Scavenger Hunt In The Woods

I’ve been wanting to plan a scavenger hunt for years!  It seems like the coolest way to keep kids entertained, spend time in nature, and host an outdoor themed party or activity. After hosting my son’s 10th birthday party and organizing a great scavenger hunt over the weekend, I realized that until you put your own special touch into the hunt, it becomes easier and fun to plan. I’m going to give you a cheat sheet so that you can organize a fun scavenger hunt quickly – even make it a fun weekend activity for the family. I discovered that scavenger hunts are a special way to unite older kids with nature and that is so important in this world where our kids seem too busy with sports and electronics to properly engage.

You first need to ask yourself, “what is your goal with the scavenger hunt?”  I wanted my son’s friends to be able to run free, climb, make noise, engage and learn during the scavenger hunt. When kids are enjoying themselves and have the opportunity to learn something, especially facts about nature, I think it’s magical. So my first task was to find a place that met the criteria for this scavenger hunt. My entire family went and walked through a park with old growth trees, lots of ponds and streams, an easy trail, and not super busy so that the hunt would be relatively un-interrupted. While we were walking through the trail where the hunt would be setup, I tried to find subtle things in nature that you would only notice if you were searching. .  . a field of baby ferns (snap – took a picture), a tree in the shape of a √ mark, a tree that looked like it had a face, a pipe sticking out of the earth, a distinctive toadstool, etc. Each mark along the forest I took pictures…more to remind myself of these clues once I got home.  Later these pictures would be printed and were the bonus items for the kids to ‘seek’ in the scavenger hunt.

So now I had a place where kids could explore water, climb, and run free. . . but I also know my audience and knew that might not be enough. If there’s one thing I’ve learned raising boys, a physical challenge or activity is always a great idea. I only did three of these activities, but wish I had done a couple more. They were by far the highlight for me to watch and the kids to complete.  I ripped up a sheet and a bolt of fabric and made fabric strips. These were used to mark the trees which look amazing in the forest! The fabric markers are great for the environment because they don’t cause damage to the trees and can easily be removed after the hunt is over. Each team was told to look for a different color of fabric so they didn’t mix-up their tasks. Here is how the fabric markers looked – I added a heart graphic because I love them.

When team 2 saw these green tree markers they knew a clue was nearby. At the base of three trees there were clues to:

1) Pickup a stack of burlap sacks under the clue, nominate 3 kids (there were 3 sacks) and these kids had to jump along the forest in the burlap sack until they reached the next clue. Watching the kids jump along the forest floor in their sacks was pretty awesome and a very popular activity!

2) At the next fabric marker, I left a tape measure under the clue card and the team had to measure the width of the tree and record the measurement in cm and inches.

3) The last marker was next to a creek with a fallen log. The team had to cross the log and if the person got even a drop of water on them…another team member had to complete the challenge. This was a big highlight too!

A few other ideas that would be great scavenger hunt activities are: have the team complete a leaf rubbing, measure an old growth tree with their bodies and count how many kids it takes to measure the tree, and/or remove the tree marker and select two kids to have a three-legged race to the next tree marker.  Here is a picture of some burlap sack racing along the forest from my son’s party:

 While each team was walking through the forest they had a book to record 4 sets of criteria: seek, find, listen, collect. It kept them busy and each team member kept passing around the check list of items to be searching for – great team work. Here are a few samples of my favorite from each category:

Seek!  It’s important to tell kids that items to seek should not be touched or removed from the forest.

◊ animal tracks – what animal was it?  ________________

◊ something faster than a snail

◊ poo – doesn’t matter what kind.  (lots of laughter finding this one)

◊ item that begins with the first letter of the birthday child’s name

◊ a nurse log

◊ an old growth tree (takes at least three kids to wrap their arms around)

Find!  These items were placed in a cloth bag and they are okay to be removed from the forest because they are no longer alive:

◊ fern

◊ bark

◊ a heart shaped rock

◊ a rock the size of the birthday boy’s hand

◊ feather

◊ a river rock (smooth)

Listen! At different intervals while we would stop and listen. When all the group members stopped talking we’d hear lots of noises that otherwise would have missed:

◊ a bird song

◊ running water

◊ people talking

◊ leaves crunching

◊ cards driving

◊ frogs

◊ crickets

Collecting!  This was my favorite because each group was given a plastic bag and items that shouldn’t be in nature were to be placed inside. Basically these kids were cleaning up the litter from the forest during this portion of the hunt! Teams could list out each item they collected and then add why it didn’t belong in nature in their book, but we just discussed it every time something was found..rather than writing it down.

The last portion of the hunt I completed with my team at the 1/2 way mark. The planning of this Q&A portion of the scavenger hunt was so much fun for me because I called my local Parks Board and asked for their help. I wanted a ‘fun facts’ section of the scavenger hunt that would be interesting for the kids and also teach them awesome forest facts!  I thought it was important to call my local parks board rather than just using Google so that the information would be related to the forest they were searching.  Here are a sample of the questions and answers – aren’t they interesting?

1) What animal in the forest is known for their ‘super glue’? (Answer: if you run your finger along a slug, wave it in the air so the slime gets tacky, then put your finger against a rock, it will stick to the glue.  Try it but be gentle to the slug!)

2) Name three tree types in the park.

3) How many mosquitoes can a bat eat in 1 hour a) 30 b) 200 or c) 600.  The answer is 600.

4) Eagles use the same nest ever year – they just keep adding to it. At the end of their life, would the nest weight as much as a car? Circle Y or N.  (The answer is Yes)

5) True or False. A strand of spider web is stronger than an equal thickness strand of steel. (Answer is True).

I remembered the first fact about the slug after a forest tour we did years ago.  The rest came from a very stunned forest guide that had a crazed mother calling him on a Friday afternoon asking for help with her scavenger hunt. <grin>  You gotta use facts that are interesting for kids and I thought these were great!

At the end of the scavenger hunt we probably could have tallied up the sheets, plastic collected, and questions answered but I didn’t. The boys had a great time, I loved watching them, and since we were at a park, the boys ate sandwiches and then played outdoor hockey and soccer before going home. Lots of fresh air, teamwork, and fun.  The loot bags contained wooden decoders so the adventure inspired fun could continue after the party guests went home!  I hope these steps give you a general guide of how to create a really fun scavenger hunt, but the most important part is to personalize it yourself!



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4 Responses to Scavenger Hunt In The Woods

  1. Tiffany May 1, 2012 at 5:08 am #

    This sounds like the most amazing party ever! ! Nice work! !


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