It's always nice to have a fall back activity you know will be hit with the children. That for me is mini beast hunts. The children needed something a little less physical last week with all the heat we've had of late. I had put them through their paces so felt an activity that wasn't too full on would suit them better as the temperatures sored. Hunting for bugs is always a winner for the children. The wriggly, creepy, often slimy, slippery world beneath our feet can hold some children in terror! Why would I want to hold THAT! was written across several of the children's faces, but for some of our budding entomologists this secret kingdom presents them with mystery and intrigue. For the latter, they are interacting with their immediate world on a very sensory and personal level, often on hands and knees, even bellies on occasion.
To start our sessions, I had the children listen. Over the past few weeks, the long grasses around the paddock have been alive with the sounds of crickets and grasshoppers, stridulating wings and legs to mark territory and attract mates. We thought about what creature might make this sound, and how might it make it. Then we thought more about other creatures we might find in the paddock, whether it be woodlice or millipede, slug or snail, and the places we might find them. Then the mini beast safari started! Most opted for the nets first of all, and we highlighted how to "Swoosh!" them carefully through the grass, left and right and up and down, checking after each wild flail to see what the children had managed to net.
Due to the hot weather we've had, Grasshoppers are abundant in the grass this year, and were easily netted by the children. They don't hold still for long unfortunately but long enough for the children to have peek! They're quite noisy little critters, but were drowned out by the wings of the crickets, in particular the Roesel's Bush Cricket. Although in much greater numbers than previous years, they are particularly tricky to catch, being wary of a giant Red Fox stomping through the grass. Thankfully we managed to grab a few, and they are much more patient to being handled so the children got a close up with these pretty gnarly looking beasts! We found a huge variety of intresting beasties - worms, slugs and snails of various different shapes and sizes, woodlice, ear wigs, beetles (esp a lesser stag!) and their larvae, ant nests, damsel flys, aphids, wasps, bees, flies and we even found a small rat too!
The pond too, offered the children some wonderful arial acrobatics from dragonflies at the pond. We found Ruddy Darters, Broad Bodied Chasers, and Hawkers too, the males clashing with each other, dog fighting over territory and females, whilst the females made busy laying eggs in the water to continue the life cycle. The children pond dipped too and we pulled out countless pond snails, backswimmers, pond skaters and dragonfly larvae in various stages of development. Fascinating stuff.
Like with all our bug sessions, we strive to teach the children respect. I show the children safe ways to pick up the creatures (although a few woodlice met a grizzly end unfortunately), but more importantly, I try to show children the importance of our creepy crawlies friends, especially our pollinators. We are continually expanding the amount of flowering plants and trees on site to improve the probability of food for bees, and although the children understand a link between bees and honey, the link between bees and other crops isn't as easy for them to understand. If a small message of general respect, of responsibility towards their environment, makes it to even just one of our Free Rangers, I hope to inspire that child to continue to look after the world they inhabit.
Many of our Forest Schoolers had been referring to our Bug Hunts as 'Mini Beast Adventures' and that several different children had been on these adventures with "Jess". At first I thought the children had been attending another club of sorts but then it turns out, after a bit of sleuthing I found out it was a TV programme on CBeebies! I gave an episode a watch out of curiosity and thought it was rather good. Jess goes into plenty of interesting detail to keep both adult and child informed and entertained:
It was perfect weather for bugs, but the heat we found to be quite testing on the children's focus at times and they sometimes lacked both the motivation and the patience in the heat of the day to stalk their insects and quite often were better off running around in the shade of the trees or sitting quietly in the cabin looking at our insect books and guides. With temperatures as high as they were, I wasn't going to fight with the children in 27+ degree warmth. Those keen to stay on task, routed through the undergrowth, lifted log and stone and tunnelled under bark, to be richly rewarded with a host of wonderful sights and sounds, whilst those who were heat-frazzled entertained themselves much to their merriment. Oh to be a child again!
If you're in the mood for a bug hunt, go on take a walk on the mini side!
Thanks for reading, enjoy the photos and do comment below with your own experiences!