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    Beyond the Nature Journal: 5 Kinds of Nature Study Gifts for Children

    November 2, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

    I started this post as a simple list of five things that I have actually bought my own children over the years that turned out to be great boosts to our nature study practice. But then, I just kept thinking of things, and suddenly I realized that what I had was not five things, but rather five kinds of things — five categories, if you will. So today, I’m sharing my categories, along with some examples of actual gifts that fit into them.

    Supporting our children's nature study habits, one awesome gift at a time.

    Before we get started, let me just say that a nature journal is an excellent gift. Of course! Tools for nature journaling? Also good! But my guess is that a lot of you already have those things, and there are other tools that we can give our children to keep their interest in nature going strong, and that’s the purpose of this post.

    1. Habitat Cultivation Supplies

    Did you know that you can build a habitat — or add to what is already in your yard — in order to attract more wildlife? We did this last year when we gave one of our girls a birdfeeder and a bag of seed and the other one a hummingbird feeder with supplies for making her own nectar. We hung the feeders on the tree in front of their bedroom window, and they still — almost a year later — daily enjoy the sights of the visiting sparrows and doves, the hummingbird battles, the freaking out of the smaller birds when the jays appear, and even the occasional oriole!

    bird feederbirdseed blendhummingbird feedersugar •

    Note: our nectar recipe is one-part sugar to four-parts water.

    What else? One thing we have recently done is pulled out all of the bushes that have died from the drought. Then, we went to a local nursery and found out what we can replace them with that is not only low-water, but attractive to all sorts of beneficial insects, as well as what will be appropriate for the birds we love. Some children might get really excited about a butterfly bush or a bird house or a bird bath.

    2. Eyes to See

    While we use all of our senses in nature study, we have to admit that vision — seeing — is pretty important. So why not give gifts that help children see better or more clearly or that give them a window into a usually hidden world? For  example:

    live ladybug land • binocularsroot viewermagnifying glassbutterfly pavilion

    Note: root viewers often come with bad seeds (because warehouses don’t store them properly), so if you have good packages of seeds, include these with the gift.

    A quick note on ant farms: ant farms (such as this one) are interesting, and I wouldn’t say they aren’t worth it, but be forewarned that the ants are not able to develop a thriving colony — over time, they will die.

    3. Collection Supplies

    One of my daughters is a born naturalist, and this means that she’s a collector. Collectors need a place to keep their stuff. I used to disagree with this, but changed my mind when she brought baby mice home in her pockets.


    Collectors need help in three areas: trapping, keeping, and displaying.


    butterfly net (also works on small water creatures) • bug vacuumlive animal trap


    insect cageventilated plastic cages


    acrylic display shelvesgem jar display caseinsect display boxwooden tray

    Don’t forget that sometimes the best display is a simple shelf attached to the wall! The nice part about display areas is that it can also control volume — children can be told that this is the amount they are allowed to keep, and no more.

    4. Pets

    Yes, I said it. Cover your ears if you don’t want to hear. I think it is wonderful for children to have pets. I can’t imagine another way that allows children to get to know a creature so intimately. Over the years, we have had various kinds of ducks and goats, and we currently have rabbits, a dog, and a desert tortoise.

    Pets can be small things, like guinea pigs, hamsters, and mice. They can be big things like horses and cows. They can be traditional things like dogs and cats. They can be unusual things like hedgehogs and pot-bellied pigs.

    Are you in an apartment? Well, what about this?

    aquarium starter kit

    I have been thinking about whether it is feasible to put an aquarium on a table in the entryway, right by my front door, where it’d be on a tile floor, just in case it ever leaked.

    5. Experiences

    It is worth it to seek out nature experiences in your area because they can be such great gifts! In the past, we’ve bought a membership to a local zoo. What about a botanical garden? A national park? A local club? A package of guided hikes? I can’t link to anything specific because each area has its own options, but look around — ask around — because this is the sort of gift that lasts way longer than a single day and gives the child something to look forward to.

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  • Reply Amber Vanderpol November 3, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    You have a great list here, Brandy!

    Have you seen this Mini Inspector?

    I have three of them now – they work so well and have great image clarity. We’ve found them to be so handy when inspecting all sorts of things, and they give so much more magnification than a magnifying glass.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel November 7, 2015 at 6:54 am

      Amber, have you tried these? Are they any good? I’m thinking they might be perfect stocking stuffers for this year!

  • Reply Hillary November 2, 2015 at 11:03 am

    These ideas are making me excited about Christmas, Brandy! We have given our kids things in these categories over the years and they have always been hits.

    For the last category, we have loved botanical gardens, aquariums & animal rescue zoos (a reptile zoo… an exotic/rescued-pets zoo… and a few raptor rescue centers near us) but have also had great trips to the local 4-H Youth Fair, the annual fiber arts fair/expo and a family sheep farm that we found through one of those strange networking happenstances.

    The kids still remember the angora rabbits getting shorn with little scissors at the fiber fair, and the camel (!!) leaning over to see them up close. We have found that the smaller, local places are often really welcoming to families and do not mind at all if you sit there with a nature journal, sketching away. They sometimes will bring animals closer to you, ask kids to help feed them, give a sample of fleece/wool, and so on. A lot of times, people who work at these places are volunteers who work there because they love the subject, and their enthusiasm, genuine interest and knowledge are contagious.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel November 2, 2015 at 3:39 pm

      Hillary!! These are all fantastic ideas. ♥

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