Top 10 Science & Nature Gifts for Kids

hedgehog with Christmas cap

Not sure what to get your budding naturalist this year? Here’s a list of some of my favorite science and nature gifts for kids.

1. AmScope Metal Frame Kids Student Beginner Compound Microscope Kit

Microscopes enable kids to really examine their finds up close. Looking at rocks, insects, leaves—just about any specimen—up close opens up a whole new world of discovery and learning for budding scientists. Although a little pricier, metal microscopes are a worthwhile investment. They last longer and will hold up better when life’s little bumps happen.



If you want to pair the microscope with a little something extra, consider a prepared slide combo set. Kids love examining the details and intricacies of animal, plant, insect, textile, and pollen specimens.




2. Geode Explorer Science Kit

Geodes are amazing natural wonders. These hollow rocks have beautiful crystals inside. I have to say, I enjoy these as much as my son. Give them a good whack with a hammer to expose crystals. I like this kit because it includes a magnifying glass, adventure guide, activity booklet, two display stands, and safety goggles (yes, you must wear the goggles!).



3. WonderBubble

This is so cool, I might even include it on my list to Santa. The WonderBubble is a mini habitat that can be used as a betta fish bowl, a habitat for a frog or toad, and even some reptiles and amphibians. I love the egg shape because it gives you a full view of habitat from all angles.





4. Geoworld Bug’s World Collection of 10 Real Insects

My son received this as a gift a few years ago and we still look at it often. This set includes a  collection of 10 real insects, beautifully preserved in clear resin blocks. Use a microscope, or the magnifying lens that’s included with the kit, to study the tiny creatures up close. The set typically includes scorpions, beetles, and bumblebees.

5. Nature Bound Bug Vacuum and Critter Barn Habitat Combo Set

Speaking of bugs, this is another gift that’s gotten a lot of play over the years. This bug catcher lets you vacuum up insects and check them out with the built in magnifier. You can also put your catch in the small habitat that’s included. Cool feature: a bright green LED laser so you can go bug hunting day or night.


6. Ultimate Fossil Kit – Set of 15 Real Fossils 

This kit contains 15 fossils, including iridescent ammonites from Madagascar (they look like rainbow-colored holograms), trilobites from Morocco, sliced and polished ammonites (so you can see what’s inside these fossils), mosasaur teeth, and a polished orthoceras (ocean fossil). This kit also includes a 16-page fossil identification guide with tons of cool science facts about each of the specimens in this kit.


7. Meade Instruments 209001 Infinity 50 AZ Refractor Telescope (Blue)

Can you tell we like exploring up close?

There seems to be a million different options—and vastly differing price ranges—when it comes to telescopes. It’s hard to know which one to buy.

I like this telescope in particular because it’s reasonable priced, relatively easy to use, and is designed for both astronomical objects and the outdoors.


8. BlueCabi Shock-Proof Binoculars for Kids 

I wouldn’t call myself a birdwatcher, but it’s actually been kind of fun getting to know that little creature who chirps me awake on  Saturday mornings in the summer.

These binoculars were designed and engineered with children in mind. They’re coated with durable shock-proof rubber material, compact, and light enough to support by hand.

The National Geographic Kids Bird Guide of North America is also highly recommended. This book features 100 species of birds from coast to coast. Fifty of the country’s most popular birds are laid out in two-page spreads that include information such as their range, the sounds they make, and the food they like to eat. Each profile also includes a cool or weird fun fact, and a feature called “A Closer Look,” which digs deeper into once aspect of the bird’s life (eating habits, birdsongs, etc.).


9. Animalium: Welcome to the Museum

This is one in a series of books that showcase the world’s finest collections of objects—from natural history to art. Each title in this series is organized into galleries that display more than 200 full-color specimens accompanied by lively, informative text.

This particular book contains gorgeous illustrations and information about the animal kingdom. It reminds me of vintage science books.



10. Weslandia by Paul Fleischman

This book isn’t new—it was initially released in 1999—but it’s been riding high on our bedtime story list for months.

The story is about a young boy named Wesley and his summer vacation project.  Wesley is somewhat awkward, and doesn’t always fit in, but when he decides to plant a garden and ends up starting his own civilization, his neighbors and classmates are amazed and quickly join Wesley in his pursuits.

There you have it. Our top ten best gifts for kids who love science, nature and the great outdoors. I hope you find this list helpful. Feel free to drop me a line if you have suggestions you’d like to add to the list:

Amazing Monarch Butterflies

A monarch butterfly fluttered through our backyard today. It reminded me of the great Monarch Rescue of 2015. Our butterfly garden is in full swing, so we hope to see more monarchs this summer.

