Warm or cold weather, there's nothing more entertaining for kids than taking part in a scavenger hunt. And they're great activities for babysitters to do with kids and can be fun for birthday parties.
“Scavenger hunts teach children to open their eyes to their environment,” Alyson Schafer, a parenting expert and best-selling author, says. “It helps them learn to be creative thinkers and problem solvers. It develops a sense of curiosity and adventure.”
Scavenger hunts can also be a great way to get your kids away from the TV and moving around, says Len Saunders, a health and fitness expert. But he says parents should keep the hunts age- and skill-level appropriate. “If it is too easy, the kids will lose interest right away, so make sure it is a challenge,” Saunders says. “If it is too hard, they may lose interest, so keep it at a level where they will have some degree of success.”
Younger children should stick to familiar homes or your local park, while older kids may have a larger area, like your town, to roam to find all the clues. Play to your kids' interests and your environment. Set up a hunt for one child or many, but keep in mind that as the group grows, so will the craziness.
Get your creative juices flowing with these eight ideas for out-of-the-box scavenger hunts:
No matter what climate you live in, Schaefer suggests you “take a look around your surroundings and see what your kids could 'hunt' for and collect in a basket. “Outside it might be as simple as a twig, bark, stone, acorn.” Use this hunt as an opportunity to educate the children about their surroundings and instill an appreciation for nature.
This is perfect for the cold weather months when kids can’t be outside playing as much. To organize, Saunders recommends attaching each object with a fitness challenge. “For example, if little Johnny finds a tennis ball -- which is on his list -- he has to read the note attached, which may say, 'perform 10 jumping jacks.'” Before moving on, he has to do those jumping jacks.
“Inside, you can have kids hunt for either household items -- so they learn where the broom goes, and what drawer the tin foil is kept -- or you collect items and hide them like Easter eggs,” Schaefer suggests.
Attach a puzzle piece to each item on your child’s hunt list. This way the fun isn’t over once the pieces are collected. “Children love a theme, so keeping the scavenger hunt simple, yet attractive to them builds more interest,” Saunders says.
Do your kids like pirates? Have them dress up while they hunt for their booty. Or, if they’re into the beach, take them there to find beach-related items, like shells and fossils. Themed scavenger hunts can also be a way of educating your children. “If they love baking, they may love looking for spices in the kitchen cabinets and measuring cups to get the cookie ingredients ready,” Schaefer suggests.
Time to find Easter baskets or Christmas stockings? Give your kids clues on where the Easter Bunny and Jolly Old St. Nick may have hid them. As the kids get older, put them in harder-to-find places.
Video or Photo Hunt
Teenagers can be turned loose with their smart phones or a digital cameras to capture moments on video or in still photos, rather than collecting items. Have them find a statue to pose with or play a silly game, like duck, duck, goose in a public park, then laugh at the videotaped results.
As parents, you’ve probably been to a favorite museum dozens of times and know it like the back of your hand. Tap into that knowledge and make a list of exhibits kids must visit to check off their list. This can be more general for young kids (find the T-Rex skeleton!) or specific for older kids (find a painting done in the impressionist style.) It’ll also get you out of the house on a bad weather day.
Now that you’ve got an idea of the type of hunt you’ll stage, don’t let the creativity stop. Whether kids are checking things off a list or going from one clue to the next, clues can include instructions on how kids must navigate to the next clue. Get creative by telling them they need to hop to the next clue or maybe crab walk.
Keep your audience in mind, too. Young kids, for instance, may need picture clues. Older kids can tackle a longer list and clues should be vague and require a little decoding.
Scavenger hunts can be a great way to entertain your kids, no matter their age or the size of the group you’re hosting. Go crazy with the planning and hunting, and you’ll have as much fun as them.
Share your scavenger hunt ideas in the comments section below.
Elizabeth SanFilippo is a freelance writer and mom, who lives in Chicago.