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Dinosaur Discoveries

Collect a Critter

Help your child observe and appreciate insects and other small (safe) wild animals in your area.


  • natural setting (backyard, park, pond, seashore)
  • clothing that protects your arms and legs (long sleeves and long pants, tucked in socks, to prevent scratches from plants and insect bites; a hat if walking in sunny weather)
  • permanent marker (to label the bags)
  • collecting supplies: thick plastic bags or plastic containers; rubber band; small net with fine mesh (such as kind used with an aquarium)
  • pad and pencil
  • material for animal’s temporary home: clear plastic jar with breathing holes poked in cover
  • adult, to supervise the trip, and serve as a resource


  1. Ask your child to discuss what small bugs and animals she might expect to see if she visited a nearby forest or park. Write down a list of all suggestions. Ask her to describe the natural homes, or habitats, where some of these animals live. What might happen to these animals if their environment in nature were changed? For example, how might a blue jay be affected if the tree in which it lived were knocked down in a storm, or cut down for lumber? Ask your child to discuss: “What basic things do ALL animals need to survive?” Answers include food, water and shelter.
  2. Show your child a the video clip, above, in which the Pteranodon kids are exploring the Big Pond.
  3. Explain that today she is going to do what Buddy and his family do in their time period—go on an expedition (an adventurous trip) to learn something new. Her goal is to try to collect a small animal from her backyard so that the animal isn’t harmed, and then make it a temporary home for one day. She will need to do everything they can to learn about the animal’s natural habitat (where it normally lives) so that they can create similar living conditions at home. Before you go outside, make sure to discuss what kinds of animals are okay to collect for a few hours – and which ones should be left alone.


    • insects such as ants, ladybugs, beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, butterflies
    • earthworms
    • small frogs or toads
    • small fish (as long as they are put in water immediately)
    • snails
    • slugs
    • crawfish


    • flying insects such as bees, hornets, wasps
    • spiders (except Daddy Long Legs, which are harmless)
    • birds
    • bats
    • racoons
    • snakes
    • turtles
  4. Discuss her mission. IMPORTANT: Remind your child that once she takes any animal out of its natural habitat, she is responsible for taking care of it, and safely returning it later. Remind your child that animals that normally live in water, for example, won’t live long if they are removed from it (and vice versa for animals that normally live on dry land). Point out that animals that live in salt water will die if transferred to fresh water (and vice versa).
  5. Dress appropriately for a nature hike (see guidelines above). Go to a local natural area (park, backyard, pond, seashore) and look for a possible animal to collect. When your child finds an animal she might want to collect for the day, have her use a pad to sketch a picture of the animal’s nature home. What kinds of plants live there? Can you tell what foods the animal eats?
  6. Help your child collect a small animal, using plastic bags or small plastic containers to hold it.

Take It Further

  • If you’d like to find other ways to explore nature with young your child, here are some non-profit organizations to consider:
    • Let’s Go Outside (U.S. Fish and Wildlife)
    • Your child and Nature Network
    • Nature Rocks
    • Hooked on Nature
    • Nature Activities
    • EEK! Environmental Education for Kids

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