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Kids Outdoor Scavenger Hunt Ideas

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr, studioD

A scavenger hunt is a creative way to keep a group of kids busy for an hour or more. Today, inexpensive digital cameras and camera phones are common, so kids can take pictures of items instead of dragging all their treasures home. Digital photo hunts also let you include items that are too large for the kids to move or items that they might take without permission. Alternatively, they can bring back their treasures to see who found the most listed items the fastest.

Themed Hunts

Many scavenger hunts begin with a theme, such as autumn leaves or traffic signs. Kids can begin with a specific list, such as a white rock, a red oak leaf or a dropped dogwood flower petal, or a generic list, such as a discarded water bottle, something blue and a car. Your list needs to be simple for young children, such as a flower or leaf, and more complex for older children, perhaps specifying a clover flower or a magnolia leaf. You can include pictures of specific types of plants or flowers so children unfamiliar with the species can easily discern if they have the correct item or to help children who are too young to read. Young children can either bring in the items or have you take pictures of the items to make collecting the items easy.

Clue Hunts

Clued hunts are for children at least 8 years old and help improve problem solving skills and the ability to follow instructions. Your clues point to locations and what item to locate, such as, “Children have a swinging good time here. Look up to see red waving in the breeze.” This clue could lead to park swings where you taped a red ribbon on the next clue. Instead of an item at each location, your clues can lead from one location to another, with a prize at the final destination. You need to prepare clues and have them planted before you start the children on their hunt.

Mapped Hunts

Like a treasure map, a mapped scavenger hunt begins with a map and descriptions of various locations the hunters need to find. You could send them to a empty flower pot in the garden to locate a trowel for digging and over to a fence post where you hung a bucket they'll need to use to bring the final item home. This type of hunt is for elementary-aged kids who can problem solve, read a map and follow instructions. Preparation includes making your maps, planting clues and placing items they must collect.

Answer Hunts

No cameras or containers are needed for answer hunts, although cameras can verify the children located the items in the questions. The kids are seeking answers to questions, not specific items. Questions can include, “What year was the park statue dedicated?” or "What safety rule is posted near the swings?" You need to have definite answers that don’t change, rather than “How many people were sitting on the park bench waiting for the bus?” Kids can write the answers on their list page or you can verify the answers as you accompany the group on the hunt.

Additional Considerations

You, or another responsible person, need to accompany the kids on their hunt to maintain safety. This is especially true for young children and when the kids leave your property. If they borrow something, they need to ask permission and return it after the hunt or take a picture to verify the find. Designate a photographer if the kids use a camera, or have the children take turns with the camera. Set a time limit and ensure that someone is designated to keep an eye on the time.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

Photo Credits

  • Nick Daly/Photodisc/Getty Images