For adults, nature is a big awe-inspiring moments, breathtaking views, and natural wonders. But for our young children, it's small.
A dewdrop on a blade of grass.
The pattern of sunlight dancing on the patio.
The woolly bear caterpillar who curls up when you touch him.
These tiny, everyday things capture the imagination and lay the foundation for a love affair with nature. The best way to ensure your family goes out to find these discoveries is to make an explorer kit! It's easy to grab on your way out the door for daily walks, park trips, and long afternoons in the woods. Here's what I suggest:
Start with a small backpack or tote. It's important that your young child carry her own items while exploring. This aids her independence and sense of personal responsibility for her things. Look for a bag that is easy for your child to carry, and not too big or heavy. I like this basic one from Amazon, and these stylish ones from Herschel.
All explorer kits should have: a bottle of water, dry snacks, paper and pencils/pens, and a few bags for treasures or specimens. I like these mesh bags, they are easy to wash, and can hold a handful of berries or a collection of rocks. A hat, sunglasses, and other outdoor clothing is also a must.
For longer treks, pack sunscreen, insect spray, wipes, a tiny first aid kit and a cell phone (I keep these things in my backpack when accompanying a young friend). You might also want a change of clothes or shoes with you, especially if you will be getting wet or messy.
An insect catcher: It's all too easy for an excited toddler to accidentally/on-purpose squash an insect. This is my favorite insect catch and release model, it's simple to use and easily fits in a smaller bag. K and I caught a honeybee with ours!
A small net for catching flying insects and butterflies, water creatures, or fish. Here's one with a lid and hook to make a temporary observation tent.
Magnifying glass or lid The insect catcher above has one of these built in, but you can also use a bug loupe like this one for closer creature inspection.
A small shovel for exploring underground, moving soil piles, or digging in the sand. This set of three tools from Toysmith does double duty in the garden.
Older children can take on more detailed observations, experiments, and projects with the right tools. Add these to your child's backpack or bag along with anything listed above.
Rubber gloves for picking up trash, or protecting hands from sticky, poisonous, smelly, or wet nature.
Scissors, tape, pen and small jars or bags for making labels and taking samples. This specimen jar has air holes and a magnifying lid.
Pocket guides to identify and learn about discoveries. I really like the Pocket guide series from Audubon for early readers, the photos are large and the text is short.
Binoculars are ideal for watching birds or other wildlife from a distance. This child-friendly model from Carson is perfect.
Magnifier: This classic magnifying glass is perfect for 6-9 year olds who need to study the details of their discoveries.
An insect house For longer study of creatures, you'll need a temporary home for them. You can easily make these from recycled bottles or boxes, or get one like this.
Digital camera: A simple digital camera makes it easy to document new findings, share discoveries, or practice photography skills.
Nature journal/sketchbook: All nature explorers need a way to record their notes and discoveries, and a small notebook does the trick. I'm a fan of these small Moleskine notebooks for drawing and writing, but really any small pad of paper will work. You can even make your own!
Would you add anything to this list? Share your ideas in our Montessori at Home Parent Support Group, and snap a photo of your own explorer kits!
Now, go explore!
Leanne Gray, M.Ed is the owner of The Prepared Environment, which supports families in creating an ideal environment for their children at home. She has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained. You can always contact her for personalized support and answers to your questions