NEWS
12/03/2016 18:56 EST | Updated 12/04/2017 00:12 EST

The gift of the great outdoors: 6 Christmas presents for the young naturalist

Christmas is creeping up a lot sooner than a lot of people would like. And as the mad rush for gifts gets closer and closer, outdoor fanatic Frank Ritcey has some ideas that might work well under the ol' Christmas tree.

"I'm just one of those kids that never grew out of the enjoyment and the excitement around Christmas — I get really stoked this time of year," he told host Sheryl MacKay on CBC'sNorth by Northwest.

In fact, some of his suggestions are great excuses for some outdoor family fun — and easy on the pocketbook.

1. Some outdoor startup gear

If you're looking to get your youngster acquainted with the wild, they'll need a good field guide and some gear to get them started.

Picking up a simple "book of bugs" can be a great way to get them engaged with wildlife, albeit on a creepy-crawly level.

"Get a small set of Tupperware tight containers — ones with lids you can drill air-holes in for the inevitable collecting that goes on," said Ritcey. "Get them a good handheld magnifying lens so they can look at their finds out in the wild.

"It's a good time to brush up on the ethics of collecting and the importance of caring for other living beings."

2. USB Microscope

But what good are bugs if you can't look at them really, really close up?

USB microscopes can allow you to look at them at a magnification of up to 200 times. Ritcey says they cost around $30.

"They're a really neat gift ... but they do require a bit of patience setting them up."

3. A track-casting kit

Another fun activity can be to look for wildlife tracks — and even take them home.

Track-casting kits allow you to plaster wild animal foot prints, making a permanent record of your find.

Ritcey says you can get them for less than $20 in local stores, or even put one together on your own.

"It never turns out like it looks in the book — but it's fun to go out and do it!"

4. Root viewer plant kit

Ever wonder what roots look like when they grow underground? If so, all you need are some bean seeds, some potting material, and a clear plastic cup to find out.

"Kids really love this project, especially if you get a fast growing plant like a bean — it keeps them interested ... inside of a week, you've got action going on."

He says try growing the beans, popcorn or radishes in a clear container and watch what happens. Just steer-clear of slow-growing varieties.

"I've tried to grow avocados, and I lost interest. They're not fast enough."

5. Survival Kit

Survival kits are for more advanced outdoor enthusiasts, but it's always a good idea to learn about their importance — and make a habit of carrying one every time you venture into the wilderness.

Items will vary from season to season, but there are many that are good to have year round, according to BC Adventure.

  • A map and compass.
  • A large, bright plastic bag will be useful as a shelter, signaling device or in lieu of rain gear.
  • A flashlight with extra batteries.
  • Extra water and food.
  • Extra clothing such as rain gear, a toque and gloves, a sweater and pants.
  • Sun protection such as sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat and long sleeved clothing.
  • A sharp pocket knife.
  • Waterproof matches, a lighter and/or a flint.
  • Candles and fire starter.
  • A first aid kit.
  • A whistle, flares, a tarp.

6. Trail Camera

Trail cameras can be a great way to admire wildlife that tends to hide from you during the day. You can get them at hunting stores or Canadian tire, and set them up overnight on nearby trails.

"Most of them are set up with infrared lights so that they will work at night — you set it up and leave it over a week and come back. It's like Christmas every time you open your trail camera."

With files from CBC's North by Northwest

To listen to the full interview, and learn about some other gift ideas, click on the audio labelled: Frank Ritcey's 12 days of outdoor Christmas.