Finding fun ways to get yourself and the kids outdoors together can be a tricky business. Nevertheless, science and psychology are now showing us more and more that nature-time is all but essential to our kids (and our own) mental & physical well-being. So, what to do?
Enter the nature scavenger hunt!
In this article, we’ll take you through the nuts and bolts of an outdoor scavenger hunt for kids, from the initial prep and planning right down to the itty bitties of ‘treasure’ selection.
Our aim is to introduce you to a safe, fun way, healthy way for you and your kids to get out and enjoy your time together. If you’re new to outside scavenger hunting, we’d recommend giving it a try. Trust us, both your inner child and your actual child(ren) will thank you for it!
- Do a little bit of research to find organized scavenger hunts in your area
- Get other friends and families involved — the more the merrier!
- Be sure to take adequate clothing so the weather doesn’t spoil your fun
- Brainstorm potential themes and tasks to make your ideas more entertaining
- Don’t hold your scavenger hunt where there are too many objective dangers (wildlife, poison ivy, cliffs, etc.)
Table of Contents
- Key Takeaways
- Buy a Ready-Made Scavenger Hunt List
- Make Your Own Scavenger Hunt
- Outdoor Scavenger Hunt Ideas
- Scavenger Hunt List of Nature Ideas
- Collection of Nature Scavenger Hunt Printables
Buy a Ready-Made Scavenger Hunt List
Make Your Own Scavenger Hunt
In terms of fun, making your own nature treasure hunt is second only to planning for a vacation or Christmas (without, gladly, the stress, annoying relatives, and ubiquitous Bing Crosby music!). Planning a scavenger hunt for kids or teens might take some work, sure, but can easily be broken down into stages for simplification and also allows you to customize to the needs and interest of your kid(s).
To help you out, we’ve outlined each of these stages below. If you’re short on time, patience or aren’t too keen on all this planning lark, you can skip ahead to the ready-made, printable scavenger hunt ideas at the end of this article.
Recon Your Hunting Ground
Whether you’re hopping in your car to investigate in person or browsing sites found in a Google search, scoping out your location beforehand is always a good idea for the following reasons:
- To make sure it’s safe for you and your kids
- To check that the items on your hunt list will be discoverable
- To acquaint yourself with the terrain in case anyone (including you!) should get lost
- To check the available facilities
Pro Tip: Age Appropriate
Try to make your hunt as age-appropriate as possible — while our toddlers might be happy enough pottering about in pursuit of a few items in their vicinity, teenagers are likely to want to stretch their legs and have a bit of a challenge.
Choose a Theme
Using themes can really make a difference in maintaining your kids’ interest, particularly by the time you’re onto your sixth or seventh hunt. A list of potential themes is included below.
Make a List
After you’ve done your recon and theme selection, it’s time to choose the items you want on your list. We’ve included a long list of potential items below — the items you choose will vary depending on where you are in the world and the season.
Outdoor Scavenger Hunt Ideas
A variety of themes can spice up your scavenger hunt and help to maintain your kids’ interest. Not only this, a few tweaks and changes will mean the idea of the scavenger hunt never goes stale. Below, we’ve included some of the best:
This will really depend on where you are in the world, but some more obvious examples of items you can use to make it season-specific include:
- Winter: mistletoe, holly leaf, holly berry, a green leaf, an icicle, a frozen puddle or pond, a robin, tracks in snow, snow-laden branches, evergreen plants/trees, woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jay
- Spring: unopened buds, forget-me-nots, snowdrops, melting snow/ice, popped buds, pine warbler, common yellowthroat, pollinating bees, frogs, salamanders, tadpoles
- Summer: edible berries, sunburnt grass, marmot, wild lavender, lizards, flowering lime tree, chicken of the woods, other mushrooms, leaf eaten by caterpillar, bluebells, poppies, cowslips
- Fall/Autumn: chestnuts, sycamore leaves/seeds, red leaves, a bare tree, ripe blackberries, empty seed pod, multicolored leaves, crunchy leaves
Find the Opposites
This is a simple hunt that is ideal for boosting your toddler’s vocab while getting them out and about. A few examples of items to find include: big/small, rough/smooth, tiny/huge, long/short, fast/slow, wet/dry, old/new.
Pro Tip: Laminate Your List
For littlies in particular, printing pictures or drawings of items and then laminating your list is a good idea. Not only does it help them find what they’re looking for, but also makes the list water/chocolate/ice-cream-proof (!) and reusable. Lamination machines are great for many things involving little ones.
This is the most basic and common types. How long, short, difficult or easy your hunt will be will depend on the number of items on your list and also their accessibility and prevalence the hunt location.
Given that this task is a touch trickier than a simple list-based hunt, it’s a great addition to nature scavenger hunts for older kids. A printout of the ‘hunted’ species or a pocketbook guide is highly recommended!
Kids love hearing about cool facts so why not indulge them by being a walking encyclopaedia! Unless you are already well-versed in all things nature, bring along a few pocket guidebooks that relate to the items on your childrens list.
