Annual hands-on summer project with the kids, featuring Pink-Spotted Ladybugs

Each summer my kids and I dabble in a project involving low-maintenance pets. Three summers ago was goldfish that survived only a few days (before its overfeeding); last summer involved raising caterpillar to butterflies; and this summer we raised larvae into ladybugs, specifically called Pink-Spotted Ladybug.

*If you like, you can check out the full post written in June 2017 titled “Butterflies in our house.”

Like summer 2017, our live shipment arrived from, an online company specializing in educational insect-raising kits. Kids were thrilled when they saw the package, and they carried it slowly into the house talking in whispers. The inside contents included a slim plastic tube with strips of green crinkled paper, long and skinny larvae that looked like mini alligators, and a grainy substance for their food. We then twisted open the magnifying cap on top of the dome and shook the tube contents into it.

For this beginning stage, our only job required wetting the grey sponge (drinking station) with few drops of water from a pipette. Instructions said only a few drops to prevent larvae drowning, but to kids still working on fine motor skills, it meant big drenching squirts. There was little to observe the first couple of days until the larvae got bigger; they ate voraciously and actively moved all around the dome.

Some fun facts about ladybugs:

  • Ladybugs are not bugs. They are a kind of beetle.
  • In the Middle Ages, European farmers struggled with pests destroying their crops. So they prayed for help from the Virgin Mary and ladybugs suddenly appeared eating up all the pests. They were then called Lady Beetles after the Virgin Mary.
  • They smell with their feet and antenna.
  • They can fly.
  • If threatened, they release a toxic liquid from their legs (harmful to animals but not humans).
  • Ladybugs come in a variety of colors and in hundreds of species.
  • The brightness of their colors fades over time.
  • Gardeners love to have ladybugs for natural pest control. (Information gathered from,,, Katrina DeLallo from Super Teacher Worksheets)

My goal for this project was to engage the kids in the process and do more than just observe. I wanted them to practice articulating what they saw. This required them to dictate their daily observations and draw pictures of what they saw.

I was nervous to introduce this activity in case it seemed tedious and boring, so I prefaced it by saying that real scientists do this all the time. This must’ve made them feel very grown-up: they referred to themselves as scientists and talked in a serious voice as they looked through their magnifying glasses. They totally got into character: no giggles or squirming.


Close-up picture looking through magnifying glasses. Check out their double-jointed legs and vivid spots.


The plump brown thing on the top of the picture is a soggy raisin. Brown spots sticking to the wall are pupae.

Once all the pupae molted, the dome looked messy with black trails of their molting and deceased larvae stuck to the green strips. We decided to move them into a new and improved home in the form of an empty glass jar sitting in our pantry.

We took leftover pebbles from our goldfish days and layered the bottom for ladybugs to explore; added a wet gauze for their water supply; dropped soggy raisins and lettuce for nutrition; and decorated with sticks and flowers to make their home cozy.


A clean jar for the ladybugs. Interior designed and decorated by the kids. I forgot to take a picture after adding the sticks and flowers.

Each bug was transferred to its new home with it sitting atop a wooden chopstick. Plastic wrap covered the top with several holes poked in them for ventilation.

The bugs stayed with us almost 20 days until I felt nervous that they might die from the heat inside the jar. Summers are uncomfortably hot even indoors in California.

Kids reluctantly agreed with my rationale to let them go; the next morning we took our jar outside for the grand release. They took turns getting each of the ladybugs out on a stick and placing them inside our container plants. Some lingered, but most of them crawled away within seconds. This was the one time that I wish our plants swarmed with pests like aphids so these ladybugs could have have a feast.


Pink Spotted Ladybug.

Overall, this summer project was enjoyable, educational, and memorable. I wish I had as much enthusiasm when I was a kid, but it’s not too late for me to keep exploring, discovering, and questioning along with my kids. Another big lesson for me as a homeschooling mom was developing more confidence in deciding what and how to teach, as well as getting comfortable not knowing all the answers. It’s fine to say, “I don’t know. Let’s look it up together.”

