Indoor Treasure Hunt for Children

How to Design a Scavenger Search Game

Illustration of indoor treasure hunt map

Illustration: The Spruce / Kelly Miller

If you're stuck in the house with kids, try a classic treasure hunt or scavenger hunt that's fun and gets them moving. Create a clue to find a location or item, then have another clue waiting at that spot. That tip leads to the next spot, and so on. Place a treasure, such as a toy or treat, at the final destination. This self-directed activity empowers the child to complete a task on their own (or cooperatively if playing with others). At the same time, the child learns about sequencing, which is the importance of following steps in order.

Before You Get Started

There are different types of treasure hunts: indoor hunts, backyard or neighborhood hunts, or a photo-based hunt. You can increase the level of complexity and scope of the hunt, depending on the child's age. Determine the type of hunt that is right for you and the child. Create or print out clues.

Make some ground rules. Anticipate that the child will be excited to get started. Rule one: No running. If more than one child is playing along, they will be a team. The second rule should involve taking turns to read the clues.

Ready-Made Clues for an Indoor Hunt

The treasure hunt should be a workout for the brain with hints that require some thinking. Rhyming clues have built-in kid appeal. You can make a version for preschoolers with pictures that you draw or print from the computer. Take a look at this ready-made list of clues about ordinary indoor objects. The answer key follows.

  1. I have four legs, but I don't have feet.
    I come in handy when it's time to eat.
  2. My job is to put an end to sleep,
    Which I do with music, a buzz, or a beep.
  3.  For fast heating or cooking, I am tops.
    And, oh, that good smell when my popcorn pops!
  4. I'm packed really full of boxes and cans.
    I may hold a broom or a mop or a dustpan.
  5. Flour and sugar and coffee and tea,
    I keep these handy but hard to see.
  6. I can take you to places you've never seen,
    But first, type your password in on my screen.
  7. I'm loaded and unloaded, but I'm not a truck.
    Having a helper like me is a great piece of luck.
  8. I rain on you when you need a scrub.
    I'm very much like my friend the tub.
  9. I make it possible to have fresh food.
    Everyone agrees I'm one cool dude.
  10. Watching your favorites is lots of fun.
    But don't watch too much! Kids need to run.
  11. I never get angry, but I do get hot.
    I'm the perfect place for a pan or a pot.
  12. It's my job to give all your clothes a tumble,
    Which I do while making a bit of a rumble.
  13. I have a round knob and also a lock.
    Visitors and salesmen may give me a knock.
  14. I'm one part chair and one part bed.
    Up with your feet and down with your head.
  15. I take your clothes for quite a spin.
    But first, they get wet. That's how I begin.
  16. I'm filled with feathers or other soft fluff.
    To sleep without me can be quite tough.
  17. Turn me on, and I'll give you a light.
    I'm used some in the daytime but mostly at night.
  18. A story, they say, can take you away,
    But a book still needs a place to stay.
  19. I have drawers and also a nice flat top.
    For homework I'm helpful—keep working, don't stop!
  20. I'm hungry! I'm hungry! Please feed me a slice.
    I'll spit it back out all brown and nice.
  21. I'm not a selfie, but I do show faces.
    Find me in bathrooms and a few other places.
  22. Adults go here when they first wake
    And at other times when they need a break. 
  23. Most every day, you step on me.
    All I require is a bend of your knee. 
  24. I go round and round and get really hot.
    In larger families, I'm used quite a lot.
  25. I'm paper, but I'm not used for writing a letter.
    The spot by your potty suits me much better! 
  26. I have hands but no arms and also a face.
    And my hands always move at the same steady pace.
  27. I may have eyes, but I really can't see.
    People love to make fries out of me.
  28. The more I dry, the wetter I get.
    A little one can be used for soaking up sweat.
  29. I hold all the words you need to know.
    Use me to make your vocabulary grow. 
  30. I'm never wicked, but I do have a wick.
    I come in all sizes, from skinny to thick.

Answers: 1. Kitchen or dining table, 2. Alarm clock, 3. Microwave, 4. Pantry, 5. Kitchen canisters, 6. Computer, 7. Dishwasher, 8. Shower, 9. Refrigerator, 10. Television, 11. Kitchen stove, 12. Clothes dryer, 13. Front door, 14. Recliner, 15. Clothes washer, 16. Bed pillow, 17. Lamp, 18. Bookshelf, 19. Desk, 20. Toaster, 21. Mirror, 22. Coffee maker, 23. Stairs, 24. Clothes dryer, 25. Toilet paper, 26. Clock, 27. Potato, 28. Towel, 29. Dictionary, 30. Candle

You can edit this list to incorporate items that are specific to your home. If your home has more than one of these objects, the child/children may have to check out more than one location before they find the next clue. If clues are ambiguous, it can make the game last longer, gives the children more exercise, and adds to the fun.

To make the hunt more challenging, assign each item a point value based on how difficult it is to find. Tween children or grandchildren particularly enjoy this type of hunt

Outdoor Treasure Hunts

When the weather is nice, treat the kids or grandkids to an outdoor treasure hunt. Similar to the indoor treasure hunt, use clues to point to items or locations in the yard or outside the house.

If the child is doing this activity outside or is old enough to do a neighborhood hunt, make sure traffic isn't an issue. Consider an enclosed park as a safe location.

Photo Treasure Hunts

Treasure hunts involving cameras are a fun way of incorporating technology in the mix. Children love using devices to augment their daily experiences. There are two ways to do this. You can use "photo clues" and take pictures of odd nooks and crannies in your home. Print out the images and place them as a pointer, directing the child how to find the next spot.

Children might appreciate a photo-only treasure hunt, which is suitable for those who are old enough to use digital cameras or smartphones. In this scenario, the child will be taking the photos. Make a list of items in the home or outside and ask them to take a photo of that item. Give the child a set period to find the object and take their photographs. The child can work in a team or on their own.