Exploring Bugs: Lay a Sheet and Shake a Tree

Investigating Insects

Yesterday, my family and I were playing in the backyard when Miss Platypus, one of my 1.5 year old twins, spied a creature on a tree. She turned to me, pointed her finger and boldly said, ‘spider!’

I was so proud.bug activityThat was the moment I decided the twins were ready to join in with their big sister on more complex wildlife activities.

The twins are still only toddlers, so we have been encouraging wildlife appreciation through singing nursery rhymeswildlife songs and encouraging pet love with a gentle hand. But it was time to introduce them to some other little creepy crawlies. Miss Possum came along for the ride too, because this activity really has no age limit.

So, here’s what we did.

I grabbed a sheet from inside (white is the best, but any light coloured sheet would work).

I lay it under the tree (we used a lilly pilly tree) and spread the sheet out.

Then, we shook the tree and the branches. We had to give it a good vigorous shake.


The bug search began

Here’s what we found.

Wildlife exploration

Stink Bug

Spider fun

spider activity for kids (2)

finding bugs

animal activites toddlers


collecting insects

There were many bugs that were too small for my camera’s photographic abilities. Make sure you have a magnifying glass with you.

We found seven different species of bug, plus three arachnids.

I knew the lilly pilly tree would be perfect for this activity because we’ve searched for bugs on that tree before. It’s obvious I don’t use pesticides because the leaves are very bug-eaten. The tree grows perfectly fine with all the insects on it, and with the amount of spiders we found on the sheet under the tree, I’m fairly certain they are keeping the bug population under control. I love scouring trees for bugs and spiders.

I let the girls have a bug on their clothes. They spent ten minutes perplexed, interacting with the little creature. It was delightful to watch. Miss Possum called hers Beadie.

insect fun

bug activity

The twins (and Miss Possum) enjoyed this activity so much, yet it was one of the easiest activities to organise. It took 2 minutes to grab a sheet, lay it under a tree and shake it, but our whole afternoon was filled with bug investigation. We will definitely be doing this activity again!

Follow-on ideas for older children

– Explain predator-prey relationships. Why are there bugs and why are there spiders? What roles do they play in their tree environment?

– Do an experiment. Try putting the sheet under different types of trees. Score how many animals you get from each tree. Think about why one tree may have more bugs than another. E.g. We put a sheet under a golden cane palm tree and received one bug.  We thought it might be because lilly pillies are native to Australia and golden canes are not, therefore Australian bugs haven’t adapted to eating golden cane palms.

– Look closer. After your sheet search, look closer at the tree. Are there any animals that didn’t fall onto the sheet? Why didn’t they fall but others did?

– Study a local wildlife field guide.  If you’d like to learn more about the creatures you find, why not refer to a reference book. You can buy them at your local bookshop or borrow them from the library.


There were a lot of spiders during this experiment; this activity should be fully supervised. I watched my girls very closely to ensure they didn’t touch spiders or bugs I knew weren’t very safe.

Have you and your children ever hunted for bugs?

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  1. says

    This is a wonderful post. You might consider sending it to Let Children Play (Megan Rosker). She loves to re-post children playing outside type posts. Love it that you are exposing your children to our great outdoors.

    • pawhitehouse says

      Thanks for your lovely comment Susan. I will see if Megan is interested in re-posting it. My girls love the outdoors, especially if bugs are involved!

    • pawhitehouse says

      I love that this activity took me two minutes! Usually my wildlife activities can take quite a bit to plan. Thank goodness for pesticide free trees!

    • pawhitehouse says

      Thanks Kelly. I’m glad you liked it. It’s so simple, that’s what I love about it. Grab a sheet and shake a tree!

  2. says

    I want to come play at your house! :) Great idea! We spend a lot of time in the park across the street from our home and have seen all kinds of creatures great and small!!Our favorite finds are mostly birds, but we have seen our fair share of spider and other creepy crawlies. :) Thanks for sharing this idea!

    • pawhitehouse says

      You’re welcome Stephanie! You can come over anytime. Our backyard is quite small but luckily that doesn’t matter to bugs. They are everywhere!

  3. says

    What a different idea!
    We’ll be trying this… although I’m a little worried because everything seems to grow just a little bit bigger up here…
    I’ll be sharing this one on my fbk page :)

    • pawhitehouse says

      You may have a python falling from the tree. That wouldn’t be great would it. lol You might want to check the tree before you shake it just in case!


  1. […] Lay a Sheet and Shake a tree really is just that. An activity that takes two minutes to prepare and will fill your whole afternoon with bug discovery. […]

  2. […] LAY A SHEET AND SHAKE A TREE ::: Wildlife Fun 4 Kids Filed Under: Backyard Tagged With: crafting connection, digging, seasonal wisdom, September 24 2012 Issue, Wildlife Fun 4 Kids […]

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