It was a hot, sweltering day. The sun blazed outside and the kids were running in ever decreasing circles around the living room, occasionally pausing to shout at or prod each other. I knew, it was a case of go outside and boil, or stay inside and go crazy. A tough decision to make and I eventually settled on the go outside and boil option. I amassed a rucksack full of spare clothes, sun cream, drinks, sun-hats, snacks and whilst in the process, came up with the idea of going pond dipping. This is basically fishing for mini-beasts, there are many more of them than you'd expect in the shallows of ponds and rivers, and they come in all shapes and sizes
Years ago I helped out at a youth club where they did this activity, and I remembered the kids absolutely loving it - so I decided I'd have a go with my two. It's potentially wet, a bit muddy, involves bugs or maybe tadpoles at the right time of year, and is a great way to introduce kids to the delights of the outdoors. We left the cool of the house and ventured out into the bright sunshine, both kids excitedly waving long sea-side fishing nets about like flags and I lumbered along with the rucksack and a plastic tub or two. As an aside, it's best to use either clear or white tubs so you can see the critters you catch a little easier. If you can arrange for a net each for the kids that saves on arguments too which is another handy tip!
We tumbled up the hill like the rabble that we are, and after 10 minutes we were at the local pond. The real fun started then. Pond dipping is great for little ones as they are almost guaranteed to find something, even if it's only a water snail. The trick is to get the kids to drag the nets right along the bottom, or through the weeds to maximise the 'stuff' that gets caught up and deposited in the pond-water filled tubs. It might initially look like just black gunk, but on closer inspection you can find all sorts of mini-beasts if you're lucky. Remember to sweep the nets in different parts of the pond, that will help them to find a more varied range of bugs too.
My two threw themselves into the activity and nearly threw themselves in the water a few times. I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping kids within grabbing distance if you plan on doing pond dipping, I nearly had heart failure on several occasions. The rucksack had changes of clothes in, but I didn't actually fancy swimming or supervising mine whilst they swam with the tadpoles. No siree!
There were lots of tadpoles too! Tons of them! In fact I did wonder if the entire pond was simply full of tadpoles and nothing else at one point - but after a while we found a little wriggly leech, a water flea and a snail. To be honest, I think the kids would have been satisfied enough just with tadpoles, but it was nice to show them some of the other occupants of the pond too. Can I just stress I did not hold the leech on my hand or on the kid's hands (shudders). They are part of the rich tapestry of nature, but that doesn't mean I want to make friends with them...
Here's a link to a page which describes some of the pondlife you might come across. http://www.naturegrid.org.uk/pondexplorer/pondexplorer.html It's a good idea to print something like this out before you set off so that you have something to refer to. The Water-Boatmen are brilliant little insects, they really do look like they row across the water with their elongated two legs. Another favourite of mine is the Great Diving Beetle, they hurl themselves down to the bottom if disturbed and hide amongst the detritus, diving exactly as the name suggests.
Personally I think it's so important to instill a love of nature in children at a young age. I hate to hear about children pulling the wings from flies, or stamping on ants, or simply picking wild flowers without even thinking about leaving them there for other people to see. Call me a sentimental old fool if you like, but I'm a great believer in treading lightly on the earth. Pond dipping is fun, it helps teach children about nature and encourages a responsible attitude towards even the smallest, wriggliest, buggiest creatures that live in our pond shallows.
With this in mind, I made sure that the kids knew to leave the pond-water tubs in a shaded areas so the water didn't get too warm, and I supervised them carefully while they handled the tadpoles so they weren't dropped or hurt. After we'd finished all the tubs were poured back, so the tad-poles and mini-beasts could carry on with their pondlife.
We had a really lovely afternoon in the great outdoors, got slightly wet and the kids learnt a bit about their environment. If you're ever at a loose end this summer, I'd definitely recommend a trek out with a couple of nets and a tub or two. This is a cost free (unless you count a couple of quid for the nets) fun activity that is great for a sunny day's ambling around in the countryside. Happy pond dipping!