What do a pencil, an acorn, a dryer sheet and an old sock from your top drawer have in common? Nothing! Which is why they make great items for a scavenger hunt. Scavenger hunts have been utilized since the beginning of time either as a fun game for kids or a break for parents. The idea is simple: Create a list of items, give the list to some kids, and set them loose. But within those rules you can introduce countless variations depending on what the ultimate goal of your scavenger hunt is. Whether the game is meant for exercise, 20 minutes of peace, a learning opportunity, or just plain fun, it’s up to you. Here are 10 of my favorite scavenger hunt ideas for kids.
1. Epic outdoor neighborhood scavenger hunt for kids
The classic hunt. This outdoor scavenger hunt for kids is neighborhood-wide and can include every kid that lives in the predetermined boundaries.
Split the kids into teams and give each team a list of household items. Make sure that the list includes items that every house has or that can be found on the street and then add in some that are a little harder to find. The teams can go to participating houses and ask for only one item per house. This forces the teams to prioritize and be strategic in which order to hit the houses. “Does Mrs. Jensen have duct tape? Or would that be found easier in handy Mr. Connor’s garage?”
You can decide ahead of time if each team gets the same list or different lists, the former creating more of a strategic game, the latter a more energetic competition. Either way, the goal is to be the first team to return with all of their items. For second place, have them race to return all of the items to their proper houses.
2. Less-epic indoor scavenger hunt for kids
This indoor scavenger hunt for kids is great for a rainy day (or perhaps a day stuck in quarantine). This game is more about memory. “Where do we keep paperclips? Which one is mom’s deodorant?” Or, if you prefer something a little more difficult, hide some items around the house for the hunt: “There are 20 Star Wars figures hidden around the house. The first to find 5 of them and return them to me wins. Bonus points if you can tell me the name of each!”
3. Colorful backyard scavenger hunt
This scavenger hunt is great for preschoolers or toddlers who haven’t learned how to read yet. It can be set in any location, but I like it as a backyard scavenger hunt. Have each kid pick a color. Set a timer. The goal is for each kid to find the most items in their color that they can fit in their bag. Whoever has the most, wins! To make this more of a challenge, give all the kids the same color. And if you want to up the difficulty level even more, make this a nature scavenger hunt requiring that each item must be found in nature.
4. Picture scavenger hunt for little ones
Another great one for the younger set is a picture hunt. This one will take some time setting up. Instead of words, draw pictures for the scavenger hunt clues. If you want to make it more difficult, draw a riddle. Instead of drawing a safety pin, draw a safe plus the letter T and then a bowling pin and see if they can get it. Another variation if you are looking for an educational slant: Draw a picture and write the name next to the picture. That way a kid who’s learning to read can see the words as well, helping to create an association in their tiny little brains.
5. The trail
This one is a cooperative group activity that leads to the same goal. They start with a note that has a scavenger hunt clue. Once the group deciphers the clue, it will lead them to another place where there will be another clue, which will then lead to another place, and so on. You can send them far and wide and make the clues as simple or as hard as you like. The final prize is up to you. I don’t recommend vegetables.
6. Online scavenger hunt
As a dad, nothing gets me into “get off my lawn” mode more than someone suggesting a static online game instead of an energetic outside activity. But since the world is upside down and a simple game of tag might now be considered a super-spreader event, we often have no choice but to do scavenger hunts online, just like our friends in the UK are doing online quiz nights. But fear not! It can still be fun.
Set up a Zoom with a handful of kids. You as the game moderator will call out an object, like in BINGO. Then give everyone 30 seconds to run and find the object. Each object found is 1 point, and the kid with the most points wins.
If you don’t want it to be a competition, you can pit the entire group against the game master. Set a goal of 20 points. The game master will call out objects that might be harder to find and if any one kid finds it, the whole group gets a point. If the group gets more than 20 points, the game master is defeated.
Here’s an educational slant: Instead of a specific object, a word could be called out like, say, “tradition.” Then the kids have to find something that represents a tradition that their family holds dear and then each of them can explain what they found. The categories are limitless!
7. Photo scavenger hunt
Do you trust your kids with your iPhone, iPad, or do you have a few disposable cameras at your, well, disposal? However you decide to do it (disposable cameras will extend the game for a few days), give the kids a list of things like a red car, a squirrel, a cool cloud, and then send them out into your (safe) neighborhood to get pictures of these items. Up the challenge by requiring videos instead: “Do the floss in front of Mr. Johnson’s house, pet a dog, get Mr. Johnson to do the floss while you pet a dog.” There are so many possibilities that won’t leave your house littered with random items.
8. Reverse scavenger hunts
There are 2 options for this one:
A. If your kids are budding game masters, let them come up with the list of items and send the adults on the hunt.
B. Pile a bunch of objects on a table, set a timer and have the kids try and put them all back in record time. This is particularly good if your house needs de-cluttering and you’re too tired to do it on your own for the umpteenth time!
9. Construction scavenger hunt
This one will require some forethought and planning. Figure out some items that kids could use to build something. Maybe it’s Legos, maybe it’s cardboard boxes, or maybe it’s precut pieces of wood that will all fit together. No matter how you decide to do it, just make sure that the parts can be put together to make a castle or a haunted house or a fortress of solitude. The end product can then be decorated, creating hours of fun!
10. Halloween scavenger hunt
Since the world is topsy-turvy this year, you might be looking for something to do for Halloween, especially if you are staying home due to COVID-19, with the kids. This is a game we play every year regardless of the quarantine level.
First, come up with a list of items that you might find in a witch’s brew (Eye of Newt, Fang of Vampire, Wrapping from a Mummy, etc.) and then find things around the house to represents these items (Super Ball, fruit roll up, etc.) and put them in bags. Then make two tags for each item, one for the bag and one to put in to the “cauldron.”
After you hide all of the bags, gather the children and tell them that you are making a witch’s brew, which, if done correctly, will give them the best Halloween ever. When all the kids have picked a tag from the cauldron, say, “Find them, my pretties,” in the witch-iest voice you can muster (or “Go” will also do). They will scatter! While the kids are hunting, pour 3 inches of warm water into the cauldron, which can be the largest pot you have in your kitchen.
When a kid returns with their item, they are required to call out the name of the item as they drop it into the cauldron and then stir it up with a witchy spoon or an old witch broom. When all the ingredients are found and added, they will be disappointed because nothing will happen.
But you have a secret. Suddenly you “remember” that there is one more tag, which you pull from your pocket: “Frozen Yeti Saliva.” Then you say, “I happen to have some,” and you go into your freezer where you have placed some dry ice and grab a chunk (wearing gloves!).
Bring it out and drop it into the cauldron as you speak its name and give it a stir. When the fog bubbles over the top, declare, “It’s working!! This will be the best Halloween of our lives,” or the exclamation of your choice. The kids will rejoice! If you hide handfuls of candy to throw in the air to rain down upon them at this moment, that just adds to the magic.
The scavenger hunt options are endless
These are but a few fun ideas. There are countless others and your imagination is the only boundary. Inspiring right? Happy hunting!