Amazing Race for Kids: Backyard Scavenger Hunts

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At either a fancy adult soiree in the ‘30s or an 8-year-old’s birthday party this weekend, a scavenger hunt would be viable entertainment. These kinds of competitions — being the first person or team to find all the items or complete all the crazy tasks on a list — have been popular for centuries. Highly organized collection races happen regularly all around us, but are often geared toward adults.

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Many U.S. cities host yearly scavenger hunts that offer a fun afternoon, but can also help teams learn more about specific areas or aspects of the city. Los Angeles, for example, is home to organizations, like Race/LA, that hold dozens of neighborhood-centric hunts. The University of Chicago is just one institution of higher learning that concocts a chaotic annual scavenger hunt.

You can use these examples if you ever need to prove that the activities you’re foisting upon your kids are cool. Look some races up online. Show your little hunters some pics of rowdy, smiling collegiate teams sporting safety glasses and covered in mud. Then tie some bandanas around your kids’ heads, hand them some canvas totes and a list of crazy items, and push them out the back door.

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The easiest way to do a backyard scavenger hunt is to keep it natural. Choose items for the list that will already be in the area. Objects with varying degrees of rarity will keep the game going longer. You can sub things in or out depending on the climate of your yard. We like:

  1. blades of 2 (or more) different kinds of grass
  2. a leaf that’s not green
  3. a rock with sparkles
  4. something with spots
  5. something with stripes
  6. a seed or nut
  7. an insect husk
  8. the traditional four leaf clover

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A good rule: “Don’t kill anything.” This might seem like an extreme sentiment, but if little Briony sees a spotted toad, and the only thing left on the list is … well, you get the idea. You also don’t want anybody pulling up plants from your garden.

You can add some whimsy to the afternoon just by how you name the things on the list. If sparkly rock becomes “magic rock” and stick becomes “wizard’s wand”, it might suit some kids better. Then they can costume up for an imaginative adventure and start their hero’s quest in the backyard.

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A way to ensure nothing in your yard is broken, dug up or removed is to create a picture scavenger hunt. You will need to trust your kids with a phone or digital camera for this. Instead of bringing back all the items on the list, they must bring back all the pictures on the list.

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If you go this route you can still include individual items to be found, but you can also add more complex tasks. Below are some of our examples. In the end, creating the objectives might be as fun for you as the scavenger hunt will be for your kids.

  1. Someone posing next to something red
  2. A leaf that looks like an animal
  3. An insect carrying something
  4. A rock with a face
  5. A secret hideout
  6. Someone in a picture with an animal that flies
  7. A silly picture with at least one person hiding behind a plant
  8. A picture of everyone on the team together

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