Convincing your kids to put down the iPad when they’re deeply engrossed in Sesame Street or having a Baby Shark sing-along can be a challenge for any parent. Amidst the “just a minute”s or “one more episode”s, you need to come up with a game plan that gets them excited about an adventure they can experience instead of watch. But, how do you put together an outdoor game for your kids they’ll actually enjoy (that doesn’t involve someone opening an egg with a small toy inside)?
Whether there’s snow on the ground or it’s a sunny summer day, we’ve got you covered with this scavenger hunt—it’s the ultimate outdoor activity for kids. So, put them in their best snow suit, or slather them in sunscreen, and follow these steps. It’ll be an outdoor activity day your kids will remember and treasure, long after they’ve headed back indoors.
Set the Stage
Your first challenge? Getting the kids excited. Tell them that they are about to embark on an adventure to explore the world around them, and that if they accomplish their mission of finding everything on the list (we’ll get to that in a second), they’ll receive a surprise for being the ultimate explorer. You can even get them some binoculars, a magnifying glass, or even an explorer costume to get them in the scavenger hunt spirit.
For prizes, we recommend offering them small items that you can get at your local dollar or party store as prizes based on how many things they find. If it’s half of the list, maybe they get a piece of their favorite candy. And if they find it all, have a pizza party to celebrate. You know best what will motivate your little ones.
Lay Out the Rules
Give your kids parameters for the hunt. If you live in the suburbs, stick to your neighborhood. City-dwellers will need to find a nearby park. Then, decide on a timeframe. If you choose 10 items, assume kids will need about an hour, depending on their age and how big of an area they are searching in. For younger kids, stick to your yard or a smaller area, but for older kids you can give them a bit more territory to cover.
Each child should also have a backpack or a plastic bag to collect items in. And parents, this isn’t a solo mission. Accompany your children, talk to them about what they find, and celebrate their wins with them. We can’t think of a better way to bond.
Compile a List
So, now that your kids are excited for their outdoor adventure and know where they will be hunting, choose items from this list that fit your location. Or, make your list specific to town landmarks, memories, or favorite spots. We recommend visiting the area beforehand to make sure your children are set up for success, and the items on your list are actually findable.
Tip: Hand each child a printout with names and small photos so they can identify each item. Or, go big and design a list or map with the items and ground rules in Canva or DesignBold.
Spring isn’t the only season to search for blooming buds. We found varieties for every type of weather, and of course, you may find some that aren’t on this list, which might be a great way to learn about new flowers in your neighborhood.
Winter: Holly bushes, bittersweet
Spring: Crocuses, tulips, daffodils, or pansies
Summer: Daisies, black-eyed susans, or hydrangeas
Fall: Sunflowers, mums
Tip: Fall is a great time to include leaves here, too. Common types include: red maple, sugar maple, birch, and oak. When you print out photos or make your graphic, include some facts about the flowers or leaves you’ve chosen.
- Animals or Insects
Small animals like squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks scurry around all year, just like the Great Wolf Kids. So, keep an eye out for Sammy, Wiley, and Brinley! If your neighborhood has a nature walk, this might be a great place to start.
Winter: Deer, turkey, squirrels, cardinals, or chickadees
Spring: Swans or ducklings, chipmunks, fawns, or butterflies
Summer: Rabbits, blue jays, woodpeckers, bumblebees, or lightning bugs
Fall: Geese migrating south, deer, or lady bugs
Tip: Make sure your child keeps their distance. Sammy the Squirrel loves giving hugs, but other animals won’t be as friendly.
- Other Objects
Depending on the time of year, there are many other things you can have your children hunt for. Here are a few ideas:
Winter: Pinecones, icicles, or pine tree sap
Spring: Budding trees or flowers just about to bloom
Summer: Weeds, like dandelions or clovers
Fall: “Helicopters” from maple trees or a fallen leaf of a certain color
- Add Fun Facts
Try to include a few facts on the list related to the things you’re asking your kids to find. That way, they’re learning and exploring. These are a couple of our favorites:
- Squirrels can jump up to 20 feet high.
- Leaves change color in the fall because of a lack of sunshine and the colder temperatures.
- Some insects go into diapause, or a semi-frozen state, in order to survive winter.
- Sixty million years ago, dinosaurs ate pine cones. Now, they’re a food source for animals like squirrels and woodpeckers.
Sample Winter Scavenger Hunt:
- Spot a deer with antlers.
- Find 2 leaves leftover from fall.
- Collect 3 pinecones.
- Search the tree branches for a woodpecker. Keep your ears open, too!
- Look for a squirrel in the trees. They can jump up to 20 feet high!
- Search for frozen water, whether it’s a puddle or icicle.
Once the hunt is over, talk about what you’ve found, have your children draw pictures of what they saw, and print out some of your best photos from the day to start a scavenger hunt scrapbook. Remind them that the empty pages are to document and remember all the fun outdoor activities you’ll play together. It will definitely be more rewarding than anything they’ll find on a screen.