Tarantula owners have been warned to wear eye protection when handling their pets, after a man was sprayed with tiny hairs while cleaning the home of his Chilean rose tarantula. The hairs were so small doctors couldn’t remove them all from his cornea, but the man is recovering after being treated by an ophthalmologist.
Incidents like this one will spark the interest of young people, and when this happens teachers and parents can seize the opportunity to turn a news report into a “teachable moment.” If you are the type that can whip up a unit study at the drop of a hat, by all means feel free to launch into a full-scale study of the Theraphosidae family. Those who don’t think of themselves as natural teachers can still use a story like this one as an educational experience. It’s really not hard at all.
Tarantulas as pets
Tarantulas are popular amongst those who enjoy exotic pets, and the Chilean rose tarantula (Grammastola rosea) is often chosen because it is more docile than other spiders and easy to care for. That being said, there are precautions to take. Pet owners need to know how to house and feed their spiders, and what to do if they happen to be bit or if the spider throws its hairs at them.
A great project for kids with an interest would be to learn about keeping a Chilean rose, or some other type of spider, as a pet. Resources include the internet, the arachnid section of your local library, and pet stores or veterinarians that specialize in exotic animals such as spiders or snakes.
News stories as writing prompts
Children today seem to emerge from the womb with a keyboard in one hand and a mouse in the other. Despite their technological prowess our kids’ writing ability is so much of a concern that we now have English exit exams, just to be sure they leave school able to write in their mother tongue. Spelling and penmanship are both put on the back burner when teachers are asked to squeeze an increasingly large volume of material into the same brief school day. Written composition, for its part, is almost an endangered species.
Parents can encourage their children to write by giving them fun things to write about. A story like this one about the tarantula hairs might prompt a number of questions. “Would you still want to keep your spider, if this happened to you?” “Should people keep tarantulas as pets?” “What’s worse: a tarantula bite, or having one throw its hairs in your face?” “Can you invent a protective device that allows people to handle their spiders without worrying about getting the hairs in their eyes or noses?”
Kids will come up with their own prompts, and as long as they are having fun they are capable of writing any number of documents – from their own news stories about invented situations, to fantastic fables, to factual reports about keeping exotic pets. The writing competency of the English language arts program in Quebec schools requires students to create self-expressive, narrative and information-based texts. Children who use a variety of media in their compositions (e.g. illustrations, cartoons, web pages or electronic slide show presentations, etc.) are working to fulfill requirements for another ELA competency, as are those who interact with others in the creation or presentation of their texts. And of course, reading material in the process of researching a document fulfills components of the literacy competency. Composition writing can thus allow students to work on all of the English competencies, to some degree.
Articles as a source of new vocabulary
Vocabulary, more than almost anything, guarantees school success. A child who enters school with a smaller spoken vocabulary than his peers will have to work harder to keep up with phonics and reading. A child with a strong vocabulary will be familiar with more advanced words encountered in subjects such as math, science or social studies. A news story about the self-defence mechanism of a tarantula is a great source of vocabulary for parents who want to help kids beat the holiday learning loss.
Encourage your kids to look for unfamiliar words such as urticating or ophthalmologist, get them to look them up in the dictionary or even to guess what they might mean using clues from the text or based on their existing knowledge of related words. A regular study of the roots and affixes we have inherited from other languages like Latin or Greek, can be helpful in building a child’s vocabulary. Recognizing similarities to words in French or Spanish is a practice that encourages the child to not only build English vocabulary, but also to find new reasons to pay attention to those foreign language lessons!