I believe simple toys offer much. Toys have gotten ever more complicated (requiring batteries and all manner of maintenance—which often doesn’t get done and the toys are discarded, wasting resources), they are often less safe in terms of “hidden” hazards—lead paint, lithium batteries…
So, here’s an idea for summertime entertainment for kids (and adults!) to get them out of the house, away from the computer and moving around: purchase a butterfly net and a good reference book on insects. Teach your grandchildren to be explorers, discoverers. In fact, teach yourself!
I have three butterfly nets and they are easy to use both for pleasure and for serious bug control (carpenter bees). The trick is to use stealth and patience, along with gentle swoops of the net. You don’t want to wield a vicious swing that batters the quarry. Instead, an easy, gentle stroke will “net” more butterflies than one with dizzying speed.
Teach children to be judicious in the capture of specimens, treating them gently, kindly, striving for variety rather than quantities. If possible carefully set the butterfly free once the identity has been determined. The image is of a Spicebush Swallowtail.
Get a book. Even little West Virginia has a thick. (one-inch) beautiful guide to The Butterflies of West Virginia and Their Caterpillars. (by Thomas J. Allen) It’s comprehensive with its color plates and details the characteristics of some 128 species that reside in West Virginia. The Golden Guide of Butterflies and Moths has served me well for years. It’s easy for kids to use, too, and I love the illustrations of the caterpillars. It’s small and the information is concise rather than voluminous—something kids can get their hands and minds around quickly.
As a child, whenever I found something—on the beach, in the woods, or in the garden, something I could not identify, my parents never told me outright (if they knew) what it was. When I asked, “What’s this?” the phrase “go look it up” was the standard reply in our household. I was then given direction as to where I might find answers. I was also invited to share the results of my search. Thanks to their foresight, I became a lifelong learner, a curious explorer who wasn’t afraid to go on a search through guidebooks and encyclopedias to find answers to my questions.
I thank them, today, for those lessons. They’ve served me well. And now, with the InterNET, it’s even more rewarding. Though I would never give up my field guides, I know I can return to the computer and expand my knowledge in so many ways.
So, if you have grandchildren coming to visit this summer, or your kids are home from school, and you live where butterflies abide, why not plan ahead a little and buy a butterfly net and a guide. Perhaps you’ll introduce them to an enjoyable pastime that will engage their interests over a lifetime, and which they'll doubtless pass on to their children!