In an era of instant gratification, it might seem daunting to find the right gift for a child. You may even be a teacher and looking for the right type of insect or animal to keep in your classroom. Regardless if you are choosing something for your home or your classroom, with young children involved, you must choose something educational as well as amusing so that it can keep them interested, engaged and learning about science and life itself all in one fun package.

A solution to this question is the old-fashioned, but still intriguing, ant farm.

Like other classic toys, such as miniature train sets and sturdy building blocks for younger children, the ant farm enjoys a long history of providing hours of entertainment and education for youngsters. The classic sand-filled ant farm kits are still available and selling nicely, although they sometimes take a back seat to the snazzy gel-filled models that look so glamorous. No matter which style you select, an ant farm can teach children about ecosystems, animal habitats and science in a way that keeps them fascinated.

Ants will keep adults interested as well as children because the ants are quite active: they dig tunnels, build bridges, consume food and liquids, remove waste from their living areas to a spot they designate for trash, and much more. For more information about ant farms in general, ant colonies, ants and their care, read more articles on Ant Farms.

Best Ant Farms for Learning

The best ant farms provide all the tools and accessories you need to create the perfect ant farm that is educational for your kids. Many products include the ant farm and a tunnel starter tool. This tool is an important element as it allows you to poke holes in the gel or the sand to provide a starting spot for the ants. Without this tool, the ants may have a much harder time creating the advanced tunnel system.

Furthermore, the best ant farms provide highly useful manuals or guides written for young pupils, but which are not too simple, so that even older students will be intrigued by ant habits and their colonies. The instruction manual should tell you how to properly set up the ant farm to ensure optimal success and how to care for your ant farm with little problems. You also will no doubt find it helpful if the manufacturer conveniently lists ant facts on its website. Many companies that offer multiple ant farm options, such as Uncle Milton, will provide plenty of useful information on their website for kids of all ages.

It is also good to know what extras come with a product or what additional accessories you can buy if you choose. Many companies allow you to buy refill sand or gel and replacements ants. You may also be able to purchase more accessories, such as a magnifying glass, from the manufacturer. For the gel-filled ant farms, you may even find LED lights are available for the ant farm and viewing the ants, and you may be able to buy a replacement light if the original dies.

Uncle Milton

When it comes to making educational toys, Uncle Milton is an industry veteran known for the play and instructional value of its products, including its popular ant farms. These products range in size and shape so there is something for everyone. For example, the company's Giant Ant Farm is an example of the firm at its best. This ant habitat offers a sizeable viewing area so kids can observe the ants hard at work, dividing tasks, moving about, creating tunnels and maintaining their environment.

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Reusable Ant Farms

Some products can be used again and again. You can simply remove the ants and place fresh sand into the ant habitat and start over as many times as you desire. This is nice for parents as you feel like you actually get your money’s worth and teachers can reuse the same ant farm from one year to the next. Other products, particularly those filled with gel, may not be reused. The Scientific Explorer Ant Lab is one of these such products. You can use it once but it is not recommended to refill it with new gel or ants if you want a successful ant farm.

Scientific Explorer Ant Lab

Scientific Explorer Ant Labs are more than your traditional ant farms. These products are gel-filled, provide several accessories and feature a space-like design. These gel-station ant labs are designed for children ages six and up.

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Best Design and Dimensions

In order to really observe your ant colony at work, it's important to have a clear view of the little critters as they scurry around going about their busy lives. It's also good to have an enclosed habitat for them that is not too big so it will fit nicely onto a desk or shelf, but also is not too small so you can easily see the ants.

You should also carefully examine the overall design of the ant farm. You will find that many products feature your typical rectangle shape farm that you can view tunnels on both sides. However, other products may feature a dome-like shape or even closely resemble an actual ant hill, like products from Insect Lore. Additionally, some of these designs include a few perks, such as lights that illuminate the farm at night. You’ll find these lights on gel-filled ant farms. Some products also have tight, escape-proof lids that prevent ants from escaping out of the farm. However, some of these lids are designed to only keep out certain type of ants.

Insect Lore

Insect Lore provides an ant hill a unique twist. The ant habitats available from this company are not designed as a box that you fill with gel or sand; instead, it is an ant hill, which gives more of the illusion that your ants are in their natural habitat.

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Will Ant Farms Teach My Children Responsibility?

You may be worried about an ant farm and the time and upkeep they require to keep the ants alive. The amount of interaction and responsibility that comes with an ant farm will differ by each model. The sand-filled ant farms – the more traditional ant habitats – will certainly require more interaction and responsibility than a gel-filled station. The sand provides no nutrients or water for the ants so it is crucial that you provide it for them. However, even if you have to feed and water the ants, you will not provide them food every single day. You will give your ants just two or three drops of water as well as small crumbs of fruits, vegetables or even bread every two or three days. Many company websites provide additional information on the care and time it takes to take care of these more traditional ant habitats. The type of ant you place in the ant farm may also have different food and water requirements.

If you choose a gel-filled model, you will have to do very little aside from setting up the ant farm and helping your ants start their tunnels. The gel you place in the habitat provides water and food for the ants so you don’t have to feed them or take care of them. In many ant farms, the gel was created as a joint project with high school students and students at Syracuse University. It was actually used for ants that were aboard NASA’s space shuttle Columbia. The gel-filled stations have become a popular option as it still provides some learning yet little responsibility and typically features a more unique and exciting design.

How Do I Find the Right Ants for the Ant Habitat?

Most products recommend using Harvester Ants in your ant farm. Harvester Ants are ants that gather and store food in a colony. They are also larger than other species of ants so it is harder for them to escape from some ant farm models. Although, if you wish to catch your own ants, look at different models and their instructions as some products say catching your own ants and placing them in the ant farm should not be a problem. If you catch your own ants, it is recommended to place the ants in the refrigerator for a short time before placing them in the ant farm. The cold temperature slows the ants down and makes it easier to place them in the ant habitat without them scurrying away.

Many products include a certificate that you can redeem for a certain number of Harvester Ants, such as 25 or 50, free of charge. For other companies, you may need to find a third-party company that distributes ants and purchase the ants online or by telephone. If you order the ants online, you must expect delays with your shipment. If the weather is either too hot or too cold, the company may delay shipping your product to ensure the ants arrive alive. Many companies provide a guarantee that your ants will arrive on time but you must comply with the possible delayed shipping. You will want to look at all third-party companies and their shipping policies before spending too much money on ants that could arrive dead on your doorstep.

Ant Farms: What to Look For

Ant farms come in handy for teachers when the curriculum calls for studying living things and their habitats. Parents also can make use of an ant farm at home when teachable moments arise and kids ask questions. If the parents are stumped for answers, both they and their children can learn more about ants by reading the written materials that come with the ant farm and just by observing the busy creatures. There are many factors to consider when finding the perfect ant farm for your home or classroom. Here are a few features that you should think about before making your purchase.

Help & Support

As with any product, it is always valuable to have some good support in the event that you have questions. The best companies provide both email and telephone support to reach a support representative. Most products come with instruction manuals that you will want to closely follow to make sure you have a successful ant farm and to prevent ants from escaping. Additionally, the website should be a valuable resource. The best companies allow you to download the user manual directly from the company website and have extensive information on feeding and caring for the ants to ensure your ant colony lives as long as possible.

Youngsters everywhere tend to be fascinated by bugs – even if they say they're grossed out by them – and undoubtedly would get hours of fun from a good quality ant farm. Buying an ant farm might turn out to be just the gift a child you know would find enchanting or an excellent classroom companion – and perhaps you'd like to watch it, too.