Baby Beth has just turned one. In the run-up to her birthday I had the usual researching frenzy for outdoorsy gifts as well as ideas for generous friends and family asking for present inspiration. We eventually opted for a convertible trike that goes from parent-guided push-along to a fully toddler powered set of wheels. Beth loves it and now she can be in on the action when Roo takes her balance bike out on a walk.
All that research got me thinking about all the fabulous presents we have been lucky to receive for the girls over the past few years as well as those gift ideas I have earmarked for the future. As a result, I thought I’d put together a bit of a guide.Turns out there were quite a lot of ideas though so I’ve split them into a series of posts, dividing them by category.
First up on the outdoorsy kids gift idea posts (and closest to my heart) are present ideas for kids who love wildlife or grubbing about in the garden. I really hope the gift ideas are useful and do please let me know if you have any great recommendations yourself – I will be needing ideas for a 4+ year old later in the year!
n.b. some (not all) of the links below will earn me a penny or two in referrals should you go ahead and purchase something after clicking through. I have not been paid to include any items in the list though – all are ideas the girls have been given, I have used myself, been recommended by friends or been inspired by independent research.
Gift ideas for green-fingered children
- A packet of seeds or bulbs, some soil and a pot (or corner of the garden). There is something magical about nurturing a plant through from the intangible mystery of a dry old seed to a flower, or better still, something you can eat. For indoor winter projects and learning about roots, a hyacinth bulb in a clear glass hyacinth vase is always a winner. If you’re trying to enthuse a reluctant gardener then there are loads of weird and wonderful varieties of fruit and veg out there these days – from stripey tomatoes to purple carrots and you can never go wrong with some giant sunflowers!
- Garden tools. One of the best presents Roo has ever had has been a garden set of mini trowels, forks, gardening gloves and other bits. Her prize garden possession is her very own metal wheelbarrow. I have also given her an extendable child’s rake which is probably designed for 5+ year olds but she loves all the same and recently discovered that, for the Gruffalo fans out there, you can buy Gruffalo theme garden tools, gloves and welly socks from the online shop.
My experience is that unless you are using the tools in a sandpit or they are for a baby under 18 months then you’re better to go for fully- functioning metal tools that will last and do the job they are designed for (particularly important on our clay soil) and teach your kids how to use them safely under supervision than to go for ones that are more like toys. Kids love to help and if they can’t do this properly, they will soon lose interest. Besides, if Bear Grylls says a bit of risk is ok for kids, it must be alright…
- A bucket. Yes – a normal, run-of-the-mill bucket. If you’re splashing out (see what I did there?!) then go crazy and opt for a coloured/patterned one and chuck in a sponge and brush too. Young children love water and getting wet, no matter the time of year. They can indulge in water play or help you water the garden with it in the summer and get stuck in to washing bird feeders, the car and old empty flower pots in the autumn and winter. Washing windows, washing the dog…you name it, they’ll wash it!
- Gardening books. No – not a manual but a story book about gardens and gardening. I came across independent childrens’ book publisher Barefoot Books at the Henley Christmas Fair last year and was taken with their beautiful illustrations and original, quirky take on childrens’ literature. Grandpa’s Garden was one of the books I snapped up at the time. It would make a lovely addition to a little gardening enthusiast’s library!
- A treasure tin: Kids love their own special boxes at the best of times, so why not extend this to one for their garden treasures? It can be any tin you like (and even include biscuits), so long as it has a good seal to keep seeds airtight and is big enough to store a few packets of seeds in. Maybe they could even use it to store seeds ready for later planting they have collected themselves? Sweet peas are a good candidate for this but so are sycamore helicopters, acorns and other wild seeds you find out and about.
- A butterfly feeder or bee box: Teach kids about the role pollination plays in gardening by helping encourage pollinators to the garden. Maybe best to focus on the bees if your garden has too many Cabbage Whites…
- Grubbing-about clothes: This is a gift the parents will probably appreciate more than the kids but every mini-gardener needs a few pairs of inexpensive tracksuit bottoms to get muddy in, some warm socks and general outdoor wear. For outdoorsy kids, having the right clothes is a must and they needn’t be expensive. Roo’s tracksuit bottoms usually come from H&M, Decathlon (£2.99 a pair last time!) or a supermarket – that way it doesn’t matter too much if they get unwashably grubby or ripped.
- A kneeler: Roo is always using my kneeler, leaving me with the wet, dirty knees at the end of a gardening session. She uses it for everything from actually doing some gardening (particularly helpful when she helped me plant the spring bulbs) to having an impromptu garden picnic on damp grass or even transporting her toys on her ‘ship’. There are some kids’ kneelers out there which have fun characters and patterns on but I reckon a large, adult one (I love the memory foam ones personally) is going to be more practical and serve multiple purposes.
- Paint-your-own pots: If your mini-gardener also has a creative streak (and all the best gardeners do) then how about giving them their own pot painting set , along with a bulb or some seeds to go in it when it’s finished? You don’t need a set either – you could just use an old, clean terracotta pot and buy some acrylic paints and brushes instead though it’ll take a bit more work. There are plenty of online guides out there on how to do it.
- Garden Centre Vouchers: Yes – I know that vouchers are not ideal but National Garden Vouchers can be used in a huge amount of garden centres and being able to pick what they are going to grow or their own tools can help add to the enthusiasm of older children. Plus, if they are having a gardening hiatus, most places stock things like wellies and other outdoor essentials too.
Gift ideas for nature lovers
- Binoculars: Ever since flicking through the pages of an outdoor activities book for kids (another good idea incidentally), Roo became fixated on owning a pair of red (and only red) binoculars. She had previously tried binoculars out during our puffin spotting trip to Skomer at 2 1/2 and had begged to take mine on walks ever since. Father (Aunty) Christmas finally came up trumps this Christmas and they’ve been in use ever since both for garden use and out on walks. For under 5’s I wouldn’t worry too much about getting a really good pair – they will still be working out which way round they go – but will enhance any interest in the natural world no end!
