Exploring mini beasts – A Tuff Tray invitation for pre schoolers

Like most three year olds Arlo is absolutely obsessed with bugs and so now that spring is blooming the garden is full of them and they are a great natural resource to explore. We have been moving around the pots and digging up the borders for the last few weeks and so have found quite a few creatures in the garden. This afternoon I set up a tray and lots of resources for him to explore. We spent all evening in the garden – the lighter evenings are fabulous for fun now the clocks have gone forwards.

You will need:

  • Tuff tray (eBay)
  • Mini beast insert (Tiger Moon)
  • Bug hunting kit (B&M)
  • Soil
  • Scraps of paper
  • Mini beasts hunt (Twinkl resources)
  • Toy creatures (various)

I began with this tuff tray insert from Tiger Moon, a wipeable mat which rolls away nicely when not in use and then I added a bug catching tool kit, which was from one of the high street bargain shops for £3. The mat itself has bugs hidden in the picture so I covered this with soil – this I itself would be enough providing tools to scrape and reveal, but I like to go wild and hoped we’d find some real bugs in the garden.

I wasn’t sure if we would actually find outdoors because sometimes you just aren’t that lucky when you’re looking – I have quite a few little creatures in the toy stash and so I quickly hid these in the compost piles and added handfuls of crimped paper on the tray too for an added texture. This made it immediately obvious what the focus of the activity was – Arlo spotted the tray from the window and almost tripped up because he couldn’t get out of the back door fast enough – he dove straight in with his hands exclaiming every time he found something.

As we are close to Easter I also decided to hide some bugs hidden in eggs around the garden. This is a great alternative to hunting for chocolate at this time of year and a way to re-use the plastic eggs – I keep them handy all year round so Arlo knows exactly what to do. I tried to hide them in places where we might happen upon real bugs and we were not disappointed. As soon as he spotted the first egg which wasn’t too far from the tray he went zooming off around the garden, running back to the tray every time he found one to show me and match it up.

Our tiger moon insert had some lovely enlarged bug pictures so I planned it to match a toy to every single one and these were great to to point out the features of each bug, and at just the right time a woodlouse decided to grace us with his presence and make acquaintances with his portrait.

I also printed off a twinkl resources tick sheet and attached that to a clip board and also propped up one of his favourite bug books and so with each new bug we identified it counting the legs and looking at the body parts and colours and I read out some facts. I like to add books to our activities so that we can bring them indoors after the play activity and pull them out as a refresher because once we have done something like this it becomes a hot topic and Arlo likes to pull out books from the shelf himself to explore when he’s got an idea too.

We spent quite a bit of time matching and counting out our toy bugs, sorting them from largest to smallest and by colour before the woodlouse appeared and we decided to go looking for some real creatures – Arlo didn’t have to look far, he lifted up a patch of astroturf and was delighted to find all sorts underneath. Worms, slugs and even a centipede were all bought back to the tray gently to inspect.

The highlight of Arlo’s afternoon was however finding a ladybird, which stuck around to play with us for quite a while, even inspecting our new bug house which has now been given a prominent spot in the garden. We also have a nice little collection of snail shells which Arlo wants to keep as treasures.

We can’t wait for a bug filled summer – Next week we’re going to plant the seeds of all sorts of flowers and plants we’ve had some very interesting conversations today about how important it is to look after bugs and creatures, I don’t know where he gets half of his information from but he’s beginning to grasp an understanding of ecosystems now.

You never know quite where a tuff tray set up is going to end up, but it’s always an enjoyable experience to create an invitation to play with so many open ended avenues for little minds to explore. It’s not just about making a mess, it’s about inspiring conversations and introducing new concepts.

The mini beats tuff tray insert is currently on offer for £12 at Tiger Moon. Click the logo to head to the website.

Tiger Moon Kindly provided the mini beast tuff tray insert for review however all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

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