Watch Where You Step! Pavement Ants Are on the Move

pavement ants

Today, we nearly wiped out an ant colony by accident. What appeared to be leftover soil from an earlier spill of a potted plant turned out to be a massive swarm of ants.

Once we realized that the black splotch on the sidewalk was actually moving, we stepped aside and got down on our knees for a closer look.

What’s With the Swarm of Ants?

You’ve probably come across a massive swarm of ants on a sidewalk at some point this summer. Perhaps a melted popsicle or a piece of candy was to blame. But sometimes there are no food remnants around; just thousands of ants clustered around a crack in the pavement.

Like us, you probably wondered what all those ants are doing out and about at the same time.

I did a little research and found that it’s not uncommon to see a swarm of ants on a crack in the sidewalk in the dead of summer. There are a few possible explanations for what draws out an entire colony of ants all at once.

Moving Day

Pavement ants live in colonies under sidewalks and other paved areas. Like all living things, pavement ants need food and shelter.

ant moving egg

When space and food become sparce, it’s time to find a new home.

When they outgrow their space and their food supply starts to dwindle, it’s time to find a new home. Larger ant colonies split off into two colonies, each with their own queen.

We noticed a trail of ants moving away from the swarm, about ten feet down the sidewalk, where they went back underground. My hunch is that they found a new place to set up headquarters.

Turf War

Another explanation is a bit more dramatic. Look closely. Do the ants appear to be in battle mode? If they do, you may be witnessing a turf war.

angry ant

When two colonies overlap a turf war can ensue.

Sometimes, two colonies, both expanding over time, begin to overlap with one another. When this happens, it’s time for one of the colonies to move on. Neither colony wants to move, so a battle ensues. The winning colony gets to stay put while the losing colony, or what’s left of it, moves to a new location.



It was both startling and fascinating to see such a massive collective of ants above ground. When we came back an hour later they were completely gone! Now, if only I could hire them to move some furniture.

August Urban Kids in Nature Calendar

Boy running in water

We’re smack-dab in the middle of summer. In most of the U.S., it’s hot, it’s humid, and let’s face it, we’re all starting to run out of things to do with the kids. Lucky for you, I put together a list of activities to keep the kids busy (i.e., help you get through the rest of the summer without losing your sanity).

August 2016 Nature Activity Calendar 

1st – Gotta catch ’em all! – Catch some lightening bugs (Remember: catch and release), then check out Julie Brinckloe’s fantastic book, Fireflies.

3rd – National Watermelon Day: Download free coloring books, activities, and recipes @

5th – Scavenger Hunt – How many types of purple flowers can you find on your block? Take a look at what we found on our last hunt for yellow flowers @

7th – National Friendship Day: Learn how to make a friendship band @

9th – National Book Lovers’ Day: Check out 16 great children’s books about nature and the environment @

10th – Get cooking! – Actually, it’s hot, so maybe a salad is a better idea. Check out the Caprese salad we made last year with homegrown tomatoes @

12th – Do you hear what I hear? – Are the cicadas out in your neck of the woods? Learn more about cicadas @

16th – National Tell a Joke Day: When is a baseball player like spider? Get the answer to that and more insect and bug jokes @

21st – National Senior Citizens Day: Paint, draw or color a bouquet of flowers for a senior citizen in your life.

23rd – Birdwatch: What kinds of birds are living in your neighborhood? Don’t forget to take some pics so you can identify, study, paint, or draw them later. Check out this simple bird identifier @

26th – National Dog Day: Find 20 ways to celebrate @

30th – Nature photo shoot – Take a walk around your neighborhood and see that you can find. Send me a photo or two at and I’ll post them on this blog.

Outdoor Scavenger Hunt: In Search of Yellow


It’s been HOT here in Chicago the last few days. Too hot for my liking. But, as luck would have it, my son has discovered Pokémon Go. So, instead of chilling out inside, we’ve been walking around (sweaty and cranky) in this blazing heat throwing Poké Balls at that infamous little yellow creature, Pikachu.

While making the rounds at the local PokéStops, I entertained myself by tallying up other yellow things around us–actual living things, in the real world. Here’s what I found.

Whether your kid is Poké-ing around or not, take a walk around the block and snap photos of yellow flowers, plants, and insects. Can you come up with more than ten?