Posted by NM Zitani, 6 April 2011; updated 22 September 2011
Getting started is easy, and you can use supplies you have at home.
The only supplies you will need are some used plastic food containers from home. Raid the recycling blue box, wash and rinse thoroughly (very important as soap can harm animals) and you're ready -- don't forget the essential lid to keep critters contained. During winter I begin collecting supplies for the upcoming season. Find an old box and put it in a closet or some out-of-the-way place. When a suitable food container becomes empty, I clean and dry it, then put it in the box in the closet. Before long I have plenty of supplies, for both children, for the upcoming season. Make sure you collect a variety of plastic containers. Clear peanut butter jars are especially nice since curious eyes can peek inside, but nearly any food container with a lid will work well. Do not use containers that had been used for something other than food! Save large ice cream pails, and small vitamin bottles. There's nothing like a small tool for small hands. Give a child an empty jar and chances are she'll fill it
with something. Tell your child to put a bug in it and he may just take you up on the idea.
If you want to get fancy (and spend some money), you can purchase containers at pet and dollar stores. Also available at many toy and dollar stores are plastic hand lenses and insect nets. Insect nets are a great tool for an older child. Catching a fast-flying insect can be a challenge and may lead to frustration for a younger child. However, some younger children may enjoy simply holding a net as they go for a walk, and sometimes offering a net to hold may lure an unwilling child outside.
Catch and Release
This is your bread-and-butter activity that you can engage in any time, anywhere. Gather some supplies and head outside. Give your child a container, and suggest that he/she put a bug into it. If you can, do it yourself and your child may follow your lead. Many children will do it on their own, if they are allowed to. For beginners, good places to find animals are under objects such as rocks and logs, and in leaf litter. If you turn over a rock or other object, make sure to put it back the way you found it, once you are finished looking under it. Make sure to release your critters back into a suitable habitat (if not the habitat where you found it, a similar one) before you end your activity.
If you have a yard...
If you have your own yard, no matter how small, you can easily and quickly create habitat for many different kinds of bugs that may fascinate your child. Gather a few large stones and pieces of wood and put them in an out-of-the-way corner of your yard. You will have lots of insects and other tiny animals living under them in no time. A small pile of leaves, sticks, twigs, and any other yard "waste" will also create a haven for insects of all sorts.
If you don't have a yard...
Even if you don't have your own backyard, you can find insects in city parks and natural areas. That's one of the great things about bugs -- they're everywhere!
In my next post I'll discuss some of the common creatures you are likely to find when you go looking...See you then!