Monday 26 November 2012


Hunting for minibeasts.
Thinking about getting enjoyment from wet weather made me wonder about other things I appreciate now that I have small boys, which I may not have done before. One of these is definitely "minibeasts." I'm still pretty reluctant to handle the slimy ones- slugs, worms and the like, (or the scuttley ones for that matter!) but I am grateful to them for providing plenty of free entertainment over the years.
 A bug safari in your back garden or the local park is a free and educational way to pass a bit of time. You don't really need anything, but you can add to the experience by taking a magnifying glass or one of those magnifying pots to see things up close, or you can lend the children a camera to take pictures of all the creatures they see on their trip. If you're lucky you might see a spider building a web or catching a fly. You might find an ant city made of lots of tunnels and be able to watch them hurrying to get their eggs underground when you expose them to the light. You might see a bumble bee collecting pollen til the yellow sacks on his legs are bulging.
The Wiggley-White-One in his hole!
 Several years ago we put some logs down the bottom of the garden to be stepping stones or seats for the boys, and within weeks a whole range of little creatures had set up home underneath them. It became a favourite garden ritual- bug hunting under the logs. The boys learned to identify woodlice, slugs, worms, ants (red or black) centipedes, millipedes, earwigs and beetles by tipping the logs to see what they could find. We even had a frog who set up residence under a log with a hollow-ish bottom. One year there was huge excitement when a number of enormous white grubs appeared under them. Affectionately known as the "Wiggley White Ones" they got a visit nearly every day!
Kids are not only able to identify minibeasts and describe their colours, shapes, number of legs etc but they can learn about their favourite habitats- dark and damp, dry and shady etc, and what they eat.
They can also learn a bit about whether they are garden friends or garden pests. When we made the veggie bed we employed the boys to find as many worms as they could around the garden and relocate them there to help mix the soil and compost so the veggies would have the best growing conditions. They also hunt ladybirds to put on my aphid infested roses, and understand that the flying insects they see on flowers are pollinating them which can make fruits develop.
The "Biggest slug in the world!"
Similarly, they know that some creatures are not the gardener's best friend. Danny grew some courgette plants from seed in the greenhouse this year. When they were big enough we planted them in a patch of soil at the bottom of the garden. The next day, you could barely tell where they'd been, "Naughty Slugs!" So they are well trained in putting slugs and snails into the brown garden bin to be happily composted somewhere else.
We had a bit of fun with snails this year. We were in France on Danny's 4th birthday and persuaded him that in France you have to eat snails for a birthday treat. We duly found some in a lovely French market and both boys were game enough to try some with chips (in fact Zac ate about 20!) My sister-in-law told us that they feed them carrots until their pooh turns orange, so you know they haven't got anything nasty in their stomachs. Once home the boys had a collection of snails in an icecream tub with holes, all snacking on carrots until sure enough, their pooh did go orange!
"Catty" Zac's furry caterpillar.

Caterpillar accessories.
Cute and cuddly caterpillar!
 We do struggle to see caterpillars as pests, though we've watched them eat through our brussel sprout plants. Eric Carle has done too good a job of making them seem like friends. Add the fact that they come in a range of colours and patterns, can be smooth or furry and are always tickly and happy to walk up your arm without instantly flying off which makes them great temporary pets! As I mentioned in my "growing things" post, you can also see the different stages in the life-cycle of a butterfly if you can put up with the very hungry creatures.

Love 'em or hate 'em they're pretty amazing.

I guess the other thing kids learn from looking for minibeasts is that we should be kind to other living things. When Zac was very young I handed him a baby snail I'd found. Thinking he would let it slime across his hand I was somewhat horrified when he promptly crushed it! We had a discussion about creatures being much smaller than us but still having feelings, and agreed that we should try to take care of them, and he seemed to get the message, though he still teases the cat at every opportunity.

An idea we haven't tried yet, but that I hope we will some day, is to make a bug hotel. Basically you make layers of things which will provide a habitat for all sorts of different creatures. If you include things with small holes, like bits of bamboo, and others with larger gaps you should get ladybirds, lacewings, bumble bees and all sorts nesting in there.We saw one at a local farm park and I took this picture for inspiration:
A very grand example of a bug hotel!

So, if you can, put any squeamishness aside and go on a bug safari. It doesn't cost anything and boys especially will probably enjoy it just as much as a trip to the zoo!


  1. Little ones are always fascinated with bugs - that bug hotel looks amazing!

  2. It was, think we'll make a youth hostel compared to that hotel!!

  3. The bug hotel is HUGE!! Looks like your boys had a lot of fun hunting for bugs :) x

  4. Bugs are great for children to scrutinize and perfect to let them without them thinking it is scary. Loving the look of the bug hotel, what a fantastic idea, my boys would love that, one on from their snail home! Thanks for linking up to Country Kids.

  5. Nothing better than a bug hunt for kids....hours of fun for both girls and boys - all mine loved it! Thanks for linking up to #oldiesbutgoodies this month :)

    1. Thank you! There don't seem to be so many flying bugs so far this year- all the more reason to make the garden bug friendly.