- Minibeasts: If your kid is one of those that likes to grub about in the garden and is fascinated by bugs and beasties then you are sorted. From wormeries to butterfly feeders, there is a huge array of fun kit for bug hunting and studying out there. For tiny tots, get them started with a bug collecting pot, with clear sides and a magnifying glass on top whilst school age kids will delight in sucking up spiders to examine with a pooter. Roo has been given a really cool present for Christmas this year that fits this category – a butterfly lifecycle kit including a voucher to send off for our very own live caterpillars to raise and follow as they transform. Can’t wait to get started with that one!
- Wildlife spotter books: There are some great books out there for kids,with the guides I like best having boxes to tick off when you have seen a particular species – Roo has the Usborne Spotter Guides. Slimline books are the most useful – they can then be taken out on any adventure and avoid you forgetting to record your findings when you get home. Flowers, birds, minibeasts, fungi…you name it, there’s a spotter’s book for it and most of them are really not that pricey.
- Nature scrapbook: A small, lightweight scrapbook or notebook, some glue/adhesive squares, a pack of colouring crayons and a pen/pencil can make a great gift. Kids can use them to stick in all those feathers, shells or pressed leaves and flowers as well as sketch pictures of birds, beasts and insects they spot whilst out and about. If you think you have a future David Attenborough in your household then they will need somewhere to record their observations of the natural world! If you fancy splashing out then how about a special box or tin to keep larger outdoor treasures in?
- Membership of a nature organisation: Sign your kids up for membership with a wildlife or conservation charity for a gift that benefits more people than just the recipient. Most big charities have a kids’ membership option which includes a gift or free magazines and activity ideas throughout the year. It’s a lovely way of inspiring kids throughout the year and gives back to those trying to conserve nature too. Good ones include RSPB and the WWF but some smaller, species specific charities have their own memberships.
- Magnifying glass: Another huge hit with Roo and a constant part of her ‘taking-on-walks’ kit is her large magnifying glass. She’s still a bit young to spend too much time studying anything in great detail but she loves roaming around peering at everything from rocks to woodlice with it all the same!
- A Wildlife Home: There are boxes out there these days for everything from birds and bats to hedgehogs and owls. Children will love checking in on their special box for signs of new residents and it’s a gift that will give them new interest every year. For the arty kids, there are kits that you can paint your own designs on.
If your children are a bit older then why not give them the wood (pre-cut if you prefer – most large DIY stores will do the straight cuts for you for free if you want) and nails to make their own box and make a day of it. You can find instructions on the RSPB website. Kids will pick up some useful DIY skills in the process. I’m pretty sure I first built my own box when I was about nine years old as part of Watch Club at school and can still remember it being a pretty fun activity, especially being let loose (supervised of course) with ‘grown-up’ tools.
- Nature story books: Books involving stories about wildlife are a great way to introduce children to nature. If you’d like your child to learn to tell their blackbirds from their robins in a fun and engaging way then you need a copy of Carl Mynott’s ‘The Birds at the Bottom of the Garden’ book – its simple and informative rhymes coupled with lovely illustrations have made it a favourite with Roo and we can’t wait for the next books in the series. You can read the Baby Routes interview with Carl here.
Many of the old classic have strong wildlife characters and themes too – personal favourites are the classics such as the Brambley Hedge series, The Animals of Farthing Wood, Watership Down, Wind in the Willows and of course, Beatrix Potter. The Flower Fairies poem by Cecily Mary Barker are another vintage classic. Whilst these traditional poems are probably more for an older child, Roo does like listening to them and has learnt a few wildflowers and plants from them along the way, plus the illustrations are gorgeous – a sure winner for girlier girls! For babies, I love the Jack Tickle pop up books which are fun, vibrant and very engaging for little people. Whilst most of them deal with more tropical animals, The Very Funny Frog is particularly good for garden wildlife and there is also one about a butterfly’s life-cycle.
- Bird feeder: On the bird front, why not give your mini Attenborough-to-be their very own bird feeder. They’ll love watching to see which birds visit it and its a great way to introduce responsibility by giving them the task of keeping it topped up. Like the plant pots and bird boxes you can also get paint your own bird feeder kits though do make sure the paint used is not toxic to birds. The window feeders are a nice idea for kids too although success in enticing birds to them is mixed in my experience and less likely still with an excited child tapping the window on the other side at every bird that braves coming so close…
- RSPB singing bird toys: These little cuddly toys are soft enough to make the cut onto Roo’s bed at night but also educational. They come in a whole flock of different species including mainly native birds to the UK, with their basic blackbird one of the best . When you push their tummies they ‘sing’ with something akin to the real bird song of that particular species. I normally hate noisy toys but these are actually quite gentle sounding and you can add to the collection over time. They are favourites of Roo, her baby sister and her older cousins so they definitely have kid appeal across different ages!
- Wildlife camera: A wildlife camera is beyond the average gift budget but is undeniably a brilliant present for wildlife fans. It would also work as a family present or joint gift for siblings given that everyone can enjoy it and it inevitably will require some adult involvement in installation/operating computer or TV to view. I was given one of these for my birthday by my husband and it was so exciting!
You can get all sorts of cameras – from integrated nest box ones to free-roaming varieties, battery operated or wired in, wifi or sim card. It’s a lovely way to capture the magical moments of wildlife activity in your garden that are otherwise hidden from view e.g. baby birds hatching or of spotting what goes on in the garden after the kids are tucked safely up in bed. I’d recommend visiting the Wildlife Gadgetman’s website if you’re thinking about a camera.