When our family moved to Bend, Oregon to escape the rat-race, this big-city girl was thrilled about taking her two little sons for long walks in nature. I wanted to expose them to all there was in our new home: forests, mountains, lakes, deer, squirrels, and elk. For our first walk, I made all the necessary preparations: locating a flat, easy trail, making a picnic basket lunch, packing healthy snacks and bottles of water, putting hiking boots on the boys' feet, and leashing up our dog. However, I was totally unprepared for what I heard almost immediately as we started down the trail: "I'm bored! I want to go home! Are we almost done?"
As a former teacher, I knew just what to do -- something I had done for years with my students and something I remembered fondly from my childhood. I created Scavenger Hunts! As a kid, I did them with a pack of friends from the neighborhood. We'd pair up and go around in search of specific items: a used toothbrush, a bottle of Tabasco sauce, a wedding photo, a slinky, a yo-yo, a box of Cracker Jacks, a plastic ring, a cup of flour, an envelope, a stamp. We'd ring doorbells, explain what we were doing, and hope the occupants had the items we needed to place in our bag. The first duo to collect all the things on the list won.
With my students and my children, I made Scavenger Hunts designed to celebrate nature. Some were created to teach about the seasons. In spring, for example, the kids would look for fawns, hummingbirds, flowers, ducklings, butterflies, and ladybugs. Others were created to teach about our current area of study. When we were learning about trees, for instance, we looked for fruit, nuts, sap, bark, branches, twigs, leaves, trunks, and roots. It was a marvelous way to build vocabulary and get youngsters excited about being outdoors. Plus, it was fun!
**To have a Scavenger Hunt that's even more special, make an easy "clipboard" for each child. Take a piece of cardboard. Tape the list of items on it. Make a hole and string yarn through it. Attach a crayon.
**Preschoolers need a list with pictures. Older kids should have words so they can practice their reading skills.