Our little learner is endlessly fascinated by the bugs and other critters visiting our garden this summer. To complement that budding interest, the Learning Resources In the Garden Critter Counters provide seemingly endless possibilities for learning and play — counting, small world, sensory bin accessories — you name it! Here, we’ve upcycled a few household items to create a simple, reusable vessel for sorting our critters by color, all while building some fine motor muscles along the way.

Materials we used:

  • Learning Resources In the Garden Critter Counters
  • Learning Resources Gator Grabber Tweezers (from the Helping Hands Fine Motor Tool Set)
  • Small cardboard box with lid
  • Box cutter
  • Hot glue
  • Recycled lids from several baby wipe containers
  • Colored dot stickers
  • Crinkled paper/grass 
  • Optional: Picture books about bugs or insects (examples shared below)

Prep & Set-up:

To begin, I sourced a small, clean cardboard box with a lid from our recycling bin. I also reclaimed four lids from empty baby wipe containers (keeping them attached to their plastic snap base but removing them from the wipes bag). Then, I spaced out the wipe lids on top of the cardboard lid and, after popping the wipe lids open, traced the inside opening, so I would have a guide for cutting appropriately sized holes with my box cutter. After the holes were cut, I used hot glue to carefully affix the wipe lids to the top of the box lid over the holes. 

Once the lids were dry, I added different colored dot stickers (colored construction paper, tape, or paint would work, as well) to the top of each lid to match one color of our Garden Critter Counters. As I only used four lids, I picked four colors of “critter.” I hid a random number of each in a small Tupperware container filled with paper “grass,” so my toddler would be engaged in a simple sensory texture and slightly more challenged to fish them out with her fingers or with the Gator Tweezers. 

Play & Skill-Development:

When my toddler discovered the set-up, I invited her to find the garden critters in the grass and sort them into her “Critter Box” by finding a match (i.e., opening the lid that was the same color as each critter she found and dropping them inside). How she did this and in what order was entirely up to her led to all kinds of conversation! Some children might choose to hunt for all of one color (blue, for example) first, while others might focus on finding all the snails or caterpillars first, etc. 

Our toddler dove right in, choosing a random hunt and sort approach, immediately excited by the task at hand. As she began pulling critters from the grass, she became excited to name them by color and type, comparing one green critter with wings to another with multiple legs. While she explored, I used it as an opportunity to share new vocabulary with her, like “organize,” “sort,” and “classify.” For instance, I said something like, “I see that you sorted all the green bugs and critters into the hole with the green lid, even though they all look a little different. That’s very clever of you to classify them that way!”

As the activity progressed (and she returned to it multiple times throughout the day), she engaged her fine motor skills, strengthened her pincer grasp, and tried her hand at using the tweezers to transfer her critters — all excellent practice for skills like independently zipping up her coat, tying her shoes, and using a pencil to write. She also practiced some social-emotional skills, imagining the critters were making friends and having conversations with each other as she pulled them from the grass! 

Are you looking to adapt or extend your play and learning even further? 

  • Classify, Organize & Count: In addition to color, encourage your toddler or preschooler to sort the garden critters in other ways, including bug/critter type. Together, guess which category has more or less critters. Count them together to see if they guessed correctly.
  • What comes next? Organize critters by alternating colors or types and invite your toddler to extend or complete simple patterns.
  • Memory Game: Create a simple memory game by hiding matching critters under small cups. Take turns hunting for matches, both in color and type.
  • Bookish Play: Complement and extend their learning by pairing this activity with bug/insect-themed books. Some of our favorites include:
    • The Big Book of Bugs (Yuval Zommer) 
    • Some Bugs (Angela DiTerlizzi)
    • Mrs. Peanuckle’s Bug Alphabet (Illus. Jessie Ford)
    • Pairs! In the Garden (Smriti Prasadam-Halls)