Spider Learning and Fine Motor Table

This activity is dedicated to my spider-loving friend Mary Catherine at Fun-A-Day 😉

Providing playful learning opportunities within a meaningful context depends a lot on your ability/willingness to follow the interests of the child or children you are working with.  And as I’m about to demonstrate, you may end up creating learning environments that you never planned on, and even, as in my case, working through a phobia or two in the process!

Case in point: Our spider learning table!

Spider Learning Table

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This learning table came about quite by accident as a spinoff of our insect sensory small world. If you missed that post, I included a hollowed-out bull horn as an insect hiding place, and my son was particularly interested in placing a miniature spider inside the horn. Later on, he brought me one of our nonfiction nature books (I find them at Half Price Books and thrift stores) about spiders and showed me the habitats page, which happened to have a photo of a funnel weaver spider hiding inside his tunnel web. It then dawned on me that he was totally recreating this photo with the small world elements, and the idea for the spider table was born!

Spider Learning Table

This table was actually set up on an antique wooden trunk that sits in our entryway (it belonged to my husband’s grandfather) that is the perfect height for the twins to stand at and play.  However, it is a bit awkward to photograph, so I’m going to show you the elements of the table one section at a time. For starters, on the left side of the table I placed the book [Spiders (Photo-Fact Collection Series) by Jane P. Resnick] that inspired us on a stand, open to the specific page. That way the twins could connect the activities on the table to the familiar photographs in the book.  This also created a print-rich context, which is important for pre-literacy skills.

Spider Learning Table

The middle section of the table housed the main attraction- a large orb web made by wrapping white yarn around a wire wreath form. I placed it on another stand and then placed a few black spiders (left over from last year’s Halloween tot school activities) on the web, along with some insects from our Safari Ltd Insects Toob.

Spider Learning Table

 Now, this may seem incredibly morbid, but to demonstrate the way spiders wrap their prey in silk before eating (something the twins know from the books we read together and will actually demonstrate during pretend play), I wrapped a poor, unfortunate cockroach in some white yarn before placing him on the web.

 Spider Learning Table

I also provided a pile of yarn pieces so the twins could do their own wrapping of prey if they so desired. I figured at least they could get some fine motor practice in while impersonating arachnid eating habits!

Spider Learning Table

See this guy? This is the funnel weaver that inspired our spider exploration. To incorporate his habitat, I used the same bull horn that we used in insect world, but wrapped yarn around it to represent the tunnel web.  Pretty cool, huh? I am still marveling that my two-year-old made this connection completely independently.

Spider Learning Table

To the right of the web, I placed our corkscrew rush plant, the rest of the insects from the Toob, and a generous army of spiders for pretend play. I also added a couple of different sets of tongs.  The twins were free to arrange the insects and spiders however they wished using their fingers or the tongs. They could place the creatures on the webs, in the foliage, whatever! I was hoping that they would use the materials to act out what they knew from our discussions and books about spiders, especially how they lived and caught their prey.

Spider Learning Table

Will was the first one up from his nap, and he wasted no time acquainting himself with the inhabitants of the table.

Spider Learning Table

Having the familiar book as part of the display really helped them make connections between their knowledge and the elements of the play table, just as I had hoped!

Spider Learning Table  

Sydney in particular really loved the pile of yarn.  Here she is making a “spider nest,” but we also got lots of practice wrapping the different insects during the week that the spider table was out.

Spider Learning Table

The tongs were a big hit, too!

Spider Learning Table

Here the spiders were “walking in a line to see their mommy and daddy.”

Spider Learning Table

This was just a small peek at the interactions the twins had with this arrangement of materials.  They returned to it every day for at least a week, and because Will’s interest in spiders has actually intensified since these photos were taken, I keep the large web handy so I can pull it out when he requests it for more play.

In addition to pretend play and fine motor practice, there was a LOT of great language happening as the twins played with “spider world.” And did I mention that spiders happen to be my least favorite creature? Spending time nurturing the twins’ interest in arachnids has actually made me a lot less leery of them, although I don’t ever think we’ll be best buddies 😉  At least I don’t flinch now when Will proclaims that he is going to shoot his tarantula hairs at me to make me itchy, or that black widow spiders are his “fabit kind!”

Looking for more “creepy crawly” posts? Try these: Insect Sensory Small World, Worm Observation Tower, Dirt and Worms Coffee Gelatin Sensory Play 


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  1. I absolutely love this activity right down to the wrapped cockroach! Brilliant!

  2. Even though I had to hide behind my hands while I read some of this, it really is awesome!! :) I love how you took the kiddos’ interests and ran with them. What a great combination of literacy, science, and fine motor skills too!!!

  3. This sounds like project based learning. Do you know about that?

    • Stephanie says:

      I do, Faigie, and I believe wholeheartedly in it 😉 My teaching philosophy has completely shifted since I’ve begun learning about it and the Reggio Emilia approach. I’ll be writing more on the topic as my opinions solidify and time allows!

      • I’ve also only recently in the past years learned about project based and Reggio. learning (I had been trained in the Bank Street aprpoach)..too bad my kids are all pretty much grown up already…its so much easier also to do this stuff when homeschooling as you have so much more control

        • Stephanie says:

          I love it because it makes a lot of sense as far as language learning (which is where my expertise lies)…providing meaningful contexts by following their interests, giving them lots of different media to express and refine their ideas, thereby strengthening cognitive representations, etc. I could go on and on (and I will one of these days)! It just really speaks to me on a lot of levels, and it’s ruined me for sending the kids to just any old school, LOL!

  4. Amazing, Stephanie! There is so much learning happening here! What a great way to expand your son’s knowledge about something he’s really interested in.

  5. I love this idea! So appropriate because we are doing Charlotte’s Web as a read-aloud. And a funny coincidence- we have 4 children, 2 of which are twins named Will and Sydney. :) Keep up the great work!!

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  8. Chris in VA says:

    Just found your lovely blog on Pinterest! We are doing a spider day tomorrow in my 3-4 preschool class, and I am thrilled to find your spider table idea! I had a little one on the playground climber last week tell me he was a TARANTULA (big voice!)–but he was a NICE tarantula! Another sweetie came along and said he was a TARANTULA, too! I asked him if he knew what that was–NO! he replied joyfully! LOL–He’ll know more about spiders after tomorrow, thanks to your wonderful sharing. :-)


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