Hilary Wilce looks at silkworm cities and caterpillar kits
Insect Lore's live caterpillar and bug kits are tailored to allow very young children to watch living things grow, with endless opportunities for learning and pleasure.
"We ordered 10 caterpillars and the long netting tube that they hatch out in," says Fiona Brooks, of the Pepperpot Nursery, Brighton. "The caterpillars stayed in small containers until they had spun their cocoons. Then we put them in the netting. The children could see them start wriggling. It was fascinating. After they hatched out we put sugary paper in the net tube for the butterflies to feed on. They were gold, red, yellow and brown, and we got eight out of the 10. The children learned all about the life-cycle, and how to care for the creatures gently. We did lots of related activities, such as making cocoons out of blankets, and doing butterfly dances."
"Our caterpillars were like the faintest pencil lines when they arrived," says Janet Clarke, supervisor of the Tolleshunt D'Arcy Pre-School, near Maldon, in Essex. "But we were amazed how quickly they grew. They were Painted Ladies, and they all hatched out. We actually saw one hatch, which was very exciting. You could see the colours through the chrysalis, and the children looked at them through a magnifying glass. " Insect Lore supplies a popular "butterfly garden" (33 caterpillars for a school set) and a "butterfly pavilion" (10 caterpillars in a netting tube), and other minibeasts, including stick insects , ladybirds, pond snails and ants. Prices vary from pound;13.50 for a "silkworm city" to pound;16.44 for a small butterfly kit, and pound;38.76 for a school kit, although habitats are reusable, and the company will supply replacement insects.
Teachers are given clear instructions about when and how to order - caterpillars are sent out every week in the warmer weather, and need a constant classroom temperature. Three out of five caterpillars developing is the guaranteed rate.
A better bet for the winter months could be a set of mealworms (350-400), which will develop into flour beetles. Their cycle takes three months and they need only shallow trays, bran, fruit and vegetables to survive. Also available year-round are silk worms, locust nymphs and aquatic triops.
Insect Lore backs up all its live products with reading materials and project suggestions, and will also give advice over the phone.
* Insect Lore, PO Box 1420, Kiln Farm, MK19 6zH. Tel: 01908 563338. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org