If you have some garden space, why not create a haven for insects and log, with your little ones, what you see over time? Plant flowers and make other insect friendly features. You could start by planting wild flowers from seed and allowing a small section of your garden to 'overgrow'. Let a small patch of grass grow long naturally and sprinkle wildflower seed down. Don't worry if nettles or other weeds grow, these are perfect for insects!
If you want to create an insect garden more quickly you could buy some more established plants from a garden centre. Look for lavenders, budleias, cornflowers and wallflowers. These typical cottage garden plants attract butterflies and other insects.
Ladybirds are a gardeners friend - they live off many other insects regarded as pests, including aphids. You can buy ladybird shelters in most garden centres but you can also make one very easily. Take a plastic drink bottle (1 or 2 litre) and cut the bottom off it. Find a length of corrugated card and cut the width to match the length of the bottle. Roll the card up and place it inside the bottle. Thread some wire through the bottle and the card to keep it in place. Put the 'house' in the garden and see what you attract!
Make a log book with your children. Have them draw pictures of the flowers and insects, and make notes on what days you see different insects. Note which plants you see which insects on and create a project to follow throughout the spring and summer. Talk about the life cycle of insects, especially ones such as butterflies and ladybirds that go through a process of metamorphosis.
At this time of year there is so much going on in the garden - here are a few ways of introducing some wildlife to your outside space.
- Any bird-feeder whether the most expensive fancy gizmo from a garden centre, or just a plate of seeds on a table will encourage feathery birds into your garden. You may even see something exotic if you're lucky!
- Birdhouses: Fit a couple of bird boxes or reed bird houses in your garden to encourage birds to stay and move in! Site them fairly high and in well sheltered positions.
- Plant flowers that attract insects such as lavender, thyme and Buddleia.
- For bugs and ladybirds, and even frogs if you're lucky, keep a pile of old branches or logs in a shady spot. They will be attracted to the warm, dark, damp atmosphere and will set up home. Not one for those mums scared of spiders!
- A water bath can be as simple as a saucer of water and this will encourage birds to bath or drink in the garden.
- Worms and centipedes love compost so how about create a compost heap or compost bin and encourage some long, slithery worms to the garden.
- Throw some wild flower seeds on a patch of soil or grass. The pretty flowers will grown and provide a meadow-like patch which is really pretty and easy to maintain.
- Try not to cultivate all areas of the garden. Leave some damp leaves or grass cuttings in a pile to welcome bugs frogs, hedgehogs and spiders looking for a home.
- Take cuttings from friends and family and plant your own trees and shrubs for free! Just pop any cuttings into a pot of soil and see how your garden grows! Great fun!
Most of all, get the children involved and get them muddy too! Nothing is more exciting for a toddler or pre-schooler than dirty hands, mucky knees and a brown, muddy smudge on their nose! Start a diary project and draw what you do and what you observe in the garden.
It's nearly spring, so why not make your garden into a wildlife garden and encourage some furry, buzzy and fluttery friends into the garden. Lovely for the children to watch and a chance to plant some pretty shrubs and trees. Here are some ideal plants to think about putting in this spring in order to attract wildlife:-
- Soft fruits: Blackberries, raspberries and red currents are loved by insects and birds. You may have to keep a few under a net to actually get a chance to eat any yourself!
- Dandelions: Many of us pull up the yellow blossom of dandelions, but they are a great favourite with bees and other buzzing insects; finches love their seeds.
- Honeysuckle: The berries are devoured by all sorts of birds, the nectar by buzzing bees.
- Lavender: The lovely scent of lavender attracts all sorts of bees and insects. Lovely to watch them merrily buzz around and a great mellow fragrance for the garden.
- Sunflowers: The sunny yellow flowers are loved by bees and the seeds are often eaten by birds.
- Buddleia: loved by butterflies and the pretty purple clusters of flowers have a stunning effect when in flower.
Some children love bugs and worms, but others are scared or nervous around them - this is a great activity to enthrall those who are interested, and gently introduce worms to those who need some encouragement! By setting up a wormery, you get to see what happens underground. It's clean for us, safe for the worms and very interesting for the children.
You need to find the following:
- one large plastic drinks bottle - the bigger the better, the 2 litre ones work well
- one smaller plastic bottl
- some clean sand (horticultural sand not the coarse DIY sand)
- some peat free soil
- Poke some holes in the bottom of the large bottle so the water can run out. Also, cut off the top of the bottle so you can place the small bottle inside.
- Fill the smaller bottle with water and place it in the big one. (This keeps the worms cool)
- Fill the outside bottle with alternate layers of sand and soil so each layer is 4cm deep. Pour in some water so it is damp.
- Hop out to the garden and search for some worms. Dig up a bit of soil and you should find some.
- Put them carefully into the soil/sand area of the bottle and pop it somewhere dark (shed or under an empty bucket) for a couple of days.
- When you get them out to take a look, you should see that all the soil and sand have been mixed up as they tunnel around.
- After a few days let them out again, and then you can start again with some different worms.
