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Building a Better World Through Bugs

Using arthropods, The Bug Chicks welcome kids to science and emotional learning.

 Peter Blanchard, used with permission
Source: Peter Blanchard, used with permission

The Bug Chicks bonded over a tarantula back in 2005 as graduate students at Texas A&M. Today, Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, are professional entomologists and educators driven by a passion for bringing bugs and children together.

“We feel strongly about using insects and spiders as a tool to help kids feel like they’re capable,” says Kristie. “They can go on a journey with us and in 15 minutes to an hour, feel themselves change from fearful to fascinated. Or apathetic to fascinated.”

“Kids are not so weighed down by how they think things are or should be,” adds Jess. There’s fun but no making fun of somebody because they’re not comfortable.”

““Their minds are more flexible," Kristie adds. "When they use words like creepy or gross, instead of shutting that down, we ask what would happen if, for the next hour, they tried shifting creepy to interesting, gross to cool. We use the knee-jerk reaction to bugs to teach about science and recast it in a more positive light. Bugs are a vehicle for us to help students become more open-minded, engaged, activated, and empathetic.”

The Bug Chicks, used with permission
Source: The Bug Chicks, used with permission

The Bug Chicks share a love of all things crawly (as long as they have six jointed legs and skeletons on the outside), with Kristie and Jess as a study in compatibility. One is blonde, the other brunette. They finish each other's sentences and toss ideas around like the most innovative scientists.

Both are in their early 40s, though they look and regularly act like kids.

For all the young people who grow and explore under their tutelage, becoming mothers themselves isn’t a given for either of them. Jess is ambivalent about having children of her own. “It’s not a driving desire,” she says, “but not an overwhelming 'no' either.”

Kristie’s thoughts are a little different. “I never really thought much about having kids until the option was taken away from me biologically,” Kristie explains. “But I’ve always known that adopting, likely a middle school or high schooler, was in my future.”

The Bug Chicks, used with permission
Source: The Bug Chicks, used with permission

“Just because we don’t have kids doesn’t mean kids aren’t important in our lives,” Jess adds. “We interact with them every day. Their experience with our reactions helps shape them. These kids are going to grow up to be educators, scientists, maybe parents or not. They will take these experiences with them in who they become.”

Translating knowledge into learning experiences, the Bug Chicks have developed a robust and diverse insect curriculum for kindergarteners through high schoolers and their teachers. While face-to-face interaction with kids is Kristie and Jess’s first love, their wacky enthusiasm and arthropod menagerie translate seamlessly into video and online applications.

For as little as five dollars, viewers of all ages can dive into one-hour "Bugdork University" classes, like “Mouthparts Monday” or “Winged Wednesday.” Teachers for grades 4 – 12 can use “Different,” a comprehensive program that combines science and technology with Social Emotional Learning using arthropods to increase understanding of empathy, otherness, and changing one’s point of view.

The Bug Chicks' geographic range is becoming as wide and varied as that of arthropods. Their early educational travels took them to Kenya, Guatemala, and on several junkets across the United States.

Their life goal is to teach 100 million kids about bugs, which is a tall task given their preference for intimate group learning. So they’ve branched out to become teachers of teachers.

In recent years they’ve made annual trips to the Peruvian Amazon as guest faculty with the Morpho Institute. They also lead groups of teens and their teachers in the Amazon for JASON Learning.

“Jess is my number-one favorite person to travel with,” says Kristie. “Here’s why: She doesn’t speak to people as though they are strangers; she speaks to them as future friends. Kids are people.”

The Bug Chicks, used with permission
Source: The Bug Chicks, used with permission

Jess chimes in. “When we don’t talk to them like adults, we’re doing them a disservice,” she says. “They are so much more mentally engaged and knowledgeable and awake."

"And elastic, capable of such growth," says Kristie. "Underestimating a young person is the most tragic thing you can do.”

The Bug Chicks’ approach is infectious. “We bring our enthusiasm,” says Kristie. “We model vulnerability. And we are genuine in our love for bugs and our love for people.”

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