy to build such a big nest. They also discussed what saliva is.
Creating a ‘nest’ den
Creating a ‘mind map’ of the children’s thoughts, ideas and spoken language led to the children wanting to create their own ‘nest’ den that they would be able to fit in. Planning the constructions led to conversations about materials and what would be best for their den.
Like the queen wasp, they first wondered where to locate the nest. It was decided to build it on the carpet area because it is warm. The children brought poles and large pieces of fabric, along with a long roll of orange construction net. The net was chosen specifically because ‘it has holes like the wasps’ nest’.
Building the den sparked a conversation about ‘The Three Little Pigs’ story, which they then read together. After, they talked about the building materials each pig had used, what had happened and why they had not worked.
IN THE MIX
Making paper pulp
Inspired by the wasps’ building materials, the children carried out an experiment to observe what happens to cardboard when it is mixed with water (saliva) and mashed together. The children chose a variety of tools to do this, including potato mashers.
‘This was very much open-ended, and the children then used their hands to mould the pulp together,’ says Ms Spellman. Children squashed and moulded the malleable material to make objects ranging from houses to circles and snails, which then dried.
In the nest Children were curious to find out more about wasps and watched online videos of what wasps do in the nests and of them flying in and out of the nests. Some children were intrigued by how wasps fly, and other flying creatures.
Flying Staff frequently observe children’s interest in aeroplanes so continued the flying theme by making paper aeroplanes. They built a runway with long rolls of paper, flew their aeroplanes down it and marked how far they had flown.
Birds One child queried whether a bird could get into a wasps’ nest. This led to children considering if it would be possible and watching videos of birds flying. They then explored what birds’ nests look like, the materials they use and how they keep their eggs safe.
Eggs This led to questions about what other creatures are born from eggs, with children categorising pictures of different animals, deciding whether they hatch from eggs or not. Staff have approached a local farmer and plan on enhancing this interest by hatching some chicks from eggs so that children can have first-hand experience of it and learn about lifecycles.
The lasting effect of children’s investigations
‘The children wondered where the wasps had gone and why we couldn’t keep them inside the curiosity cube within their nest. We explained how they prefer to fly outdoors, having lots of space to explore,’ says Ms Spellman.
‘This opened up a perfect opportunity to explore the children’s recent worries that “wasps sting you”. We explained that keeping the wasps in the cube would lead them to become frustrated and upset, which could result in them stinging humans.’
Children continue to recall the investigations into wasps and, rather than dwelling on how wasps can sting, they now have a greater appreciation of wasps, including that they are clever, can build and have babies.
‘Overall, I believe the children have come to appreciate another living thing on our planet from learning more about them,’ says Ms Spellman.
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