Toddlers in Nature I: How to dig for bugs with a baby

by doodaddy on October 21, 2007


Boo likes to share her buggy wealth. “Watch! Watch! Bugs!”

Our playground was invaded by field-tripping fourth-graders last week. Sixty of ’em lounged about on our swings and structures, far too many big kids for the little-kid playground to absorb. Before too long, Boobaby and the other toddlers were in danger of being squeezed out or sat on.

Luckily, Boo knew just what to do. She dug up the biggest worm she could find — six inches from stem to stern! Wrapping her slimy friend around her wrist, she proceeded to go a-visiting the older kids.

“Watch!” she shouted at them. “Watch, watch, watch!”

This, of course, as she was shaking the poor earthworm in their faces, trying to get them to hold it.

“Worm! Watch!”

Soon, she had cut a swath of playground clear of the elementary school crowd, who leapt away to the left and the right, squealing “eew” like only a 10-year old can. Boo? Confused at their disgusted reactions. The other toddlers? Grateful to have at least a corner of their park back.


The hunt. Even a planter makes a good bug hideout.

I’ve mentioned several times that Boobaby and I look for “bugs” at the park. I include in that term all the wriggly insects, mollusks, worms, and other minifauna of the leaf litter. (I know it’s not very precise of me to use the term “bugs” this way, but remember — I’m a naturalist, not a scientist, and using “bugs” imprecisely is one of the perks.)

Since I’ve never really gone into detail, here’s a quick description of how we “play bugs.”

  • Be comfortable yourself. Start with bugs that are well within your own comfort level. You may want to spend some time learning about the biters and stinkers in your region. There are a lot of great, safe bugs — most small beetles, millipedes (not centipedes, they bite), roly-polies (e.g. “pill bugs” or wood lice), snails, springtails, leaf hoppers, slugs, and caterpillars. If you’re squeamish or nervous, try ants, although remember that fire ants are around in the South and Southwest. You probably ought to know the difference!
  • Know where to find ’em. Have you ever had a really good nature guide, the kind who always seemed to know exactly where to find just the right bird, bug, or beast? Well, I’ll tell you a secret: we aren’t necessarily that good at finding cool bits of nature to show you, we just went out the day before to ferret out their hiding places. I’ve done the same thing for our playground.
  • Start small and work your way up. It takes time to get a baby to be gentle with bugs, but it’s worth the effort. With Boo, we started with ants, which are fairly tough and plentiful. Once she could enjoy an ant without killing it, we moved onto baby millipedes and pill-bugs. After a year of this, she can hold a spider or a worm without crushing it.
  • Get low. You can’t find little bugs from adult eye height. I usually go in belly-first, and I’d recommend that you at the very least sit down in front of your spot. Boo is actually quite a bit better than me at spotting many bugs just because she’s lower!


When she finds a caterpillar, Boo likes to put it on her leg for some reason. Hm.

So that’s our bug hunt strategy, and it’s easily one of Boo’s favorite playground pastimes! There’s a lot more to say about this, so I’m going to keep writing… Please feel free to ask any questions that might crop up.

And, of course, tell me about your own nature adventures!

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tagged as , , in activities,nature,playground ·

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

aimee/greeblemonkey October 22, 2007 at 10:19 pm

I’ll leave this one up to Bryan. I’m a total girl on the subject of bugs. ๐Ÿ˜‰


Xbox4NappyRash October 23, 2007 at 12:13 am

That’s really facinating stuff to see her really take an interest….and again, nice shots.


Kelley October 23, 2007 at 12:26 am

I scanned the post (as I do…) and saw the word sp… sp… sp….i…d…

Yeah, that word and couldn’t go on….

I am sure that you had a lovely time. I just can’t read it till you take that word out.

Gorgeous photos though!


Violet October 23, 2007 at 5:13 am

Oooo! Caterpillar on leg is an easy one to figure out – it’s the one spot on the body that you can see a LOT of from your toddler vantage point and still be touching said beast! (I used to put bugs on my legs for the same reason.)

This year, for fun, I purchased a Monarch butterfly rearing kit and spent a few weeks hanging out with the ‘pillars and then watched the chrysalis form and change colours and .. butterfly! SO COOL.

Even cooler? The kit came with tags to apply to the Monarchs so they could be tracked when they were released into the wild and make their way to Mexico.

I’m, uh 32, and it was JUST SO COOL. And y’know, so did all of our neighbours. ๐Ÿ™‚ My husband and I had to give updates on a near-daily basis to everyone.

And that, my friend, is my most recent Nature Adventure!

Wow, thanks for the tip on the leg thing — now that makes total sense! I just thought Boo was a little knee-obsessed.

I love those bug kits; that’s definitely something we’ll be doing as soon as we move. I’m also fond of rearing milkweed bugs — pretty, non-toxic, and they subsist on sunflower seeds!



Dawn October 23, 2007 at 5:54 am

Think I can get by pointing things out to Alex and skipping the touching? No? Quit being a sissy? Sigh.

I wish I were there so I could show you how non-gross and fun it can be! Oh, well… start with flowers and pebbles, those also rock! (And don’t wriggle…)



tanya25m October 23, 2007 at 7:49 pm

That’s really amazing. I wish I could do what you’re doing. But I don’t think I could crawl around on my belly looking for and teaching my daughter all about bugs. I guess I’m just too squeamish.

However, my husband and I together have caught about 5-6 snakes, poisonous and non-poisonous.

Does that makes sense?


doodaddy October 23, 2007 at 7:56 pm

Wow, a lot of people hate bugs! Sounds like I’m going to have to write something up on fun with sticks and rocks! No problem, though — those are good, too!


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