The holidays mean great fun for all the family, but this can also be tiring.

Coming up with enough ideas to keep the kids busy is tough, but you can do many things to keep your little ones entertained. One of the best ways to keep your kids busy, help them build up critical thinking skills, and develop more action is to set up a scavenger hunt. This activity could be great fun for all the family, regardless of age, and can provide some exercise during the holidays.

One of the best advantages of a scavenger hunt is that you can change the details, such as location and theme, to whatever works best for you and those doing your hunt. You could choose to turn the scavenger hunt inside or outdoors, throughout the entire neighborhood, or confined to your garden – either way, setting up a hunt like this is sure to result in some great fun for the family. You and your kids can enjoy this activity which you can make as creative as possible while spending as little as necessary. Opting for a scavenger hunt means entertaining the children while allowing them to stay stimulated and continue developing their skills during the holidays without spending a penny. Read on to learn more about all the kinds of scavenger hunts you can try as a holiday activity or even a unique celebration game.

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What is a scavenger hunt?

A scavenger hunt is an activity in which the participants try to find the items or objects or photographs of the things on a list. To set up for this, you will either need to hide the objects around the allocated area and write up a list of the objects that are hidden or write a list of things that will already be around for the people playing to be able to find. The things on this list could be fairly simple: shoes, a stone, or a hat. If you want to make the game harder or cater to older children or adults, you can use clues or hints that the team has to decode to determine the objects they need to find. This adds a more complex element and more of a competitive edge to the game for older players. You could use clues such as ‘I’m always running, though I never walk’ for a clock or ‘You have to break me to use me’ for an egg.

To get your scavenger hunt started, here are the core steps that you need to follow:

  1. The first thing you need to do is choose your objects and hide them around the area. Alternatively, you could opt for less setup by directing the players to find items that are already likely to be around, like things in nature or everyday items that can be found in most households.
  2. Make sure to list the items you want the players to look for. You will also need to detail in this list whether you want the players to keep the items with them and return them or if you want them to take a photograph of the items to tick them off the list.
  3. Next, ensure that the players know what area they are supposed to be searching in as well as how much time they are going to have before they need to stop hunting and return. You could put a penalty in place to ensure that teams arrive back in time and add some tension and competition to the game.
  4. The winner is the team or individual who either finds all of the items quickly or manages to find the most items before the time is up.

Following these basic steps, you can set up a great scavenger hunt, with players competing on their own or in teams or groups. It can also be altered to improve the activity for different ages and periods. For example, by making the clues consequential, you could make the game more exciting or suitable for higher abilities. Leave the clue for the following item with each one so that the trail has to take place in the correct order to create a lot more intrigue and mystery to the game. There are many ways the game can be played, so here are just a few scavenger hunts you could try.

Nature scavenger hunts

If you want to create a game but don’t want to spend any money or don’t have many resources, one of the best things you can do is opt for a nature scavenger hunt. This is also a brilliant way to get your kids outside and explore nature, helping them to explore and keep active. You could set up the scavenger hunt in your garden, a nearby park, or other public areas. You could go to a nearby nature reserve if you want to expand the area for the game. If you opt for a nature scavenger hunt, you could ask the players to look for the following:

  • Items like sticks, pinecones, and leaves which you could later incorporate into a natural craft activity
  • Animals, bugs, or other creatures like cats, dogs, squirrels, mice, beavers, deer, or moles that need to be pictured to count as being found
  • Specific species or types of trees, leaves, plants, mushrooms, and flowers need to be identified correctly, perhaps in comparison to an information/picture sheet and photographed.
  • Types of cars or specific colors of cars that are either parked or driving past
  • Kind of birds or their nests that can be spotted around the area

A nature scavenger hunt is a brilliant way to engage kids as you are asking them to identify new things and engage with nature respectfully and responsibly. It asks them to use all of their senses to identify things that can be seen, smelt, or heard. You could also encourage the teams to help the environment by picking up trash throughout the activity and award extra points for the most rubbish removed from the area. Turning this into a game is a great way to give back to nature in a fun way.

If you are asking kids to take part in collecting trash or running the game in a larger space, you may want to give out sanitary gloves and hand wash, as well as ensure that all of the groups have adult supervision for safety.

Neighborhood scavenger hunts

If you know your neighbors well or have checked that they are happy with it, a neighborhood scavenger hunt could be a great way to expand your game. When setting up the game in this way, you need to ensure it is safe for everybody taking part and ensure that the neighbors don’t mind taking part, as some people will not appreciate being repeatedly bothered by multiple teams.

To play this version of the scavenger hunt, you can send teams between houses to knock on each door and ask for an item from their list. For this, you will need to have chosen everyday household items to ensure the game is possible. The players should then take photos of the items to prove they have been found.

Alternatively, you could set up the neighborhood scavenger hunt outdoors and ask for the players to find:

  • Certain items that you have hidden around the area
  • Landmarks or specific places that are found locally
  • Clues that can be put together to find a final prize
  • Signatures from those who live nearby

Photo scavenger hunts

You could opt for a photo version for a scavenger hunt that allows you to create more tangible memories. For this game, you must ensure each team has a device or camera to take photos. You could also run the game by handing out some simple disposable cameras. When the teams return, you can look through the photos to check them off the list for each team. Polaroid cameras are another great idea for this game, as you can take away physical memories in the form of printed photos. For younger players, these instant photos might also be intriguing and a fun way to change up the activity. For this, you could ask the teams to take photos of:

  • Landmarks that are found locally
  • Items that start with certain letters
  • The players doing particular activities like posing with a certain sign, jumping on a trampoline, shaking hands with someone
  • Objects with first letters spelling out a certain word/name
  • Other people doing particular activities like walking a dog or taking out the trash

Field trip scavenger hunts

If you can travel to a new place, you could take the scavenger hunt to another level by engaging in the activity in a more exciting place. Ask players to look for the items on the list throughout the trip. The only difficulty with this is that you will need to go to the location before the activity to determine what items to put on the list of things to find. Once you have done this, however, the game could be even more fun, and you could ask players to look for:

  • Items of a specific shape or color
  • Items that are on display in a museum
  • Things with a specific logo on
  • A particular ride at a theme park or fair
  • Different kinds of animals at the zoo
  • Certain food vendors at a carnival
  • Words or phrases on signs

When preparing for a scavenger hunt in a busy or public space like this, you must talk to the younger participants and ensure they take part safely and respectfully. They should be aware of the space and make sure not to be too loud in museums, for example. If it is a busier or louder area, you will need to ensure they know to stay in their groups and ensure there is always an adult to ensure the game is safe for all ages.

Stay-at-home scavenger hunts

If you want to enjoy an activity without going out, you could turn the scavenger hunt into an indoor activity. For a celebration like a birthday, you could invite a group of your child’s friends over to play this indoor scavenger hunt. They are also great even to make a weekend more exciting. Since it is so easy to set up, you can take part in this activity at any time without any notice at all. For an indoor scavenger hunt, you could ask teams or individuals to look for:

  • An item that is their favorite color, food, or toy, for example
  • Everyday items found in the house
  • Something that starts with each letter of the alphabet
  • Items that are the answer to riddles or questions like ‘what is Tom’s favorite snack?’

These options are great ways to liven up a spare day and keep the whole family entertained. Choose the version that best suits your group and prepare to make some wonderful memories for you and your loved ones.