Regular readers of the blog will know that my Dad is an amateur entomologist. My brother and I spent a lot of our childhood outdoors, looking for mini beasts with our Dad. For us it was just normal to walk for miles, with butterfly nets in hand, searching for anything that moved. I think we took it all for granted and I certainly didn’t realise how lucky I’d been until I had my own son. I feel really strongly that he should know about the world we live in and respect all animals, whatever their size. As you’ll know from my posts about having fun with water and our five-mile walk, we are working with Persil this month to come up with lessons to take outside to celebrate this Thursday’s Outdoor Classroom Day. Persil also believes that every child should have the opportunity to learn and develop through outdoor play and exploration. They want to get all families to #EmbraceDirt and experience life, with all its messiness. Once again, this year Persil are supporting the global movement, Outdoor Classroom Day. As I’ve mentioned before, the global initiative hopes to inspire and celebrate outdoor learning and play. Thursday 17th May will see millions of children in schools around the world having their lessons outside to celebrate outdoor play and learning. We decided that we would embrace one of our favourite outdoor learning activities that anyone with an outdoor space can do easily. We are celebrating Outdoor Classroom Day with a garden bug hunt.
What mini beasts could we find in the garden? My son and I have enjoyed this lesson in learning for years, and he loves the home adventure now as much as when he was three years of age. The only real change is that these days he’s a bit wiser so knows exactly which habitat to search in for quick results.
We’ve seen lots of butterflies on our outdoor adventures over the last few weeks. The sun really has brought them all to life. We often get them in our garden and over the years we’ve tried to bring plants into the garden that they love, like Buddleia. My son has had a butterfly identification booklet for a while, which includes a lot of the butterflies we would normally see, and he’s now very good at recognising Cabbage White, Orange Tip, Peacock and Painted Lady butterflies. But when we started celebrating Outdoor Classroom Day with a garden bug hunt he came across a new visitor to our garden.
He was so excited and I must admit, even I wasn’t sure what our new visitor was. My son got his book out and we talked about how he could identify our new friend. Colour Mummy, it’s brown. A good start, and it meant we could discount the majority of the butterflies in his book instantly.
What markings does this butterfly have on its wings? Don’t forget to look on the undersides as they may be different.
He’d soon made his identification and it looked spot on to me. Mummy I think it’s a Speckled Wood butterfly.
That looks right to me, and off he dashed to get his camera to record his find for himself.
We sent a quick email to Gramps to check my son had made the right identification. Yes he had. Gramps told him that he thought it looked like a female as the pale spots are larger on them than on a male. One happy bug hunting grandson.
He let the Speckled Wood fly off and set off to find more mini beasts as we spent time celebrating Outdoor Classroom Day with a garden bug hunt.
Most children have a sandpit of some kind in their garden, we certainly do. But we also have a mud pit. An area of the garden that my son can dig away in to his heart’s content. He’s had that area since he was a toddler and he still loves it aged eight.
It’s somewhere where he spends time all year round. Getting muddy and having fun. It’s also an ideal habitat to find some earth worms. His diggers, dump trucks and garden tools were called into service as he dug through the mud to find these mud dwellers.
It didn’t take long at all before he’d found a few wriggly worms.
We made a wormery before using a see through plastic container, earth and layers of coloured sand. Then added a variety of worms and some leaves and watched as the worms burrowed through the various layers. It’s fascinating to watch and has given my son a greater appreciation of the unsung heroes of the garden.
My son decided that this time around he’d make use of a few discarded plant pots, fill them with earth and put our worms on the top and watch as they disappeared into the soil.
Would they still be in the pots a couple of hours later or would they have escaped through the holes in the pots and made their way back into the earth below? When he tipped the soil out later, the worms were nowhere to be seen. Clever worms. We talked about how worms are so good for the soil and our plants as they disperse nutrients. As they tunnel through the ground they help to get water to the roots of growing plants too. They are a great little mini beast to have in the garden.
Anyone who’s read this blog over the years will know how much we love a good snail hunt. As much as we know that they will eat the garden plants we love, we are both rather big fans of the snail. My son knows now that good places to find snails are around our bird table, under the garden furniture and stone bench and he was soon off, gathering a selection for us to look at more closely.
We talked about the various colours of their shells and the different sizes.
He gently collected a number of snails from the garden and placed them on our garden table. Then we watched and waited. Learning about snails involves patience as they can be a little shy.
We talked about why snails have a shell, to protect them from predators and how clever it was that they could hide inside and pretend to be an empty case.
As we sat patiently, eventually a couple of the snails decided to brave the elements and face us.
We talked about how a snail moved and the trail of slime it leaves behind as it moves along. We talked about the reason for this slime, it protects their bodies and allows them to climb over any sort of terrain. Clever stuff really.
We often have snail races, but they rarely ever stick to ‘our’ course, but it’s fun watching them move and looking a little more closely at their eye stalks emerge.
As we left the snails to make their own way back to the shade and safety of the underside of the table, it was time to take the cover off the sandpit to see what was lurking underneath.
As a child I loved to go woodlouse spotting in the rocks at the bottom of our garden, my son is exactly the same. He doesn’t have to look quite so hard as I did though, as woodlice love our sandpit when it’s covered up.
We didn’t see any roll up into a ball, but much like snails they would use this ability to protect themselves from predators. We talked about how their bodies differed from snails and worms, they look like they wear armour was my son’s observation. Not a bad description. They mainly move around at night and eat dead plants. We seemed to have disturbed their sleeping.
My son soon spotted another sort of mini beast lurking in the shadows as we spent time celebrating Outdoor Classroom Day with a garden bug hunt. Look away now if you are afraid of spiders as he caught a rather wonderful one.
What a beauty, there were a few of this species of spider in the sandpit for him to have a good look at.
Unusually we couldn’t find any spiders webs in the garden, normally there are a whole host of elaborate weaving for us to admire. We talked about the bugs that spiders like to eat, especially flies which neither of us are keen on. How many legs can you see on this spider I asked. Spiders have eight legs Mummy, they are different from six-legged insects.
We didn’t see any ants on this particular bug hunt, although I’m sure they were just feeling shy. There weren’t any bees either which was unfortunate as I’d seen a huge bee in the garden earlier which my son would have loved to see close up. But as the weather starts to warm up and flowers start to bud I know our garden will become a safe haven for bees as they go about their pollination in the months to come.
We love getting outdoors as often as we can, but you only really need to open your back door to explore the world of mini beasts. My son is always learning as he plays in the garden and hopefully by learning about these little animals he will also understand why they are all so important to the habitat around us. Don’t you agree?
Are your schools getting involved with Outdoor Classroom Day on Thursday? I’m hoping our school is embracing this idea, but as families it’s something we can all embrace. If you want to learn more on what the brand is doing, sign-up on the Persil Embrace Dirt page. I’d love to hear about what you and your schools are planning for Outdoor Classroom Day.
disclosure: this is a sponsored post in association with Persil, but my thoughts remain my own honest opinions