Want to offer your kids – or the kids you work with – a simple, cheap way to get closer to nature? Just follow these three simple steps. 1: get yourself down to your nearest health clinic to buy/scrounge some specimen jars like the ones in this photo. 2: buy some magnifying glasses online (around 50p/a dollar each). 3: head for your nearest green space, and start hunting!
I reckon your reward will be instant and sustained engagement – with little ones at least. How can I be so sure? I saw the kits in action during a recent visit to an Aussie kindergarten, and the level of enthusiasm was a joy to watch. Within minutes I had been shown – by different children – a millipede, a centipede, and two grasshoppers: one quite large, and the second the tiniest hopper I have ever seen.
The kindy in question is part of C & K, and is on Magnetic Island in tropical North Queensland (so no shortage of bugs). The sets are openly available from a box on a low shelf whenever the children want them. In a nice touch, each child has their own labelled jar, which builds up a degree of ownership and helps maintain the interest. As a result, some of the children saw bug-hunting as a major part of their outdoor play. It’s a fine example of the kind of engaging, everyday experience of nature I argue for in my Sowing the Seeds report for the Mayor of London.
The activity opened up great opportunities for teaching and learning about nature and our responsibility for the living world. Lana Collier, the director, explained that at first, some of the children were inclined to view the bugs as pets. By talking to them about how they thought it might be like to be trapped in a jar, she helped them to realise that for a bug to live out its life in full, it needed to be free.
The bug-hunts also allow the children to learn how to identify some of the different insects and invertebrates on the island. Of course, it’s a good idea to get clued up yourself on any significant play yard dangers at the outset, to guide and monitor the children as appropriate, and to promote good hygiene. But remember the benefits as well as the risks: in a country that is not free of poisonous creepy-crawlies [arachnophobia alert], sorting the lethal from the merely little is a handy skill to have.
Tim, what a delight. With our new grandson Albi, I just lay him on the grass (much to his mother’s horror “won’t he get bitten by ants? Yes but they aren’t lethal!”) and let him go at six months he was very happy just searching for more grass and the occasional ant!