How to Create a Scavenger Hunt for Kids and Families

Scavenger Hunt. The very name invokes adventure. Whether you live in a city or a rural area, scavenger hunts can be a fun, cheap way to entertain kids and family members.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve tuned into “Survivor” and read enough (too much?) about pirates and treasure maps in my youth to still be thrilled by the hunt. I’ve even made a few themed hunts indoors and outside for friends.

For a family it’s a great way to explore a new area, delve into school subjects or just see your old neighborhood with new insights. And, it’s ideal for a staycation.

Popular scavenger hunt apps

Scavenger Hunts became a mainstream thing over a decade ago (much longer ago if you went to summer camp). They have come a long way since their origin being jotted down on pieces of paper or a quickly typed list.

Things have evolved. So, of course, there are a bunch of scavenger hunt apps out there right now. Free ones include Actionbound and Goosechase which let you build private adventures DIY. Or, you can opt for pre-built scavenger hunts on Let’s Roam or Scavify for a fee.

I want to go old school, no tech

But, maybe you want your family to put down technology and interact with hands and eyes in their environment. There are ways to build scavenger hunts with bits of paper in jars or envelopes, and I am here to tell you how.

Pick a theme. You can leave random riddles pointing to the next clue location, or you could choose to make the hunt educational or exploratory. Maybe it’s spring and there are lots of growing things to observe and name. If you are stuck inside, you can make all the clues and hiding places about a favorite book, like Alice in Wonderland. You can even have participants complete tasks.

Groups or individuals? Think about the ages and abilities of the people you are creating this hunt for. Groups can cover more ground and properly diversified, they can do any task and answer tough questions together. If you are gearing this to individuals, make sure the youngest, least able person can still answer your questions and complete tasks.

Locate your hunt. The playing field will determine the scope of your hunt and help with the theme. Maybe it’s an earth science hunt outside or a book hunt inside the home. Maybe your neighbors are cool with kids running across the edges of their property. You can hide plenty of things within three feet of a property line: shrubs, trees, mailboxes (not inside!), streetlights, hydrants.

How long do you want your family out of your hair? Serious question. You can build a tough hunt that lasts all afternoon, or you can get an hour to take a bath and relax for a minute. You can add to the length of your hunt with tasks, like completing a puzzle, writing a poem, describing and comparing elements of the natural world.

Think of fun prizes. You may have to motivate the troops if not outright collect devices from them. (I’m not naming names here, but if middle child is reading this, yes, I mean you.) So, a good prize will be important.

It doesn’t have to be food. It can be, but it could also be perks, like sitting shotgun or not having to do chores. What about getting to pick a family activity or earning extra game time? You can even make last place a penalty, like extra chores for a day.

Here’s what you do. Get some printer paper. Cut it into quarters. Write a clue that your group should be able to answer. This first clue sets up the theme as well as pointing to the next clue.

If you want to add difficulty write it in a code they will have to figure out. This is especially good for math and science themes. You can find Morse code and other generators online. Just because the kids are going offline doesn’t mean you have to.

Hiding clues: Put your clues in picture frames, a favorite book, old bottles and cookie jars or right out in the open on the refrigerator. If you are hiding clues out-of-doors, do use a container. Paper can get blown away or dampened which can destroy a clue and end a hunt early.

To keep your sanity intact, and so that you can actually enjoy the alone time you earned, make limiting the questions they can ask a part of the game. Maybe they get two clues before forfeiting. It’s up to you.

If you like puzzles and leading adventures, this DIY scavenger hunt plan may become a family tradition. No matter how confined an area, you can build a fun hunt to distract your family and keep young minds focused.

Be careful though. They may take revenge and make a hunt just for you!

–By Nic DeSmet


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