Top Five Nature Toys for Children
We have always tried to encourage our children to take an interest in nature and to get them outside as much as possible. Over the years we have spent much on different toys to help facilitate this. However, there’s so many different kits and bits of equipment available much of which are difficult to use or just don’t do what they are supposed to. Save yourself the frustration and learn from my bitter experience. Here’s my top five nature toys which have been tried, tested and tried again.
Crabbing drop net
We have tried crabbing lines (crab is pulled up on the line, spots you gawking at it and promptly lets go) and nets on a stick (good luck with your net full of stones) but by far the best crabbing equipment is a round drop net which has a spring catch for your bait and rope that you can lower the net down into the water. Leave it for a few minutes then pull it up and hey presto, a crab has crawled in and is happily munching on the bait. These nets can be purchased for less than a tenner and it can keep you busy for an afternoon. Make sure you have researched your area beforehand and checked the tides, some crabbing spots have places nearby that sell bait such as squid otherwise take something with you (we tend to find something fishy often works well, bread is hopeless). Also, have a wide bucket to put your crab in, you can take a decent photo and log it in a book. Many people seem to put all the crabs in a bucket together. Please don’t do this. Crabs can be very vicious to each other and I have seen crabs pull the claws off other crabs that have been stuck in a bucket together.
A rock tumbler is basically a barrel you put rocks in which are then spun with grit and water and the rocks become polished over time. These are brilliant for those interested in geology and it is very satisfying to see the finished product. It should be noted that this takes about four weeks though, so patience is required. There are four sizes of grit that the rocks need to be spun with to achieve the finished product. It is also very noisy we had ours going in the outhouse where it wouldn’t disturb anyone. We bought a national geographic rock tumbler and this came with everything you needed including grit, rocks and even the accessories to make your newly polished rocks into jewellery should you so wish. If your children are interested in geology, I would also recommend Rockwatch at https://www.rockwatch.org.uk/ which is a geology club for children and holds events and even residentials.
If you are trying to get your children to spend more time outside than one of the canvas wigwam tents are perfect for this. It can be used as a bird hide, den, campsite or whatever their imagination dictates. It seems to appeal to children of all ages (even some adults) and although we bought it with our three year old in mind, I have found the eleven year old in there reading a book. Its very easy to bring inside on a rainy day but if you have too many cushions in there don’t be surprised if the dog takes it over.
If you want to get the kids out in the garden, it helps if they have their own gardening tools. Bypass the plastic tat that will break in about three seconds and go for something decent. These are a bit more pricey so you can start off with one or two things and build their collection up. The most important item is a trowel as they will probably start growing things in pots first, but this can just as easily be used in the veg patch. I would also get a watering can too as kids seem to love watering things (or sometimes drowning them) and some gardening gloves. My eight year old easily uses adult hoes and rakes (autumn is a great time for him to earn extra pocket money and learn to make leaf mould) but obviously the three year old needs a smaller version. If they get really keen there are decent child size spades, wheelbarrows and kneelers available.
A pair of binoculars can be used for birdwatching or star gazing. Please do train the children not to spy on the neighbours or use them to look directly at the sun (burnt retinas cannot be repaired). We have two pairs; a small child friendly pair used by the youngest that he can wear round his neck on country walks (often used to examine cow pats) and an adult pair which the older children are allowed to use with care. They give a much higher resolution so are great for birds. Don’t forget to take a birdwatching book so you know what you’re looking at.