Successful Scavenger Hunts: No-Cost Family Fun for Any Season


As January rolls around, what are the defaults most of us have on the weekends? Find new movies on Netflix? A baking project? More arts and crafts than we could ever display in our homes? What seems to go out the window is a lot of the physical activity we do during the summer. I know that there are lots of outdoor winter activities, but many of them can cost an arm and a leg. And, for someone like me who has never gone skiing or shown any affinity for ice skating it could literally cost me the use of an arm or leg. That’s why my go-to activity for a nice winter day is… a neighborhood scavenger hunt!

My kids, especially my 9-year-old, have long been fans of my scavenger hunts. We started out small. First, they would look for items I hid around the house. I would give elaborate clues, but they would be done in 10 minutes. I would always plan scavenger hunts for the airport or train station if we were traveling and make them city-specific. Layover in Baltimore and we would be searching for items with a Raven on them. Stuck in Penn Station? look for the I Love NY logo.

One day last year my son requested what he called an EPIC scavenger hunt. He wanted to explore the neighborhood with me looking for a huge list of items. He wanted there to be not only things we would find with our eyes but things that would include our other senses (the smell of coffee being brewed or the sound of a goose). It was a chilly day, but the sun was out and I said, “Why not?!” I needed about half an hour to compile the list and it had over 25 items on it. 

As you are putting together your list, here are some categories for items to include.
1. Make sure there are specific things, as well as things that are more general. For example, if you put a blue jay on the list you may not find it, but if you put a bird that includes a color of the rainbow you have more leeway. Here in RI putting a pigeon, goose, or seagull on the list is a safe bet.
2. Include things that really make them look at their surroundings – the letter Z on a license plate, blue shutters on a house, an empty pizza box.
3. If you live in a neighborhood with some local stores you can add things you would find in those shops – a red T-shirt or a silver bracelet. This is a fun way to get to know your local merchants too.
4. Always have a little prize at the end such as a hot chocolate/cookie or whatever your kid would appreciate. The prize for you will be time away from electronics, exercise, and a fun, free (or low-cost) afternoon with your kid!

It took us over an hour to find everything, we walked close to two miles and our reward at the end was a hot chocolate at a local bakery. We chatted the whole way about school, his friends, and silly jokes he was thrilled to share. He had a blast and it was a truly delightful way to spend an afternoon.

Older kids will want to make their own, but use the printable below to get started on a quick, simple scavenger hunt for the younger ones!

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Sara is a native Long Islander who has managed to shed much of the accent, but cannot get rid of her love of a good New York bagel, the Mets, and a decent pastrami sandwich. She moved to Providence in 2001, with stops along the way living in upstate New York, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Pittsburgh. Sara has two fantastic, funny kids – a 14-year-old daughter and an 10-year-old son – who attend Providence Public Schools. She graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Psychology and has her Masters in Social Work from the University of Maryland at Baltimore. These degrees have served her well in her career working as a fundraiser (currently as the Chief Development Officer at the Jewish Alliance of Greater RI) and in her home life negotiating détente between her kids. In her copious amounts of spare time, Sara enjoys going to a museum or the theater, reading, listening to 80s music, cooking and piling everyone in the car for a day trip. She also admits to a love of funny and occasionally sophomoric movies and has been known to recite entire scenes from Monty Python or Mel Brooks. She tries to find the humor in all things which is necessary when juggling a household with two kids and a full time job. Her attitude can be summed up by a print she saw at Frog and Toad: When life hands you lemons, try to figure out something to do with those lemons.