How make an ant farm … or not!

We've been attempting to make an ant farm due to an ongoing interest in bugs and creepy-crawlies. It all seemed easy enough ... but it wasn't! How NOT to make an ant farm

There was definitely educational value in doing this exercise but it was in the process not the end result.

Over the years I've found that ideas for children's activities and learning experiences can seem great in my head or on paper, but it's not until I put them into practise that I can see how they are really going to work.

Will children like it? How should the activity be adjusted to make it work well? What factors have I missed that must be taken into account?

Making an ant farm was one activity that definitely fell into the category "it-seemed-a-great-idea-but-the-end-result-wasn't-expected!"

Have you ever had any of those ideas? The sort that seem great in your head but in practise don't turn out as you planned?

So here's how NOT to make an ant farm ... and why.

We began by doing some research on how to make an ant farm on the internet.

This involved watching a couple of videos on U-tube. It certainly looked easy enough. So we worked our way through each step.

Step One:
Cut the tops off two clear plastic bottles (a 2 litre and 1 litre bottle). Put the smaller bottle inside the bigger one. No problems.

How to make an ant farm

Step Two:
Cover both bottles with black cardboard. Place the smaller bottle inside the larger one. Not a problem.
How to make an ant farm

Step Three:
Collect some dirt. This involved plenty of fresh air, sunshine and a little physical work. All good.
How to make an ant farm

How to make an ant farm

Step Four:
Sift the dirt to remove any sticks or stones. This was a great team work activity which involved cooperation.

How to make an ant farm

Step Five:
Pour the dirt into the gap created between the large and the small bottle.

How to make an ant farm

Step Six:
Collect some ants. Here's where the problems began.

How to make an ant farm

At first, we tried to lure a few ants into a jar with some bread soaked in a honey/water. However, unless we planned on staying overnight, this was going to take way too long!

How to make an ant farm

The only other option was to dig a few up, wearing leather work gloves, while the boys watched from a safe distance. I tried to find some eggs to add to the farm. The ants didn't think that was a good idea.

There are no photos for this step because I was too busy surviving the war zone. This involved ducking the airborne attack from the mosquitoes and hopping/jumping/shrieking away from the land attack undertaken by the angry ants.

I had purposely chosen a 'passive' type of ant - ones that don't bite really hard or cause a great deal of pain.

I later thought back to the video and recalled there were no ants shown! Now I know why!!!

Anyone watching from a distance would have been laughing so hard watching me dance around the place hitting myself as I attempted to get rid of the ants! It must have looked so funny!

It would appear that the ants didn't take too kindly to our invitation to join us in our lovely home-made ant farm! I wonder why!

Step Seven:
Put the ants into the ant farm. Another problem.

The original plan involved tipping the ants into the top of the bottle, placing a cloth over the top and then securing it down. Again, when showing this on the U-tube video, there were no ants.

How to make an ant farm

The ants I collected were not going to sit still while I put the top on the container. So a few adjustments were made to our containers in the form of a side extension with a screw on lid. This enabled the ants to be placed in quickly and without fuss.

Step Eight:
Sit back and watch the ants. All seemed to being working well.

How to make an ant farm

It was great watching the ants crawl here and there. The ants weren't escaping and over running the kitchen. All seem well. However ...

How to make an ant farm

... the ants didn't want to go into the dirt. They all just sat.

Apparently, I'd collected the only ants in the world that don't dig! They were all on strike.

We feed the ants with honey soaked bread and water saturated cotton wool balls - as per the instructions. However, not a single ant even attempted to dig in the dirt. We kept the ants for a couple of days but then decided to let them go.

Here's where I learnt something I never knew. Ants smell really bad!!!

So the end result wasn't a wonderful ant farm that we could watch for months on end. But we engaged a lot of skills along the way, including:

  • Preparing and planning for a project
  • Cooperating together
  • Showing empathy for Mum when she was under attack ("bad ants!!!")
  • Problem-solving and brainstorming alternative ideas
  • Observation.

But more importantly, I think the boys experienced that it's great to try something. If it doesn't work the way you'd hoped, that's fine too. If it's still not working, assess if there's anything that can be done to change the situation.

Life isn't about a continual stream of successes. Not everything will work. It's what you do with the 'failures' that matters. This is such a valuable lesson that the ant farm was definitely worth doing.

Next time we try to make an ant farm, we'll try something different. It's all a valuable learning experience and we had fun along the way ... well, all except for the 'war zone' bit experienced by Mum.

If you have successfully created an ant farm, we'd love to hear how you did it.

Watching Ants

In the mean time, we're limiting our observations to watching ants in their natural environment.

You may also like these Sneaky Snake Activities:

Snake Colour Change
Snake Changes Colour
Snake Comes here
Snake Comes Home
Silly Sneaky Snake Word Wheel
Silly Sneaky Snake Word Wheel
Menus for Hens
Menus For Hens

Return to the Articles List for other children's learning activities or children's book reviews.

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