A fascinating, inexpensive and absorbing activity to do with children in any outdoor space with bushes (or trees) is a Bush Shaking Mini-beast Hunt.Entomologists have used this technique for hundreds of years to collect and identify insects living in various leafy habitats.Bushes support many little creatures in many ways and your child will be amazed to have a glimpse of what is going on in that innocent-looking greenery.
Mini-beasts* are critical to the existence of the world through pollinating plants, aiding the decomposition of animal waste and keeping our eco-system in balance.Children are often fascinated by this world of tiny creatures and this is a lovely way to encourage them to appreciate the vital role mini-beasts play in keeping our planet healthy.
1. Before you start, encourage your child to see if they can spot any creatures in the bush or leafy tree you will be exploring.Mini-beasts are well adapted to concealing themselves to avoid being eaten or to help them creep up on their prey - and many bugs are expert hiders, evolving to blend into their environment by clever colouring and shape. Others prefer to use their colour as a warning or decoy and are, therefore, far easier to spot.
2. Once you’ve tested your ability to spot the inhabitants of your undergrowth by eye, place a white sheet or tablecloth under a bush and shake the bush vigorously. The mini-beasts will fall out of their leafy home onto the white sheet where they can be inspected, identified and admired.
3. If you have a Pooter (insect aspirator) or a magnification pot you can have a closer look at this vital and intriguing mini-world. How many legs?Six legs (and a body that can be divided into three distinct parts - a head, thorax and abdomen) means you have an insect. To be a spider however, you need eight legs - if you’ve found a spider then your bug is an arachnid.More legs - so many they’re hard to count? You may have a myriapod - a centipede or millipede. Worms are classified with leeches as annelids, whereas slugs and snails (with mussels and octopuses) are molluscs.
4. When you’ve finished, gently shake the sheet free of creatures and they will return to their habitat a little shaken but hopefully not overly stirred.
5. Encouraging your child to be very gentle with the creatures - reminding them that they are literally giants in a mini-beast world - will be just as much a benefit to your child than to the creatures they will learn to respect and protect.
* Mini-beast is a term that include insects but also other invertebrates – creatures without backbones e.g.spiders, beetles, snails, worms, centipedes and many more. There are about 25,000 different types of invertebrate living in the UK.Invertebrates don’t have a skeleton inside their body but have evolved to protect their bodies in other ways such as shells or hard outer coverings called exoskeletons.