Nature Scavenger Hunts for Kids
Nature scavenger hunts for kids are an easy way to get your family outside and enjoying nature wherever you are. Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite activities to plan, and have been for a long long time. At its core, a scavenger hunt is simply a game in which the players search for specific items. But, while the game aspect keeps participants engaged and having fun, the designer can layer in meaning in surprising ways. For a nature scavenger hunt, this means that while kids are immersed in looking for the next item on the list, they can also be gaining a deeper awareness of place, building stronger connections to the natural world, opening up their senses to the world around them, and maybe even practice applying some new math vocabulary.
Whether you prefer to make your own, download and print one designed by someone else, or even use a nature scavenger hunt app, the most important thing is to have fun with your family outdoors. One of the best parts of being outside with your kiddos, whether at a national park or in your own backyard, is having the opportunity to be in the moment and to see each new discovery through their eyes.
There are lots of ideas in this post, so feel free to use the following links if you prefer to skip around.
Make a Nature Scavenger Hunt
“Look deep into nature, and then you’ll understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein
Making your own scavenger hunt is an easy way to create an experience customized for your family. Special touches can turn a simple game into an opportunity for meaningful engagement with the natural world. Some of the most popular nature scavenger hunt formats are:
Check a box once you’ve matched a word or image with a specific object, plant, or animal in nature.
Draw and Describe:
Draw a picture or using words to describe something in nature that matches a given description. These games are more open ended, allowing the match to be open to a child’s interpretation.
Children collect objects, plants, or animals that match a given image or description. Creativity extends to how items are collected. Popular ideas include paper bags, egg cartons, and muffin tins.
Challenge-based team scavenger hunts can lead to plenty of opportunities for memory-making. From balancing stones to dancing in the rain, you can make these as serious or as silly as you’d like. Split into teams and take photos along the way as proof. The fun continues at the end of the hunt when you’ll share stories and laughs while going over each team’s photos.
Design with the Kids:
Ask your kids what they hope to find outside and make your scavenger hunt collaboratively. Participating in planning will build their excitement about what they might see, and offer some surprising insights into what they are curious about finding outdoors.
No printer at home?
Scavenger hunts can be as simple or as complex as you’d like them to be. Draw a simple bingo grid with descriptions or just download a list on your phone and read off the items as you go. Whatever you need to do to get out the door and focus on spending quality time in nature with your kids will work just fine.
There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.” – Walt Streightiff
Tip: Make a simple outing into an adventure by bringing along some nature discovery tools like a magnifying glass, a journal, and some colored pencils. This photo was taken just before we were going on a walk along what is basically an urban bike trail!
Nature Scavenger Hunts for Kids
The following is a roundup of some of my favorite nature scavenger hunts from around the web. They each direct children’s attention to different aspects of nature, and in doing so, they extend the game into hands on experiences that teach about shape, color, senses, seasons, and more. You can simply print and take any of these outside or use them as inspiration for making your own.
Find all the colors of the rainbow in nature. Just talking about finding natural objects that match the colors of the rainbow can keep my boys engaged in one of our usual walks around the neighborhood. Love this simple but creative idea for a colorful collector scavenger hunt by I Heart Crafty Things.
Click through to the post here: https://iheartcraftythings.com/simple-color-scavenger-hunt-kids.html
Written by pediatric therapists, The Inspired Treehouse’s sensory motor scavenger hunt moves the idea of a traditional scavenger hunt from the visual to the experiential in this playful scavenger hunt that gets kids moving, touching, and interacting outdoors in unique ways.
Click through to the post for more info and a free printable here: https://theinspiredtreehouse.com/activities-for-kids-sensory-motor-scavenger-hunt/
Shapes in Nature
One of my favorite things about nature scavenger hunts is that they can help shift the perspective of anyone who’s playing, even grown ups. I love this heart shape nature scavenger hunt by Rhythms of Play, and can imagine how doing this over time can translate into a lifelong practice that a child can carry with them as they grow.
Click here for the full post: https://rhythmsofplay.com/heart-shape-nature-scavenger-hunt/
Sounds of Nature Hunt
Many of us are so focused on the visual that we forget to experience the world around us through other senses. Tuning into the nature that surrounds you through listening is an important skill to acquire for any nature lover.
Backyard or Neighborhood Nature Scavenger Hunt
“Nature isn’t just a bunch of far-off plants, animals, and landscapes to learn about and visit once or twice a year. It’s an environment to be immersed in daily, especially during our childhood years” (Sampson, 14). We often treat nature as something experienced on a family camping trip, forgetting that we are a part of nature every day. Backyard or neighborhood nature scavenger hunts, like this one from So Easy Being Green, remind us to be aware of the nature that surrounds us at home.
Click here for the full post and printable: https://soeasybeinggreen-blog.com/back-yard-scavenger-hunt-printable/
Nature Scavenger Hunt for a Walk in the Woods
When your family does go on a little adventure to a trail in the woods, it can be nice to bring a nature scavenger hunt along to focus your children’s attention on the details of a new habitat. I’m a sucker for illustrated scavenger hunts like Wild Forest Scavenger hunt from Oregon Pines!
Click here for the full post and free download: https://oregonpines.com/2015/08/16/wild-forest-scavenger-hunt/
Nature Scavenger Hunt for a Stroll by the Pond
I heart “I Heart Crafty Things” scavenger hunts! This pond-themed nature scavenger hunt was inspired by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace’s book Pond Walk. Combining a story with an outdoor adventure is a great way to get kids excited about a new habitat.
