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DIY Kids: Make Your Own Critter Keeper
Frogs, crickets, and caterpillars, oh my! Spend quality time with your kids and your creepy-crawly visitors this summer by working together to craft this DIY critter keeper.
‘Tis the season when all the creepy, crawly, and buzzy things are waking up and starting to stir. The same goes for my kids: They are itching to get outside and explore. That’s why we just made some critter keepers (or “creature keepers”) at our house, so the girls can observe the grasshoppers, frogs, worms, crickets, and fireflies that patrol our ‘hood this time of year. It’s a simple project you can do together that will acquaint your kids with some basic woodworking tools—and you’ll have fun all summer long watching the wildlife they capture.
SKILL LEVEL: EASY
This project is appropriate for kids of all ages, but best for 3 years old and up. The younger kids can help you hold the drill and stapler, and might be able to do the hammering themselves, though you’ll probably need to get the nails started. Kids as old as 8 or 9 might be able to do most of it on their own. Use your judgment and have fun.
TOOLS AND MATERIALS
– 18 inches of 1″ x 5″ lumber
– Window screen material (a 9” x 15” piece)
– Rope (24” long)
– Velcro with adhesive backing, either on a roll or already cut into strips
– Saw (or have your hardware store cut the wood for you)
– 6 nails (1 1/2″ long)
– Wood glue
– Staple gun and staples
– 9” x 12” piece of felt, or 3/4″ ribbon for trim
– Safety glasses
The cost for materials on this project is minimal. The most expensive thing here—if you don’t already have it—is the window screen. But my general advice for kids’ projects is to not buy something when you already have another material that will work. And, fortunately, many of these pieces have room for substitution! Check them out:
• Lumber: A 1″ x 5″ runs approximately $7 for 8 feet. The project requires only 18 inches of total wood length, so you can even use scraps. If what you have on hand is a different dimension, just adjust the sizes of the rest of the materials to fit. Otherwise, remember: 8 feet of pine is enough to make four or five critter keepers!
• Window screen: A 4-foot roll costs approximately $10—you can even order it on Amazon!—but you need only a 9” x 15” piece. If you have some left over from a repair, use that; cuts from a broken screen somewhere will also do the trick.
• Rope: I used an old jump rope we had lying around, but clothesline or heavy twine would also do. You could even braid several strands of yarn together to make a handle. Don’t buy rope unless you really have NOTHING else in your house that will work.
• Nails: I used what I had in the house, but if you need to buy a dozen small nails, it shouldn’t cost you more than $2. You could also use screws, if you have them.
• Wood Glue: Don’t have it? Don’t sweat it. It’s not totally necessary for joining the wood on a project like this, and you can use white glue to adhere the trim.
• Staples and staple gun: Alternatively, you could use thumbtacks, which are cheap and often on hand. If you use the colorful ones and do a neat job, you might not even need trim.
• Felt or ribbon trim: These will cost you less than $2 at the craft store—but really, you can use any craft supply to add color to the edges.
First, always wear your safety glasses—both of you! Set a good example for your kids. Cut three pieces out of the 1″ x 5″ board: one piece 9 inches long (for the base), and two pieces 4 1/2 inches long each (for the sides). If you don’t have a saw at home, you can ask the local hardware store where you’re buying the wood to cut it for you.
Then, drill a hole for the rope handle, one hole centered at one end of each of the 4 1/2-inch-long pieces, about 1 inch from the top. (Choose a bit that will make a tight fit with your rope—that way, sneaky, flat creatures like millipedes will not squeeze their way out before you’re done observing them!) Sand any rough edges smooth.
Start to piece the wood together to make a box frame. You’ll make two butt joints, standing both shorter pieces on top of the longer piece and eventually nailing through the bottom piece. Check the sides first; the holes you drilled for the handle belong at the top. If all looks good, adhere the pieces together with wood glue (if you have it), then secure with three nails through the bottom piece on each side.
Insert one end of the rope into one hole, from the outside through to the inside, and make a knot. Repeat on the other side to finish the handle.
Cut a piece of window screen that measures 9″ x 15″. Then, cut three pieces of Velcro: one 9-inch piece and two 4 1/2-inch pieces. These will go on the front of your keeper to allow you to open and peel back the screen to let in or set loose the day’s critters! Peel the backing off, and stick the prickly side of the Velcro to the edges on one side of the box; do the same with the fuzzy side of the Velcro along the 9-inch end of the screen.
Press the screen to the front of the box using the Velcro you just attached. Then, fold the rest of the screen—the part that doesn’t have any sort of adhesive—over the top and behind the box. Staple (or tack) it to the rest of the box edges. If you’re stapling, tap the staples in with a hammer at the end to make sure they’re flush and secure.
Finish off your project by gluing 3/4-inch-wide felt strips or ribbon along the edges of the box. They’ll not only hide the staples that hold the screen, but they’ll also personalize each observation unit. Now, send the kids outside to dig up some worms or catch a toad! They’ll gush with excitement to watch their captive creatures—and you’re sure to enjoy watching your kids.