How to Have Your own Bug Hunt With Your Children

We've been finding many weird and wonderful things to do to fill the summer holidays, but one of the more ‘traditional' activities that we've been undertaking is hunting for bugs. My elder son received a brilliant kit for his birthday recently and it has inspired us to seek out all sorts of creepy crawlies and then find out more about them.

Although we were lucky enough to have a purpose-built bug hunting kit, you could just as easily replicate the same sort of thing with items that you might find in your recycling. Any clear pot with a lid (for yoghurt or something similar) would be ideal for safely containing the creatures for a short while during the time that you were looking at them. Some cardboard might be useful for encouraging the bugs to crawl in your general direction, so perhaps an old cereal box would work here.

It's also possible to observe some small creatures without having to capture them at all, particularly the slow moving ones! After one very rain-filled morning, we spent at least half an hour watching an army of snails make their way across a path.

Boys looking at snails

Before you head out with your children, it would probably help to give them some sort of visual clue as to the sorts of creatures you might expect to come across. Our bug kit included some handy checklists with pictures that we used, but in the absence of those you can download some great print-outs from this site for free and look at them instead.

Depending on the age of the children who will be joining you on the bug hunt, at this point in proceedings it might also be wise to mention a few tips for the handling (or lack thereof) of the bugs you find. You will probably need to remind younger children to be very gentle with them and to touch them as little as possible. Even though slower creatures such as snails might not scramble away from human hands as quickly as spiders and things, it doesn't mean that they're not equally as frightened.

For any bugs that you are able to handle, the best advice is probably for an adult to place the bug on the child's hand and then take it away again once they have finished. The purpose of the yoghurt pot (or other receptacle) that you have taken with you is to place the creature inside for easy viewing, so it would be preferable to use that anyway.

Although we didn't discover them ourselves, we have a lovely neighbour who recently gave us some little caterpillars to look after. If you should find yourself in a similar situation, our advice is to use a large clear plastic box with little holes punched in the lid to house them and watch their life cycle in action.

My children very much enjoyed being able to hold them once, but we certainly didn't encourage regular handling as we could see so much from just watching them in the box. Looking after living creatures is a lovely way for young children to learn so many different things and it continues to be an exciting experience for us (the caterpillars haven't become butterflies yet!).

Caterpillars in a box

As a parent, you might be worried about keeping up your children's development over the long summer break and therefore you will be pleased to know that we have acquired so much ‘accidental' knowledge from our bug hunts and our caterpillar care. I'm not suggesting by any means that you should sit down and lead a formal science lesson, but activities like this bring out new language, new forms of scientific enquiry and new observational skills without even trying.

Your children will develop their powers of empathy as they look after other living things and they may even demonstrate increased dramatic ability - my children took it upon themselves to act like caterpillars for a morning...

Boys acting like caterpillars

The great thing about all of the above ideas is that (assuming you assemble your own bug hunting kit) they won't cost you a penny, but will provide hours of entertainment.

If you do want to get hold of something similar to our bug hunting kit, a simple search on Amazon threw up these options, all of which look as though they are worth investigating.

Alternatively, you could simply adapt your activity to become a simple nature walk, rather than looking specifically for bugs. The advantage of this is that you will be able to do it in all seasons and weathers as there will always be something new to look at - in fact, you could make it a regular family treat.

The aforementioned link to the downloadable sheets from the ‘Nature Detectives' website (run by the Woodland Trust) also has checklists for trees, plants, etc. and so you could easily use those to enhance your experience.