Weekends, spring breaks and summers are all times when kids should be footloose and fancy-free. Liberated from schoolwork, they have the option to entertain themselves any way they want. However, the days quickly descend into "Mom, I'm bored." For days like that, try a boredom-busting trip to the park. Better yet, make it a scavenger hunt trip to a park with wildlife habitats, plant life and nature to track down.
Setting Up the Scavenger Hunt
Let the kids invite their friends and put them into teams of two or more. Pass out scavenger hunt lists or lists of clues that need solving to discover the items they're seeking. Teams have an hour and a half to find as many items on their list as possible. To add interest, give each team a couple of disposable cameras or a digital or cell phone camera. The teams must produce photographic evidence of what they found, which they share at the end of the scavenger hunt (or after the film is developed).
3- to 5-year-olds
Scavenger hunt lists for young children have simple word or picture clues and include items that are easy to find. Three- to 5-year-olds require adult supervision — and a little adult help if they get frustrated. List items might include squirrels, generic butterflies and birds, plant life such as generic trees, leaves or flowers and other items found in nature (such as rocks, twigs, water, mud and feathers). Put a star or sticker on the list next to found items.
6- to 11-year-olds
Scavenger hunt lists for 6- to 11-year-olds can include harder-to-find items and clues. This age group should be required to look up and down, not just at eye level. Have them make drawings of the animals they find or make rubbings of inanimate objects with paper and crayons to match the colors of the items. Items to be found might include multicolored rocks; specific types of trees or leaves; specific-colored flowers, birds or butterflies; animal footprints; things in nature that begin with the first letter of their name.
12 Years and Older
Provide this group a more extensive list of items or clues. This group should look for animal evidence such as footprints, burrows or animal scat. They should provide photographic evidence of such concepts as babies/parents; predators/prey, nests and other homes; workers (such as bees); and camouflage. Plants and animals that may be more difficult to spot include alligators, frogs, deer, Spanish moss, fungi and acorns.
Remind kids not to stray from the paths, especially if snakes and alligators reside in the park. Children should not tease, antagonize or feed animals. They should know what poison ivy looks like and steer clear of it. Everything in most parks is either protected or are part of the park's life cycle and should not be picked up or removed from the park with the exception of trash, which should be deposited in the nearest trash receptacle.
Joan Whetzel has been writing professionally since 1998. She has written juvenile nonfiction, movie and television scripts and adult nonfiction. Her juvenile nonfiction has appeared in such magazines as "Tech Directions," "Connect" and "Class Act." She was part of the production team that produced the documentary "Fuel for Thought" on Houston PBS. She has also written articles for Katy Magazine Online.