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

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    Boo likes to share her buggy wealth. &#8220;Watch! Watch! Bugs!&#8221;
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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.


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


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