Click here for the full post and free download: https://iheartcraftythings.com/pond-walk-scavenger-hunt.html
Nature Scavenger Hunt for a Day at the Beach
Bloggy Momma included this fun beach scavenger hunt as part of their ocean unit study. I love that they included an open-to-interpretation treasure on their list! Adding an object or idea that asks children to fire up their imaginations is a great way to use a nature scavenger hunt for kids as a bridge to building connections to the natural world.
Click here for the full post and download: https://www.bloggymomma.com/stress-free-ocean-unit-study/
Nighttime Nature Scavenger Hunt
“Nighttime, starlit walks in wild places far from city lights are especially effective at awakening the senses and opening new windows of awareness. Such experiences tend to foster not only awe and wonder, but humility – a sense of something much deeper and perhaps even more meaningful than our human-centered obsessions” (Sampson, 34). Plus, it’s pretty darn fun for the whole family, and the novelty of the experience can be a great stress reliever after a long day online. We’ll be adding this to our winter outdoors list for sure!
Check out the full post here with free download here: https://www.kcedventures.com/blog/nighttime-scavenger-hunt-nocturnal-adventures-for-kids
Close Looks at Bugs
Everyday we pass by bugs without even knowing it. If your kids are curious about getting to know their wild neighbors, check out this sweet nature scavenger hunt from Moms and Munchkins. It’s an accessible and fun way to get young kids focused on even the smallest creatures.
Click here for the full post and free printable: https://www.momsandmunchkins.ca/bug-scavenger-hunt/
Close Looks at Birds
Beware, bird watching can be surprisingly addictive! My boys still jump up and down when they hear a red-winged blackbird, the first species we identified together. We’re still working on the being quiet to not scare the birds concept! Encourage your budding birders with this nature scavenger hunt by ScenicHudson.org, which will draw your attention to the birds around you without having to worry about identification.
Check out the free printable here: https://www.scenichudson.org/viewfinder/bird-scavenger-hunt/
Fall Nature Scavenger Hunt
Noticing the first signs of seasons changing is always exciting, and for me, there’s nothing more exhilarating than the first signs of fall.
LeAnn Bollin is offering this fall nature scavenger hunt for free on Teachers Pay Teachers: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Fall-Nature-Scavenger-Hunt-4018362.
Winter Nature Scavenger Hunt
Carrie Anne Badov of EverythingMom.com shared this fun winter scavenger hunt on the Melissa & Doug blog as a reminder to keep heading outdoors, even in the colder months.
Click here for the post and free download: https://www.melissaanddoug.com/blogpost/?postId=winter-scavenger-hunt
Spring Nature Scavenger Hunt
Who can resist a collector scavenger hunt in the spring? Little kids love sorting natural objects in muffin tins, like the one shown here as an Earth Day activity in the MamaPapaBubba blog.
Click here for the full post and printable: https://mamapapabubba.com/2013/04/22/muffin-tin-spring-nature-hunt/
Summer Nature Scavenger Hunt
I love that this summer scavenger hunt by Growing Hands On Kids shines a light on the multisensory experiences like the smell of cut grass and the taste of watermelon that mark the summer season.
Check out the full post and download here: https://www.growinghandsonkids.com/summer-senses-scavenger-hunt-printable.html
Gratitude Scavenger Hunt
Though this beautiful gratitude hunt by Natural Beach Living would make for meaningful family time indoors or outdoors, I love the idea of bringing this list outside to remind us of the important role nature plays in our lives. Especially during hard times, it’s refreshing to redirect our attention to all that we have to be thankful for around us.
Check out the full post here: https://www.naturalbeachliving.com/gratitude-scavenger-hunt/
Nature Scavenger Hunt Apps
As you might have noticed, scavenger hunts can serve many purposes and be created in many forms. If you’re struggling to separate kids from their devices in order to get outside, you might be interested in one of these apps which gamify kids’ outdoor experiences.
Seek by iNaturalist
Created by the iNaturalist team, a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, Seek uses a combination of AI and citizen-science to identify plants, animals, and fungi through your phone in real time. The app is gamified so kids can earn badges and advance to different levels as they identify more species and complete the Backyard Challenge, Citizen Science Challenge, and Biodiversity Challenge, and many more.
Agents of Discovery
This augmented reality, geo-triggered app is designed to get families outside and engaged in the natural world. Players become secret agents working to solve mysteries of science, culture, and nature. Challenges near us range from Smokey the Bear asking for help protecting lands from preventable human-caused fires to discovering new and exciting facts about the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge along San Francisco Bay. Side note: browsing the challenges also gives parents some new ideas for educational outings in nature near home!
JJ & The Bug’s New Scavenger Hunts
And finally, a couple of new nature scavenger hunts that we dreamed up to get our own family moving outside after a long day.
JJ & The Bug's Sensory Scavenger Hunt
Using the draw or describe format, this scavenger hunt encourages hands on exploration of nature from the unique perspectives of children.
JJ & The Bug's family Nature Challenge
A fun game for the whole family, this scavenger hunt will keep everyone busy and engaged at your local park with plenty of fun photo opps to laugh over later.
Whatever you decide to do for your family’s nature scavenger hunt, we hope you have a great time exploring outside together. And share with us! We’d love to hear about your favorite games and outdoor experiences.
And if you’re wondering about the quotes included above, they are from Scott Sampson’s How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature (2015). Well worth a read if you’re looking for advice on getting outside and connecting, or reconnecting, with nature.