It's very easy as parents and carers to pass on, without being really aware of it, some of our fears or phobias; a fear of spiders might be one of the most obvious ones! However, in an attempt to counter this, and as a fun way to introduce children to one of the most common and varied insect in our gardens (and houses!), here are some fun activities to do with children, all about spiders! Don't be alarmed if you are nervous of spiders, they're made of chocolate, cardboard and lots of coloured paint!
Tasty Spider - take a chocolate cup cake or chocolate covered round biscuit and pop on 2 cheerios as eyes. Take 4 chocolate fingers and break them in half and stick them in the side to make a spider! Perhaps share between two children to eat or you may have a sugar rush situation! Yum!
Rainbow spider - draw a round body shape and 8 chubby legs to make a spider picture to decorate. Cover it with glue and stick on lots of coloured tissue paper in the colours of the rainbow. Stick on some eyes and a happy smile and stick on a window so the light shows up all the lovely colours.
Egg box spiders - cut out the mounds from egg boxes and paint some bright, spidery colours. Poke in 8 short lengths of pipe cleaners and bend half way down each to look like spider legs. Draw on some eyes and thread some wool through the top so you have a spider hanging from a web. Spooky!
Spider's Web - with a tube of glue draw a web shape on a piece of black paper. Sprinkle silver glitter or sand all over the page. Shake off any excess and you have a sparkly web covered in dew. Draw a little spider on black paper and stick this on ready for action.
Number Spider -Draw a big spider body and eight wide legs on the back of a cereal packet and paint it lovely sunny colours. Cut out 8 small circles or use stickers and number each leg. Practice counting 1 to 8 as you count the legs together. Try taking the stickers off and encouraging your little one to recognise each number and stick it on in order.
Happy plate spider - take a paper plate and cover with paint. Stick on some long thins strips of card as legs and paint these too. Add some googly eyes and a big smiley face!
Who's scared of the spider! Not Us!
It has been reported that teachers and carers who are afraid of spiders and creepy crawlies are stopping our children learning about the natural world! Children are not getting involved with nature because teachers and carers are afraid of getting mucky from soil in the great outdoors and are too scared of insects to teach about them.
Experts have said that natural history and nature in general is not being taught in schools. Not so for the childminders and parents who enjoy ToucanLearn! There are some great outdoors activities that introduce insects and teach children about their natural environment. We don't agree with the 'don't get mucky'! philosophy of learning and teaching! The whole idea is to get children involved. Get them interested and inspired! The muddier the better!
The Chairman of the Association for Science Education said teachers need more support to carry out experiments and take children outside. Perhaps these teachers should join ToucanLearn!
He also said that Parents should take their children outside to enjoy the natural world, to learn where their food comes from, what grows in the woods and what goes on in nature.
So, let's take his lead, pull on some wellies, grab a magnifying glass and get out there in the undergrowth! Have fun, explorers!
Insect stings and bites can be very painful indeed and are not confined to the balmy days of summer. Bee and wasp stings are particularly dangerous and can cause an allergic reaction to occur. 20% of those stung by a wasp suffer an allergic reaction.
Babies and young children may not be able to report a bite or sting so be aware - they may just suddenly become agitated whilst playing outside. Learn to look out for the signs and act immediately if you suspect a sting or a bite.
Fleas, mosquitoes, ticks, sandflies, horseflies, gnats, ants and some spiders may bite. A bite will often appear as a red bump or a few clustered together that are itchy, or as a white circle surrounded by slightly reddened skin. Besides local irritation, severe reaction is unlikely from bites. Bites become infected because of scratching. Bites do not contain poison but there are several diseases that are spread by insects biting, including malaria, yellow fever, lyme disease, encephalitus and typhus.
Wasps, bees, hornets and some ants sting. A sting usually takes the form of one or more swollen red bumps. In the centre you can often see a small hole through which the sting penetrated. Stings are accompanied by poisonous venom and it is this that causes the pain. People can suffer extreme allergic reactions to the sting, inducing anaphylactic shock. If you see signs of a severe reaction then consult the emergency services immediately - even a single sting can be fatal to someone suffering an allergy.
If you get stung or bitten, here's what to do:
- Remove the sting if there is one (use tweezers and don't press the sting further in)
- Wash the bite with soap and water and cool the skin with an ice pack
- Use an antihistamine to calm the itch
If the following symptoms occur, consult a doctor or emergency services:
- ...if the person is stung lots of times
- ...if a rash or swelling occurs and gets worse
- ...if the sting is tender or swollen
- ...if there is a headache, dizziness or nausea
- ...if there are pains in the chest, choking or wheezing
- ...if the patient goes into shock call for an ambulance
How to avoid being stung:
- Try not to flap insects away as this can excite them and make them more aggressive
- Use insect repellents
- Keep clear of flowers or things that attract insects
- Don't eat sweet things outside near where insects congegate
- Wear long sleeved clothing
- Keep windows and doors closed to keep insects outside
- Have any nexts you find in your garden or home, professionally removed
- Clean your home thoroughly to avoid bed bug infestations