Kids need adventures, but not every outdoor adventure needs to be deep in the woods, on a mountainside, or next to a river. While those types of adventures are great, adventures can also be found in your own backyard or while exploring your street. We realize that not everyone has easy access to trout streams or acres of wooded areas, but that doesn’t mean that kids can’t observe and connect with the nature that’s around them, wherever they may be. And as much as I love unstructured imagination play, sometimes kids (especially young ones) need a little encouragement to connect with nature and explore – they need some (loosely) structured activity to get them engaged. One of my favorite ways to get my kids to be more observant of their surroundings, particularly on days when we can’t leave the city, is to send them on a neighborhood scavenger hunt.
Neighborhood scavenger hunt
A few years ago I developed this fun Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt printable for my son. He was 2 years-old when our daughter was born and those first few months having a newborn and a wild toddler were hard. They were both happiest when we were outside, so we took a LOT of walks around the neighborhood. Eventually that started to get really boring for him, so I put together a scavenger hunt to make going on a short walk down our street fun and interesting for him. Nearly three years later, we’re still using this exact same scavenger hunt to explore our neighborhood, the surrounding streets and local parks.
Easy to find items
The items on our scavenger hunt are all things a kid should be able to find in any suburban neighborhood or park (with a little help from an adult if your kids are small). Our scavenger hunt contains a mix of natural items (butterfly, spider web, pinecones) with a number of “neighborhood” items (stop sign, truck, bricks), which makes it versatile for a variety of areas. If you’re in a super urban big city, start at home and play while going to a local park. There are 48 items on the list, both with pictures and words (for kids too young to read), which means 4 pages of fun. My kids have never really had the time (or attention span) to find all the items at once. Sometimes we try to find the things on one page together as a team. Sometimes we only find a few items on each page. And sometimes we get completely distracted and end up doing something else entirely…that’s fine too! This is just a starting point to get them outside and exploring, which is really the important part of this activity.
Never the same game
The great thing about this scavenger hunt is that it works well in the city, the suburbs and in parks (even small ones). It’s a great outdoor activity for all you parents that mentioned that you’re not super “outdoorsy” but want ideas for getting your kids outside. Plus, this is something your kids can play multiple times and never have the same experience twice – it’s always changing. Even though the items you have to find remain constant and your street probably doesn’t change dramatically, nature and your surroundings change with the seasons and the places you find flowers or bugs during the spring will not be the same places you find those items in the fall.
Some of the items in the scavenger hunt are harder to find during certain seasons. If we do the scavenger hunt during the winter, we don’t find any dandelions, pink flowers or butterflies. But that really doesn’t really seem to bother my kids at all. It’s more about the exploring and the adventure of the hunt that makes it fun for them. Kids like doing things they’ve done before, so once you do this scavenger hunt with them, they’ll love doing the same familiar activity in a new location or during a new season. It also grows with your kids and can be used for many ages – toddlers and preschoolers will need some guidance and coaching from parents, but school-aged kids will love leading the exploration on their own.
Watch and observe your kids
While the kids love hunting for the items on the list, I love watching them and observing how they play the game. What surprised me most was that some of the items on the scavenger hunt that were easy for the kids to find were less fun for them. While I thought they might really enjoy checking some easy items off their list right away, finding rocks or sticks or leaves was so easy for them that it wasn’t as exciting as finding something that we had to really hunt for. Even at 2 years-old, my son spent a lot of time digging in the flower bed in February for a roly-poly. We also sat at the end of our street for a good 10 minutes watching cars drive by and waiting for a red truck. We never found either one, but he didn’t mind. This showed incredible patience and determination from him that completely impressed me and in the meantime we spent that time talking and connecting and being a part of something fun together.
Four pages of fun
The printable contains 4 pages of items to find, ranging from squirrel sightings to stop signs and bird nests. Depending on how ambitious you want to be, your kid can do all four pages or you can split them up into multiple hunts. If you have multiple kids, you can give them all the same pages or divide them up so they each kid has their own items to find. I recommend you give them each a marker to cross off the items they find, which gives them a huge sense of accomplishment. (Who doesn’t love checking something off their to-do list!) If you’ve got competitive kids, turn it into a game with a prize (first person to find all the items on their page wins) or just go out and see how many items you can find together as a team effort. There are so many different ways to play and you can mix it up each time.
Download our free printable
Here’s the link to the free downloadable printable Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt. We hope that you love it and get as much use out of it as we do. This is a (at least) once-a-month activity around our house and is perfect for killing that hour of time after work and before dinner prep begins. It encourages kids to get outside to explore, be observant of their surroundings, appreciate nature. Hopefully you can play this with your kids and use it as a starting point to explore your everyday areas and get them to see their outside surroundings in a new way.