10 Holiday Gift Ideas for Little Nature Explorers

Gift giving is a great way to encourage outdoor play in little ones this holiday season – and it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to cost a lot of money. A new toy or tool holds interest and excitement; take it outside and it unlocks a whole new world of possibilities.

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With that in mind, here is my list of low-cost gift ideas for the budding nature explorer in your life. Enjoy!

1. Plastic pail & shovel
For digging in the dirt and sand, there’s simply nothing better (except bare hands, of course!). Pails are handy for collecting rocks, shells, small sticks and anything else your little one might dream up. Plus, they’re cheap enough so you can keep one in the backyard and another in the car.

2. Seed packets
Planting is a blast for kids. A friend of mine who actually has a garden (sadly I do not) recommended radish seeds for first timers because kids will see results within a few days. Other kid hits include zinnias, sunflowers, marigolds, cosmos, cherry tomatoes, dill or other herbs and loose-leaf lettuce.

3. Water bottle
A must for hiking and keeping hydrated in warm weather. BPA-free kid-sized versions of adult favorites like Nalgene and Camelbak can be found at big outfitters like REI and Target for $15 or less.

4. Compass
The Big Explorer discovered my dad’s old compass at our cabin in Yosemite when he was three years old. He had no idea how it worked but wore it proudly on all of our adventures. He loves to lead the way “using” his compass. Inexpensive models can be found for $20 or less.

5. Nature journal
A nature journal is a great place for your child to record memories. My 5 year old is just learning to write, so his nature journal is pretty simple. Each page has two headings: “Where I went” and “What I saw.” As he gets older, he may add drawings, pictures, leaf rubbings and such.

We received our journal free as part of a Subway kid’s meal (with thanks to National Geographic Kids). But you can decorate a simple wire-bound notebook for less than $5.

6. Bug container
The Big Explorer’s bug container came with plastic tweezers and a magnifying glass and he uses the set to collect all sorts of outdoor goodies (but not bugs for some reason). The magnifying glass helps him get an up-close view of his treasures and the bin gives him a great place to store them. Bug containers cost $10 or less.

7. Flashlight
Flashlights are great for night hikes and camp outs (and have also helped us out indoors during a power outage!). Keep it fun for the little ones with character flashlights or flashlights that look like lanterns.

8. Magazine subscription
My kids love getting mail. And I love that they’re learning to read and being exposed to the natural world through great publications like the National Wildlife Federation’s “Your Big Backyard,” and National Geographic Kids.

9. Cool weather clothing
Why not give a gift that’ll keep your explorers comfy outside as the weather gets cooler? Think umbrellas, rain boots, hats and rain jackets. Choose a favorite color or theme. The Big Explorer loves “Cars” and is begging for a Cars umbrella. He also loves fire trucks, so a pair of fire truck rain boots or a fireman’s rain jacket might score some serious points.

10. Digital camera
The Big Explorer loves taking pictures (and videos) and even helped create his own Nature ABC Book.

Digital cameras don’t have to be expensive. To keep costs low, recycle an old digital camera another family member is no longer using. Or buy a used one. We purchased an old model on eBay for less than $15. Once we discovered how much my son loved it, we splurged on a “real” kid’s digital camera for his birthday, which ran about $60.

Need a few more ideas? Check out:

How will you be inspiring your explorers this season?

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  1. Anonymous says

    Great ideas! A whistle (for emergency only) and a kid size first aid kit starts them on hiking safety. A pocket sized book of local hikes is another idea and as you finish the hike you can check it off the list and then browse the pages and plan your next hike. And never forget the snack! Make some homemade trail mix ahead of time!

  2. says

    These are great ideas. I was going to get my daughter a camera but I decided to just give her my old digital camera instead. Now I just need to find the battery charger…

  3. says

    Awesome list– the digi cam is on the Christmas list this year. My 2 YO can hold my DSLR and take pics so I&#39;m sure he&#39;ll be able to swing a kid&#39;s version!<br /><br />I never thought of the compass- good one!

  4. says

    Great list! We are putting together a little &quot;naturalist backpack&quot; for our kids this year. I&#39;m thinking compass, binoculars (cheap ones;), magnifying glass, bug box and some laminated cards of Rocky Mountain flowers and mammels.

  5. says

    Michele, books are a great gift, too. Love your suggestion for keeping it affordable.<br /><br />Cat, your son is gonna LOVE his camera! My son would get a kick out of a headlamp. I&#39;ll have to remember that!<br /><br />Norseman, what an outstanding compliment you have paid me! Thanks so much for your kind comment!

  6. says

    Great list. Shhh, my son is getting a camera this Christmas. <br />Those torches that you wear on your head are great for kids too. And if you do have a garden, a few little garden tools are fun too.

  7. says

    Great ideas. My daughter loves borrowing our camera or using her own, too. I also think books are great to inspire outdoor adventures — we buy ours at Friends of the Library bookstores. Super-cheap and it benefits the library.