By Ben Griffin
Our children are spending more and more time indoors and inactive thanks to distracting screens and devices. But research shows time and time again that children (as well as adults!) are happier, healthier, and more confident when they spend some quality time outdoors. One outdoor activity that you should try with your children is spotting wildlife. Children love to see birds and beasts, especially in the wild, and it’s a great excuse to go off on an adventure!
We’ve put together a list of activities for spotting wildlife that will encourage your little one to reconnect with Nature this summer.
1. Make a sand trap in your back garden
Do you have any idea what goes on in your back garden at night? When the sun goes down, mice rustle through the undergrowth and larger animals prowl stealthily in search of a good meal… Fortunately you don’t have to stay up all night to see if anything is living in your garden. You can make a sand trap by pouring wet sand onto the ground near a bush or hedge. You could also use some bait, but be sure that whatever you use is non-toxic to local wildlife. In the morning, you and your child can see if anyone has left their footprints, and use a nature book or the internet to match the footprints to the animal.
2. Look for crabs in a tide pool
You’ll be amazed at what the sea leaves behind when the tides go out. Crabs, jellyfish, anemones and starfish are just some of the treasures that your children will encounter when they explore tide pools. It’s important to teach your children how to treat animals with kindness, and remind them that many little creatures are very fragile and easily damaged. Use a local tide chart to plan the best time to go, grab a net, and see what you can find!
3. Have a wild sleepover and stay in a hide
You might have to stay up late or wake up early for this one, but I promise that it’s worth being out of bed for. Many exciting animals are most active late at night or early in the morning, and will run a mile if they catch scent of a human. Your best chance to see some nocturnal animals may well be staying in a “hide” – a camouflaged shelter used to view unaware wildlife. Your children will love the sleepover type excitement of staying in the hide overnight, and watching animals in their natural environment is much more exciting than seeing them at a zoo.
4. Make your own ant farm
It’s easy to make an ant farm in your own home with just a few store cupboard items. Watching ants make a network of tunnels is fascinating for children and adults alike! Your child will also learn about the needs that animals have, and will have to feed them a little honey and water every few days as well as carefully rationing their exposure to sunlight. If you want to see your ants lay eggs, then you’ll need a queen ant, but it is much kinder to buy an ant set online than it is to destroy an existing ant’s nest in search of a queen. Wikihow has a useful guide for making your own ant farm.
5. Grab a net and get pond dipping
If your child has never been pond dipping, then it’s time to set things straight asap! Pond dipping means gently swishing a net through a pool of water and seeing what turns up. All you need is a net and a glass jar to get started, but a couple of nature books, a magnifying glass and a few plastic trays wouldn’t go amiss either. Don’t forget to teach your children a few rules about pond safety, then you’re all set. Children will be astounded by the enormous array of creepy crawlies that can be found in even the humblest garden pond, and this activity could well be a significant first step in an illustrious scientific career. Encourage your child to photograph or draw their catches before carefully putting them back in the water.
Engage your children in some of these activities for spotting wildlife and they will be healthier and happier, while learning about the natural world.
Ben Griffin is an entrepreneur who was born and bred in Conwy, a world heritage site on the North Wales coast. He runs Great Escapes Wales and loves exploring the Welsh countryside in his free time. This article was published in Natural Child Magazine.