When young people first get interested in Natural History their parents and friends can help them develop a worthwhile life-long hobby. Buying an appropriate present at the right time will fuel enthusiasm, but the problem is that it is very difficult to work out what to get a budding naturalist, unless you are one yourself or have a friend who is.
Even in today’s world of instant internet access to information books are important. A field-guide for the topic of interest will rapidly become a treasured possession, notes will be written all over it and with luck it will soon become dog-eared and muddy – this shows you ‘got it right’!
Lenses, live-boxes and microscopes
Encourage the study of animals and plants in their natural habitat. For small things a hand lens will be very welcome, and if there are animals run around a bit then a live-box is a good idea. Robust hand lenses are best, and there are many on the market. Magnification of x10 is typical, but of course it all depends on the actual size of the objects of interest. Good microscopes tend to be rather expensive, and much depends on personal preferences, so the final choice of which one to buy is best left to the individual who will use it. (The same is true for binoculars.)
To avoid the temptation to catch and collect specimens consider buying a camera. Digital cameras are relatively cheap now, and some of the smaller ones are amazingly tough. Many computer programs, and free internet sites, allow images to be stored in albums, and this can rapidly build into a valuable resource.
Maybe the person you are buying for already has all the specialist equipment they need, or you do not feel you have the expertise to make the right decision. If this is the case perhaps you could pay for them to visit a museum, aquarium or sea-life centre – or better still, take them there (this will give them the opportunity to share their enthusiasm with a captive audience!).
Nobody needs three copies of the same book, two identical hand-lenses or half a dozen cameras. It is important to check with other present-givers before you make your purchase. Best of all would be to co-ordinate a number of gifts so they provide a complete ‘kit’. What could be more exciting for a young naturalist than to wake up to find all the equipment you need and the prospect of a trip out to use it?
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