It’s Spring time and for many of us, it’s time to say goodbye to dreary overcast winter days and say hello to warmer temperatures and maybe even more importantly FINALLY getting a chance to spend some quality time outside.  Looking for educational toys and activities can be a challenge for parents, but the world outside provides ample opportunity to learn and experience. 

When writing this article, I couldn’t help but take a moment to think about what a great time of year Spring is.  If you live in a place that has discernible changes in your seasons, then it’s hard to dislike Spring.  The flowers, the trees, life seems to return each and every year at this time, but for Naturalist Intelligence-oriented people, Spring is the ULTIMATE!! 

What is the Naturalist Intelligence? 

Dr. Howard Gardner defines the naturalist intelligence as an intelligence that designates the human ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) as well as sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations).  This ability was clearly of value in our evolutionary past as hunters, gatherers, and farmers; it continues to be central in such roles as botanist or chef.  Dr. Gardner also speculates that much of our consumer society exploits the natural intelligences, which can be mobilized in the discrimination among cars, sneakers, kinds of makeup, and the like.  The kind of pattern recognition valued in certain sciences may also draw upon the naturalist intelligence.

Now to me, that’s a pretty long-winded way (sorry Dr. Gardner) of saying Naturalist Intelligence oriented kids love…in a word…NATURE.  Or perhaps a safer generalization would be a kid who loves anything to do with the outdoors.  More specifically, kids with a flair for the Natural World likely love not only the typical flora and fauna that can be found in their surroundings but all sorts of other natural elements as well.
Well, let’s think about that for a minute.  Most kids enjoy playing outdoors and rooting around in the dirt for bugs, etc., but does that mean my child is “nature smart”? 
How can I tell if my child is a Naturalist Intelligence Child? 

Some key indicators that a parent can use to gauge a child’s interest or gravitation towards this particular intelligence might include any/all of the following:

“ Notices patterns and things from nature easily,
“ Has keen senses and observes and remembers things from his/her environment and surroundings,
“ Likes animals and likes to know and remember things about them,
“ Really appreciates being outside and doing things like camping, hiking or climbing, even just like sitting quietly and noticing the subtle differences in the world of nature, or
“ Makes keen observations about natural changes, interconnections and patterns,

Even more specifically, does your child enjoy any or all of the following activities? 

“ Collecting objects from nature,
“ Making celestial observations,
“ Using scientific equipment for observing nature,
“ Categorizing species of plants and animals,
“ Initiating projects on the Food chain, Water Cycle, or environmental issues,
“ Predicting problems in nature related to human habitation,
“ Joining an environmental/wildlife protection group, or
“ Finding/Reporting/Researching local/global environmental concerns

If any of these items sounds like your little Tommy or Tina, then you may have a child that is “nature smart”.

Regardless of whether your child is “naturally” nature smart or not, being outdoors, exploring the natural world and sharing those experiences with your child ALL provide a great benefit to your child’s long-term educational development across the entire Multiple Intelligences spectrum.
But isn’t it just about BUGS, right?!

Well, not really.  Oh don’t get me wrong, BUGS are a large part of the Natural World and you will know pretty quickly if you have a Bug-friendly child once they get in the dirt and find some.  But it’s not just about bugs; in fact exploring the natural world doesn’t necessarily have to be all about creepy crawly creatures at all. 

Now a little personal note here…my wife is a BIG Bug person.  She wrote papers in college, she did all sorts of bug capture and cultivations for her professors and spent an inordinate amount of time in lakes, swamps and other disgusting venues looking for new and unusual BUGS. 

What is really funny to me about this is that she was a Computer Science major; she just did this bug stuff for FUN.  She loves bugs to this day!  So, it naturally stands to reason that our kids were also going to be BIG bug-lovers. 

Basically, that means if it crawls on the ground, it’s likely to end up in one of my kids’ hands or worse…in my house!  As for me?  In case you haven’t been able to tell yet…I was not, am not and probably won’t EVER be a bug person, but when your kids love to do something or find something neat, you learn pretty quickly to get over your own issues.  So, chasing lizards, picking up crawling or flying bugs has become something that I have forced myself to do (for my kids’ sakes), but that doesn’t mean that I like it. 

Now, if you’re like my wife (you’re a freak…no just kidding).  If you’re like her, you can handle bugs easily.  You know how and perhaps most importantly you know which bugs you can grab and which ones to avoid.  I look at a bug cross-eyed; I’m likely to get stung or bit or both. 

Now a quick “bug” primer here…when I say bug I’m pretty much encapsulating anything in the Natural world that is in a word…icky…not exactly a scientific term, but I’ll bet you all should know what I mean.  If it crawls, slimes, or buzzes…to me, it’s a bug!  There may be some entomology professors who will write me to argue that point, but it’s my article and my definition and I’m not trying to get published in a college paper, so let’s just move on. 

