ladybug on a green leaf

I have a budding naturalist on my hands. No, not a naturist (nudist), although he’s that too; I mean he’s absolutely crazy for creepy-crawlies: bugs, butterflies, caterpillars, crickets, and the like. I love it. It began when we moved back to Massachusetts, and I took him out to the garden, flipped over a rock, and handed him an earthworm. He was hooked.

At 2 and a half, all he wants to do when he goes outside is look for bugs. He picks them up and calls them his wiggly friends. He chats with them and shows them his garden. This is all right up my alley; as a former Audubon kid, it’s important to me that he grow up appreciating and respecting nature, if not loving it. How else am I going to raise the next champion of the green-energy revolution who will, I don’t know, figure out how to power a city with ant farms and support me in my old age?

After his initial intro to our garden creepy-crawlies, things got a little hairier. He began to love crickets — and not the little delicate ones, but the great big Muscle Beach crickets. Fine! Next he started getting into the harder stuff, like earwigs. I’d stifle my gag reflex and retreat to the other end of the garden, in the name of science. But one day I discovered he had an injured cricket and an earwig in the same hand, and the earwig had seized the opportunity to feast. It was like “Gladiator” in there. Then my sweet little boy started tearing armadillo bugs in half, and I had to step in. I hated doing it. His love of discovery is important to me, but so is his respect for life and his fellow creatures. And we’ve been talking about it a lot. Yesterday he found four of them, and I am pleased to say they lived to wiggle another day. It’s a process.

Your backyard is absolutely teeming with life — I guarantee it! But it’s fun to get out and explore other places, too. Here are five spots for your young naturalist to geek out:

The Butterfly Place

This place is incredible. It’s a greenhouse filled with hundreds of butterflies, and you can walk right through. It’s magical, and not just for little kids! There are display cases where you can actually watch butterflies hatching out of chrysalises, and in the gift shop you can purchase a chrysalis to bring home and watch the process with your family, eventually releasing the butterfly into your yard.

Mass Audubon

Whether it’s camp, simply walking through one of the sanctuaries to feed the chickadees, or a special event, Mass Audubon is an incredible resource. And there are sanctuaries all over the state! This Saturday, August 13, as well as Saturday, August 27, visit the Boston Nature Center in Mattapan, where the Boston Area Beekeepers Association is opening their apiary to talk to kids about all things bees. We might see you there!

Halibut Point

Halibut Point used to be a quarry. After walking a beautiful trail that leads right to the ocean, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful, lively tide pools to observe in the crevices of granite rocks. Hermit crabs galore! It’s $5 to park, but many local libraries carry MassParks passes you can check out for the day. (If you visit DCR parks in Massachusetts often, looking into purchasing an annual pass for $60.)

Museum of Science

I mean of COURSE the Museum of Science. Obvi. But get there fast, because now until September 5 they have special exhibits about frogs, spiders, and butterflies. There are also grasshoppers and ant farms and a beehive — we went last Friday and stayed until closing at 9 p.m.

Harvard Museum of Natural History

A gem of a museum, this is one that people often forget about. It has gorgeous, fascinating exhibits, from beautifully intricate glass flowers to an actual beehive that you can observe. Their insect displays are wonderful! It might be hard to imagine a beetle exhibit that could be as beautiful as multi-colored gemstones, but these sure are! Call your local library — a lot of them carry museum passes that you can check out like books.