A Guide to Wonder Hunts for Kids
Hiding and seeking objects outdoors is a great way for kids to keep busy and learn new skills. Find some easy ways to get started with this fun free-play activity.
Kids find so much wonder in searching for plastic eggs on Easter morning, so why limit this type of activity to once a year? Hiding and hunting for objects helps build new neural pathways, provides exercise and, of course, gets kids out of the house, making it an ideal way to keep them busy. Plus, playing these kinds of games can make kids more independent in the future. By taking turns as the “finder” and the “hider,” children can develop skills that will help them locate lost socks or find the milk in the fridge without asking for help, which is an ability that shouldn’t be overlooked.
How to Start Your Own Wonder Hunt
Hunting for objects outside can be as simple as sending little ones out to find objects of wonder that are blue or discover five leaves that are different. You may give them a small bag to take out with them to collect their treasures, and any free play that happens during or instead of the hunt is a happy adaptation. Related: A Parent's Guide to Free Play for Kids
For another take, try leaving a trail of stones, colored aquarium gravel, biodegradable glitter, bird seed or pennies around the yard in meandering paths. Make the path as easy to find, or hard to find, as is appropriate for your little explorers.
Other ideas to explore:
- Break out the plastic eggs! If you still have them around, there’s no reason to limit their use to one day a year. Don’t worry about filling them. Bonus points if you have egg cartons to collect them in.
- Painting rocks that will later be hidden (over and over) makes a great day-long activity. Paint them in the morning, let dry over lunch and hide and seek all afternoon.
- For older kids, use a silicone ice cube tray or candy mold of your choosing and layer plastic pony beads inside. Put the silicone tray on top of a baking sheet and bake for 30 to 40 minutes (depending on the size of the mold) until fully melted. Once cool, pop them out of the mold, and you’ve made your own plastic charms! These charms are great fun to hide over and over again, and they’re fun to trade.
- For an old-fashioned challenge, get a straw bale, clip the twine and fluff out the contents. Throw some coins on the straw and let kids search for them. Beware, this can be one itchy pastime!
- Hiding items in a sandbox is great entertainment! Try burying small plastic dinosaurs, dino bone toys, non-precious gemstones, beads and other trinkets. You can provide tiny shovels or even paintbrushes so they can unearth treasures the way archeologists do.
- Make a treasure map; take 10 steps north and 12 steps east, then turn 90 degrees and there yer treasure be, mateys! You can even bury the treasure for historical accuracy. An empty metal container from mints makes a great treasure chest.
The kid that found the most items can be the one who hides things for the next round. A bigger kid hiding objects for younger children is a lesson in empathy and restraint.
Kids aged 7 and older can advance from simply making discoveries to full detective mode, since they’re more able to process clues and execute deductive reasoning. This is a great age to explore with a metal detector (toss some pennies in the lawn first) or venture out into geocaching, a GPS-enabled treasure hunt with millions of geocaches hidden around the world. The geocache app, once downloaded, will lead you to a cache of your choice. The activity keeps young treasure hunters focused and excited for hikes they may otherwise have complained about.
Your backyard can be full of wonder and discovery this summer with low involvement from parents and high dividends in learning, processing and free play.
Amanda Thomsen is a garden designer obsessed with edible landscapes, messy outdoor play and collecting kitsch. She has written two books, Kiss My Aster: A Graphic Guide to Creating a Fantastic Yard Totally Tailored to You and Backyard Adventure: Get Messy, Get Wet, Build Cool Things and Have Tons of Wild Fun! She lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband, daughter and too many pets.