From the front stretch of the cockroach races to the maggot painting tables, about 1,100 area third-graders spent Thursday with the bugs.
Tulsa Master Gardeners hosted its Exploring Insects event at the Expo Square Exchange Center on Thursday, where volunteers helped show kids that bugs go beyond the creepy crawlies.
Debby Bezan, co-coordinator of Exploring Insects, was one of 175 volunteers with the Master Gardeners helping shepherd kids through booths at what could best be described as a bug fair.
Bezan said the Master Gardeners are the bridge between the Oklahoma State University Extension Service and the public.
They’re uniquely suited to provide educational services, and involving the kids is one of the most fun ways to do it, Bezan said.
“Just seeing the smiles and excitement on the kids’ faces,” she said. “In fact, we had one little kid last year or the year before who said, ‘This is even better than Disneyland.’ If that’s the case, we’ve done our job.”
Across the 21 booths at Exploring Insects, kids built ladybug habitats to take home, did the honeybee dance and learned how to tell the temperature with a cricket’s chirps.
Katelyn Mahurin, a third-grader from Garfield STEAM Academy in Sand Springs, watched maggots track tiny lines of paint back and forth across a paper. A few minutes later, she had something between rainbow spaghetti and a priceless work of abstract art.
Katelyn said she came into Thursday not really liking bugs that much, and the jury’s still out on them, but she definitely had fun.
As groups of students led by teachers and parents wandered through the exhibits, there was only one big rule. Julie Treat, who has brought her third grade class from Tulsa’s Council Oak Elementary School every year, said she told some of her students to come into the day with positive attitudes.
“I told some of the girls I’m not a bug person. I don’t normally do bugs,” Treat said. “But I said, ‘You’re going to be surprised, and you’re going to learn things. You’re going to be really interested in all the things you take away from this today,’ so I said to have an open mind.
“We talked about positive language. We talked about not saying ‘eww’ words or ‘grossed out’ or anything like that. They all said they would be open-minded, and when I’m asking them about it they say they’re loving it. ... There’s something for everybody that appeals to every personality type and interest level.”
At the end of the day, it’s why the Master Gardeners put on the event. Sure, there’s the entertainment of “Termite NASCAR” and the wild specimens of the OSU Entomology Department’s collection, but they were well-intentioned deception at an elementary level.
Diane Hambric, a master gardener who helps with the group’s marketing efforts, explained why the group cares so deeply about ensuring some learning and a good time.
For an organization with a hotline for gardeners to find out what bugs may be chewing on their tomato plants, Hambric said, it’s important to expose kids at a young age to how bugs are more than creepy or small.
“I hope that they have a true understanding about the insect world,” Hambric said. “How insects can very much be our friends, occasionally our foes, and that they help nature sustain itself all around the world.”