Scavenger Hunt – Tasks
A variety of tasks can be used to make stand-alone scavenger hunts or to spice up standard hunts. A few possibilities include: building a shelter, determining north without a compass, taking rubbings of leaves, and drawing pictures of the hunt. Tasks are ideal if you need a break or simply want to keep everyone in one place.
Send kids out to find various items with names that begin with each letter of the alphabet, going in order from A through Z.
Quite simply give the kids a list of colors and have them find as many items as possible matching each color…easy!
Sensory Scavenger Hunt
As the title suggests, this type of hunt is more experiential in format, revolving around four of the five senses: see, feel, hear, smell. For obvious reasons, the ‘taste’ list is one best saved for well-seasoned hunt veterans! Some sensory ideas are included below.
Scavenger Hunt List of Nature Ideas
Before heading out to your hunt location, do a little bit of research to find out exactly what items you’re likely to find there (and, of course, not find there). Below, we’ve drawn up a collection of items you might want to add to your scavenger hunt list.
- Pine tree
- Seeds or seed pod
- Exposed tree roots
- Dead tree
- Eroded soil
- Smooth/shiny rock
- Rabbit hole
- Dark or light green leaf
- Small pebble
- Insects on a tree
- Deer tracks
- Animal hole in the ground
- Unusual shaped leaf
- Rocks with many colors
- Different shades of green or brown leaves
- Dew on a flower or leaf
- Fungus on a tree
- Knot in a tree
- Poison ivy (be careful!)
- Tree with blossoms
- Hole in a tree
- Animal tracks
- Grain of sand
- Evidence of the presence of animals (tracks, scat, burrowing)
- Evidence of the presence of people (footprints, trash, tire marks)
- Y-shaped twig
- Something spiky
- Pine needles
- Acorn or other nuts
- Wild Flowers
- Docking leaves
- Stream or creek
- Blade of grass
- Clover leaf
- Pond or pool in a creek
- Butterfly or moth
- Bird’s nest
- Leaf with insect holes
- Leaf with insect eggs
Pro Tip: Adhering to LNT
Consider using a camera to take pictures of the items on your lists. Not only does this prove your ‘success’ to other teams, but it lets you collect memories of every kids scavenger hunt while still adhering to the LNT principals.
- Draw a picture of a tree, flower, plant, insect, animal
- Take a leaf rubbing
- Quiz: answer questions about items on your list playing ‘What am I?’ (i.e. “I’m small and shiny. I’m very slow and I live in a shell. My name rhymes with ‘tail’. What am I?”)
- Write a story about your scavenge/hike
- Hang from a branch
- Play ‘Guess the Object’: place 10 or so items in a (non-transparent) bag and have the children identify them by touch alone (we’d recommend excusing the lizards, butterflies, and beetles from participation in this one!)
- Skip a rock on a pond/creek/lake
- Hike to the top of a hill
- Build a bird’s nest
For Older Children
- Start a fire without matches (ideal if you need a break and want to keep them busy for a while!)
- Cook lunch (see above!) without utensils
- Catch a fish/tadpole/fly/butterfly/bee
- Build a shelter
- Find the coin: test map-and-compass skills by hiding a coin or prize somewhere and having teams or individuals navigate to it
- Find edible plants, berries, and nuts
- Animals feeding
- Lightning Bugs
- Reflection in the water
- Trail markers
- Other hikers
- Animal homes or nests
- Something unusual
- Something scary
- Sunlight coming through trees
- Sunrise or sunset
- Squirrel climbing a tree
- Ant carrying something
- Wind blowing leaves
- Fish jumping
- Shooting star
- Clouds passing
- Something funny
- Falling leaf/leaves
- Spider in its web
- Insect trapped in spiderweb
- Stars in the sky
- Prickly plant
- Wet mud
- Rough leaf
- Smooth leaf
- Slimy stone
- Tree bark
- Grass between your toes
- Rotten wood
- Wind blowing on face
- Different rock textures
- Leaves crunching under your feet
- Cricket’s croaking
- Water running in a stream/river
- A stone plopping into water
- A creaking branch/tree
- Wind in the trees
- A bee buzzing
- Birds singing/chirping
- Noises in the woods
- Fresh air
- Cedar tree
- Pine tree
- Spruce or fir tree
- Different leaves
- Wild garlic
- Find different types of rock
- Find different animal tracks
- Find different types of plant, tree, flower, leaf
- Identify different types of bird
Collection of Nature Scavenger Hunt Printables
Just in case all the above planning sounds like too much work, below we’ve included a selection of ready-to-go, pre-made printable scavenger hunt printables for various ages.
Find Items For Younger Children Free Printable
Find Items For Older Children Free Printable
Alphabet For Older Children Free Printable
Senses For Not so Little-uns Free Printable
Feel free to post any of our scavenger hunts on your blog, we only ask that you please link back to this post (not the pdf) when you do!