All sorts of kids love bugs and there is huge educational value in the collection and examination of things found in nature.  There is however no one-size-fits-all model of the type of child that will like bugs, so it stands to reason that as Dr. Gardner put it, a child’s interest in the Naturalist Intelligence is likely to be more about what the bugs represent (e.g. the unknown, exploration, discovery, classification, etc.) than the bugs themselves. 

The great thing about bugs is that they are EVERYWHERE.  So, as a parent, what can we do to help an enthusiastic child find some educational value in the Natural world? 

Whether you’re like my wife or more like me or find yourself somewhere in between, there are tons of great educational toys and games available to help you and your children enjoy exploring the Naturalist Intelligence!!  

Pick your Educational Toy “Poison” 

There certainly is a Naturalist Intelligence spectrum, as evidenced by my own family’s “love” of nature.  So, the bottom line in nurturing a child’s Naturalist Intelligence should be to pick educational products that you and your child feel comfortable with.  Below, I’ve outlined a few people “types”, so that you can find your own group and the products that might suit you best.  That is not to say that a Bug Lover won’t see value and enjoy other Naturalist Intelligence-oriented toys and games, just that these are our recommendations for jumping into the “dirt”.

BUG Lovers

If you have a rabid Naturalist on your hands (my best wishes go out to you), but seriously a fully enclosed, self-contained habitat is a good start, especially if the bugs are going to be brought inside the home.  Incorporate a habitat with the ability to explore and investigate and you’ve got the beginnings of a solid educational experience for your kids. 

There are lots of habitat options:  The Bug Habitat, Bug Watch or even the Bug Explorer.  Most Naturalist-oriented vendors have options here and prices vary widely.  For the more involved child, you might consider adding a microscope as well. 

Some great bug habitats can be found below:

I also like the Talking Bug ID.  This toy is a magnifying glass that asks you questions relating to the bug you are seeing.  Does the bug have wings, does it have 6 legs, and on until it has classified the bug for you.  This is an incredible hands-on toy and it’s sure to peak your child’s interest in the examination and classification aspects of the Naturalist Intelligence. 

 Talking Bug ID
As for microscopes, we carry a few options here, and will likely add some more in the future, but the most important thing to remember here is make your selections age-appropriate.  The Talking Microscope is a great educational toy for kids under 10, for older kids, the Scope It Out Microscopes lend a little more “seriousness” to the examination of their finds. 

 Scope It Out Microscope 30x
 Scope It Out Microscope 50x
 Talking Microscope

If you’re looking for a simple, more affordable choice in the bug habitat arena, consider the Bug Jar, Jug or Keeper.  All of these are great basic products that allow for the capture and examination of bugs. 

  Bug Jar
  Bug Jug
  Bug Keeper
Some products that I really like for the Naturalist child involve a little novelty as well.  For your daughter who loves nature, try the Bug Locket, or the Watch-a-Bug for your son.  And if you are a fan of CSI – Name of some City, then try out the Bug Scene Investigator.  Truly, a child exploring the natural world is very much an investigator, and this product helps create an environment of fun for your child to enjoy the natural world without feeling like they are being made to learn.
Big Nature Lover, not so much on the Bugs side

If you love nature and the outdoors, but are not a big bug fan, you still have some great options.  Even if you have a child who is not a bug lover, you likely still want to share and explore the natural world with them.  Starting with something not so “buggy” is a good way to introduce them to the natural world without getting them slimed or worse. 

Some options in this area may be found below:
 Planet Frog
 Hydro Greenhouse
 Fish in Space
 Hermit Crabs

These are self-contained habitats that allow the animals or plants to grow and exist with little interaction.  Keep in mind that things like frogs need to eat, so check with your local pet store to make sure they have a supply of crickets (unless you want to gather them yourself).  And yes, make sure that your child understands that the frog is going to eat the crickets.  We have had shoppers who didn’t consider this before purchasing and didn’t discuss it with their kids prior to dropping the crickets into the habitat.  We don’t want to do any lasting damage to our children’s psyches here. 

Also, if self-contained, and independently functioning habitats are desirable to you (read this as animals that don’t get out, and have little to no food requirements needed), take a look at our recent Ants article.  We detail all the major options and considerations a parent should take into account for an Ants project. 

Vendor NOTE:  It is important to note when purchasing bug habitats many vendors offer the first “set of bugs” as part of your purchase; however, vendors will decide if/when the bugs can be sent to a given location.  This is done to preserve the animals in question during shipment so you don’t get dead ants, tadpoles or other animals arriving at your home.  A common guide in this area is if the temperature in your area is too high (typically 85 degrees and above) for some number of days in a row, most vendors will not ship you the bugs.  This, of course, doesn’t mean you can’t find your own bugs and the vendors are happy to ship to your location when the temperatures go down again.  Unfortunately, we here at WonderBrains cannot control when your first set of bugs gets to your location, so take that into consideration when purchasing a habitat. 
Looking for the less-Buggy side of the Natural World?

