Posted noon Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024

Graduates students from Professor Barrett Klein's biology lab shared a lesson on insects with children from Red Balloon Early Learning Center in La Crosse.

Grad students give local children an intro to insects

La Crosse’s Red Balloon Early Learning Center buzzed with excitement last week as UWL graduate students taught children about the creepy, crawly world of insects. 

Led by students from Professor Barrett Klein’s biology lab, the children learned about insect biology, created their own bugs from Play-Doh and even had the chance to pet a hissing cockroach. 

“Introducing younger kids to insects hands-on is always a wonderful opportunity,” says graduate student Bug Hartsock, who is so passionate about insects that they legally changed their name. “It's never too early to instill a genuine connection to nature and empathy toward the tiny but impactful organisms all around us.”

Inspecting a hissing cockroach. Despite the name, they are harmless to humans.

“I was excited to share the insects with all the children,” graduate student Drew Lysaker adds. “It was neat to see them realize how many different insects exist out there and that insects can be fun and colorful!” 

Graduate student Ericka Bjorngaard says it was rewarding to see the children absorb the lesson and then let their imaginations run. 

“I especially enjoyed watching the children create their own insects with Play-Doh,” Bjorngaard says. “Being able to do an art project alongside observing the insects made the experience memorable for the littles, hopefully for years to come!” 

The event, organized by UWL Community Engagement in partnership with the UWL Biology Department and Red Balloon, was mutually beneficial. 

It gave the graduate students hands-on experience working with children and adapting their lessons for a young, beginner-level audience. And it gave the children an opportunity to expand their knowledge of insects after learning about them in recent weeks. 

“The kids can’t stop talking about it,” says Jennifer Lucey, a teacher at Red Balloon. “We love working with UWL and can’t wait to collaborate again!” 

Danielle Hudson, another graduate student who presented at Red Balloon, says the lessons served one other important purpose. They drove home the point that insects can be appreciated for what they are, rather than feared for how they look. 

“We can share the beauty and diversity of insects and be met with curiosity and engagement instead of fear,” Hudson says. “Hopefully, it will stick with them and influence their future perspective on these ecologically important critters!” 

After learning about insect biology, children created bugs out of Play-Doh.