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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
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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