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As a child, I loved adventure stories, and in many of my favorite books, the characters were hunting for treasures. A scavenger hunt is a fun game in which everyday items become treasures. Kids are equipped with a list of things to find and set off, either individually or in teams, to accomplish their mission. Younger kids can join in with the help of a parent or an older sibling as long as the environment is safe enough for them.
What is a nature scavenger hunt?
A nature scavenger hunt is a science and nature activity for kids that involves players searching for items found in nature. Depending on the age of the kids playing, the items can either be collected, photographed, or checked off on a printed page or an online app.
You can change the rules to fit the purpose of the game, for example, by imposing a time limit, defining a set area in which to search, or making certain places out of bounds. Nature activities for kids don’t necessarily have to take place in wild outdoor spaces—you can modify the game to make it playable in your yard, neighborhood, or local park.
What can kids learn?
A nature scavenger hunt can be as educational as you make it. Kids have the chance to practice their powers of observation and take note of their surroundings. Older children have the opportunity to learn more about nature, different habitats, and the ecosystem they are a part of. If kids bring a camera, they get to capture images, learning about lighting and basic composition. Some scavenger hunts use downloadable QR codes that direct your kids from point to point until they reach their final destination.
Scavenger hunts also provide children with the opportunity to play cooperatively or competitively. When playing in teams, kids can practice their communication skills as they collaborate with their teammates in the decision-making process. Older children get to supervise and assist, while younger ones get a chance to interact with the “big kids.”
Being outdoors is also great for mental and physical well-being. Depending on where the scavenger hunt takes place, your kids are likely to be running around utilizing their gross and fine motor skills while they search for and collect the items needed. Being in the fresh air and sunshine (or even rain) has a positive and uplifting effect on mood, reminding kids that there is excitement to be found beyond their device screens.
Finally, don’t forget that the scavenger hunt is a game, and the ultimate aim should be to have fun! When children have the chance to interact with nature and spend time outdoors, they are more likely to become adults who value and appreciate the environment.
What can you find in a nature scavenger hunt?
The only limit to what can be found on a nature scavenger hunt is the environment. For preschoolers and kindergarteners, a printed list of scavenger hunt clues for kids—preferably with pictures—of around 10 items is perfect.
You can include items like:
- Animal tracks
- Pinecone or acorn
- Fallen branch
- Two different types of tree
- A smooth stone
- A small animal, for example, squirrel, chipmunk, tortoise, or mouse
You can also leave some space for your child to write down other things they found on their hunt. If you are at the beach, in a forest, or in your backyard, you can modify the list to fit your environment.
Younger children can color in or circle the items on the sheet as they find them. You can assist them in drawing or writing about their other discoveries.
Older children can be given a slightly more complex version of the list above. You can also consider downloading iNaturalist, an app that helps you identify plants, tracks, trees, and animals. It offers an opportunity to learn more about nature, and you contribute to data used by scientists and conservationists.
How to play nature scavenger hunt with kids
Before you let the kids get started with their hunt, there are a few things you need to do. These are:
- Make sure that each child has a list and crayons or pencils.
- Make it clear to all children where they can go and which areas are out of bounds. Be safety-conscious and pair younger kids with siblings or an adult.
- Outline the rules. For competitive play, you may like to set a time limit.
- Dress for success. Comfortable clothes and shoes are a must.
- Have a first aid kit on hand. Make sure that kids with allergies have their medication with them.
Once you have outlined the rules and given each child their list, send them on their way to explore the natural world around them.
What you need for a nature scavenger hunt
While you can set off on a scavenger hunt armed only with your list, there are a number of items that can make the adventure more exciting and interactive.
- A backpack or drawstring bag for equipment, snacks, and a drink
- A magnifying glass with a sturdy frame and non-slip handle
- An insect or butterfly net for catching small butterflies, moths, or insects for a closer look
- A critter cage so that kids can safely observe insects more closely
- Binoculars for bird spotting (and keeping tabs on the competition)
- A compass is not a necessity, but is great for teaching basic navigating skills
- A whistle for safety or in case of emergency
- Nature guides such as Fun with Nature: Take Along Guide (for 4-7-year-olds) and More Fun with Nature (for 8-12-year-olds)
- Firm paper and a soft pencil for making rubbings of leaves, bark, and rocks with interesting textures
- A digital camera can be used for nature scavenger hunts in wilderness areas where nature should not be disturbed. They also allow your kids to document their adventure.
You can also get complete children’s nature explorer kits, such as the Adventure Kidz Outdoor Exploration Kit or the Essenson Outdoor explorer kit & bug catcher kit, which include many of the items mentioned in the list above.
A list of nature scavenger hunt ideas
A Google search will provide you with many downloadable lists for nature scavenger hunts. You can laminate them for future use. You can also add your personal touch to an outdoor scavenger hunt for kids by introducing your own theme.
Some theme ideas are:
- A list of items with certain textures (rough, smooth, metallic, bumpy, lined, fuzzy, hard, or soft)
- How many of each item you can count, for example, how many pink flowers or tall trees.
- Clean-up—for older kids, turn the scavenger hunt into a trash clean-up. Equip them with a trash bag and a pair of gloves and give them a list of trash to collect, such as fast food bags, plastic bottles, balloons, straws, soda cans, and candy wrappers.
- Have your kids hunt for 1 item in each color of the rainbow. This is especially fun in spring or summer, when there are plenty of flowers about.
How to make outdoor scavenger hunt fun
There are many reasons to send your kids on an outdoor scavenger hunt, including exercise and learning more about nature. Kids learn best when having fun, and you can make sure that the adventure doesn’t feel like a chore by turning the hunt into a competition. Kids can either compete against each other, in teams or against the clock.
You can offer small prizes in different categories, like biggest leaf, most colorful bird, or first to finish. For older kids, you can also include something harder to find. Younger kids might enjoy the game more if it contains a tactile element, so be sure to add some items that are textured and safe to touch, like rocks and tree bark. For some extra excitement and inclusion of the whole family, let your kids put their hunting skills to the test by allowing them to create the nature scavenger hunt.
The fun doesn’t have to end when the hunt is over. After all the items have been unearthed or time has run out, talk to your kids about their finds. Questions like, “Which was the most difficult to find?” or “Which did you find first?” will get them talking.
The items collected can be used for nature art projects or displayed for everyone to look at in a nature box or on a table. A nature workbook or journal can be used to press flowers or leaves or make sketches and rubbings.
These are just some of the ways a nature scavenger hunt can turn your kids into adventurers. Happy scavenging!