These kinds of projects are usually reserved for summer, but we’re on a roll. Next up: raising tadpoles or hermit crabs. Stay tuned!

It’s inevitable. I get insomnia when I need to sleep.

It’s funky, erratic sleep the night before any heart-related doctor’s appointments for Ellis.  I can’t pinpoint one worry, but a general sense of fear overcomes me. Other concerns that prevent continuous sleep: I’ll oversleep; I’ll be stuck in bay area traffic and miss the appointment entirely; I’ll hear upsetting news; I’ll need to be extra patient with Ellis and attentive throughout the long appointments; I’ll get hangry and run out of coffee; I’ll take at least a day to recover.

The other night I was wide wake at 3 a.m., slept a couple of hours, and woke up at 6 a.m. We were due for a follow-up ENT appointment. With her vocal chord paresis after her heart surgery last fall, extra air passes through the vocal chord making her voice sound raspy and hoarse; also, liquid could sneak into the trachea making it possible for infections and pneumonia.

I dreaded this appointment because it involves pushing a thin camera tube down her nose. While in her nose, she’ll need to make certain sounds and take sips of green dye liquid. It’s uncomfortable and frightening for both of us.

She sits on my lap face-forward and I wrap my arms tightly around her. A nurse stands behind to hold her head still. She acts brave and giggles more than normal, but her dry heaving afterwards tells me otherwise. When the thin camera tip touches her nose, she bursts into a loud cry. Even in her hysteria, she asks “done?,” “be fast.”

These moments jolt me out of complacency. Suddenly, the daily things that irritate me become unimportant; all that matters is comforting this little frightened person. When I mutter “Oh dear Jesus,{” it’s not me taking the Lord’s name in vain. It’s a panicked soul plea; an SOS to Jesus.

If we’re not overly tired, we stop at Nordstrom just blocks away from the hospital. Ellis agrees to go, but she tells me to get the stroller. Looking at pretty things and sitting outside their outdoor cafe revives our wearied spirits and makes our day happier. It amazes me how quickly we forget the pain until next time.


Colorful blooms at the Stanford mall…forgot to take one outside Nordstrom


Another attempt at summer container- gardening for this Black Thumb Gardener

For us, summer requires some sort of gardening.

This will be our fourth annual attempt, and I dearly hope our plants will survive – maybe into early autumn. What I lack in skill is made up in perseverance and enthusiasm.

My kids and I started this project shopping for basic gardening supplies, planters, and vegetable seeds, as well as 2 kid-sized shovels that Ellis refused to part with at the store. When we started filling the planters with dirt, Elliot asked me about the instructions on the seed packets. I nonchalantly told him we’ll do it “mommy’s way.” He sighed loudly saying “NOT AGAIN! They’ll die.”

I admit my response did not model a good learner’s attitude, so we compromised: finish up potting as quickly as possible (I could feel my muscle aches kicking in) and we’ll research together on the computer and munch on afternoon treats.

I knew gardening was not a simple endeavor, but the amount of information and how to’s take it to a whole new level: gardening is science and art intertwined.

Through a field trip to a local nursery and online research, we made some interesting discoveries: nurseries sell live jarfuls of ladybugs and earthworms; we started pretty late in the season for planting seeds; planters need holes for draining and don’t leave plants to sit in full saucer of water; terra cotta planters are heavy and expensive; plastic planters are lighter and cheaper; morning glory seeds, if ingested in large amounts, have hallucinogenic effects; Orchard Supply Hardware will plant your flower for free if you buy a plant and planter at the store.

It’s been one week since we planted our seeds, and yesterday we were surprised to discover little sprouts peeking out of the dirt.


Look closely and you’ll see tiny green sprouts. The plant was watered right after taking the picture.

We’ll see what happens to the rest of our planted seeds: green pepper, small pumpkin, and basil. To perk up our gardening moods, kids chose one kind of potted flower from OSH to water as their own.

If we are lucky enough to taste our homegrown vegetables this summer and/or save seeds for next time, we will celebrate our mini harvest (another excuse to eat cake). Even if we don’t, I’m happy we tried again.

In any case, my black thumb may become a thing of the past soon.