I love the products in this area because if you’re like me you’re ok with ladybugs and butterflies…it’s the centipedes and the like that you want to try and avoid.  In this area, you may want to try Ladybug Land product or the Butterfly Pavilion, or start a little smaller with a Butterfly Garden instead.  Our newest product in this area is simply awesome though.  It’s the Butterfly Bungalow.  The Bungalow is large enough that your child can actually climb into the habitat and sit with the butterflies!!

To be sure, any of these products can be used by the bug enthusiast or the reluctant “enthusiast” like myself.  Some product vendors provide you with the bugs you need perhaps in a larvae state so that you can watch them grow.  Our family’s personal favorite is the Butterfly Pavilion.  The great thing about these products is that you can use them over and over again.  You can send away to have the butterfly larvae sent to you, or find your own caterpillars in your yard. 
Don’t like to touch the bugs, but don’t mind them per se… 

This is my group of products now…my personal group.  I use to be in the “REALLY don’t like bugs” group below, but have “graduated” to this level.  As I mentioned earlier, if it’s got a stinger or will bite, I have probably had the misfortunate of crossing its path.  To that end, these products are great at helping those parents like me who want to enjoy the natural world with our kids without the pain and itching. 

The Turbo Bug Vacuum and Bug Biter allow you to “pick up” the bugs without actually handling them.  A BIG Plus for me.  The Port-a-Bug is great for those show-and-tell trips to school (check with your child’s teacher beforehand…I don’t want to get calls from schools telling me that I said it was ok ;)

Another new offering in this section that I really like is the Critter Projector.  This toy lets you project a light onto your wall as you watch the bugs moving around.  If you have kids who like bugs, this is going to be a huge favorite for them. 

Turbo Bug Vac
Bug Biter
Critter Projector
REALLY don’t like bugs

If you find yourself in the “REALLY don’t even want to THINK about touching bugs” group, but aren’t sure what nature options are left, put your fears to rest.  I use to be in this group, so trust me when I say I feel your pain if you are here, but that doesn’t mean you have to forgo an exploration of the natural world. 

You don’t even have to be in this group to enjoy these educational toys and games.  Especially if you have younger kids, these products are great ways to get them interested and excited about the natural world.  You can’t ever start too early to expose your children to exciting worlds. 

You can start out with some of our bug-oriented puzzles or games.  We have Bug floor puzzles and magnetic bug puzzles (which are also great travel toys for those long road trips).  We also have a 3-D Adventure Projector that has adventure CDs to explore the undersea world or an African Safari. 

Lifecycle Dominoes and Butterfly Bingo are great ways to have fun with your kids in the natural world without getting your hands dirty.  Also, if you have younger kids, don’t think you have to wait until they bring a creepy-crawler into your house to begin exploring the natural world.  There are lots of options at this level as well.  Early childhood development with the Grasping Products or the more dexterous Bug-Catching Game are just a few example products that can provide enjoyment for your budding Naturalist. 
 Bug Floor Puzzles
 Bug catching game
 Magnetic Puzzles
 3-D Adventures Under the Sea and African Safari
And Don’t forget your Celestial Options

I spoken a lot about bugs, but as I said previously, the Naturalist Intelligence isn’t JUST about bugs.  Kids that enjoy the Natural World do not typically, nor should we as parents, limit them to capturing, categorizing and observing bugs.  If you are looking for something less buggy, have no fear there are plenty of bug-less options as well.  Perhaps trying something a little more terrestrial will work for you and your kids. 

Some great products in this group are the Solar System Mobile or the Moon-in-My-Room light-up product.  This product shows the craters of the moon on the walls and ceiling of your child’s room…and once you have expanded your child’s horizons to include celestial exploration you might consider moving up to an actual telescope which can provide hours of night-time enjoyment (just make sure you have mosquito-repellant…those darn bugs again).   


In the end, remember to first gauge your child’s interests as they relate to the natural world.  One shouldn’t try to put a “square kid” in a “round Naturalist setting” if they REALLY don’t want to be there.  But even if you don’t have a “natural” Naturalist, you can enjoy the outdoors and the natural world with your children.  Just take your time, go slow and remember what we’re trying to do is give them a chance to explore and discover the unknown. 

There are many unbelievable mysteries to be undertaken even in our own backyards and when it comes to exploring their surroundings and the creatures that live there, children can be the most naturally inquisitive beings in this world.  Just don’t forget to enjoy your kids while they are enjoying nature…oh yea, and watch where you step. 

Pete Petracco