Scavenger or Treasure Hunts for Kids

scavenger hunt map

The Spruce / Ellen Lindner

The thrill of finding a "treasure" for kids extends to even the most mundane stuff items, and things that are right under a kid's nose take on a new luster when "found." Scavenger or treasure hunts are a great way to capitalize on this desire and keep your children busy and active.

Either way, a parent will likely have to do some advance work to set it up. For kids who can't read yet, use pictures to illustrate what they are supposed to find or chalk to point them in the right direction. These types of activities not only keep kids busy in the short term, but they teach children the resourcefulness they need to play independently.

How to Create a Treasure Hunt

Use an outdoor treasure hunt to encourage kids to go outside, with a big reward for lots of "hard work" at the end. A pirate treasure hunt, in particular, can provide great learning opportunities.

  1. Start by preparing the treasure chest. Visit a dollar store or other bargain-priced store and stock up on trinkets like toy cars, coloring books and small candies. If you don't have an actual chest, put the treasure in a basket or box. Hide it in a location that won't be too easy to spot.

  2. Write out approximately 10 clues for your treasure hunt. They can be as basic or as clever as you'd like. For example, a clue that's meant to lead a kid to the refrigerator could read, "When you want to look for something good, open up the door to find some cold food." The clues should lead the kids from one spot to the next on their way to finding the treasure. Keep them simple for younger players, but use more difficult clues for advanced treasure hunters.

  3. Send the kids away so they can't spy on you, and then place the clues in their appropriate spots.

  4. Explain the rules to the participants. If the treasure hunt is outdoors, give them boundaries and rules for searching, such as no going into neighbors' yards. If it's inside, let them know which rooms are off-limits. If you have a large group, split them into teams—then let them start hunting!

How to Create a Scavenger Hunt

A scavenger hunt is different from a treasure hunt in that you provide a list of items for the kids to find. The first person or team to check off all the items on their list wins the game.

  1. Choose the type of scavenger hunt you want to create. You can keep things simple by just putting together a list of items inside the house for the kids to find, or you can choose a theme. For example, a fitness-themed scavenger hunt can list items related to health and exercise. Each time the kids find an item, they have to do an exercise such as shooting basketballs when they find a basketball or doing a yoga pose when they find a yoga mat. Other themes include nature scavenger hunts, photo scavenger hunts (in which they have to take a picture of what they find) or, if you have agreeable neighbors, door-to-door scavenger hunts.

  2. Create the scavenger hunt list based on your theme. Think of items that you already have in your house or that you know are in your neighborhood that are fairly easy to find without being incredibly obvious.

  3. If you have more than three to four participants, divide them into teams. Make sure to team up little kids with bigger players so there are a variety of age ranges on each team.

  4. Hand out the lists and explain the rules including the physical boundaries of the scavenger hunt. Make it clear whether the kids are or are not allowed to knock on neighbors' doors. Ensure that all participants understand what each item on the list is, and give them a bag or bucket to carry the items. Then, set them off to hunt!