One of our favorite family past times is heading outside to search for lizards, bugs, flowers, and other living things. Whether you're hiking, visiting a local pond, or exploring your own backyard or local park, the world is full of fascinating flora and fauna. An outdoor scavenger hunt is a great way to pass an afternoon or weekend day. Kids and grownups alike will have a blast, and learn lots of interesting things in the process!
Recently, my son turned six. Six! Where has the time gone? I know it’s a cliche but it really does seem like just yesterday he was a 9-month old baby, with his sunhat and chubby cheeks, beyond excited to see his very first lizard at the Audubon Zoo. Now the toddler and baby days are well behind us and we find ourselves with a real boy.
My husband also had a birthday recently, and I must say both of my boys love the outdoors, including a fascination with anything creepy and crawly. My son nearly had an existential crisis when he realized our yard in Montana would not be filled to the brim with various species of lizards and snakes like our Louisiana yard.
Thankfully after a couple of fishing trips and some opportune amphibian encounters, my son realized there is life after lizards, and that there are still plenty of fascinating creatures (and plants) to find in our current location.
As the end of summer turns to fall, this is one of the best times to explore your local outdoors. It’s warm enough that there are still plenty of butterflies and flowers, but it’s cool enough that small mammals and amphibians might be out and about during the day, making their end-of-the-season preparations before the cool weather settles in earnest. At over 5000 feet, winter makes an early arrival here, but I’ve found that late August through early October provides backyard scavenger hunt weather in just about any location or elevation.
Why hold a backyard scavenger hunt? In addition to getting everyone outside for some fresh air, they are also a great way to help kids build vocabulary while you talk about the different living things you find. Depending on their age, your chatter might be as simple as “This is a frog. Ribbit!” or you may discuss in depth the difference between crickets and grasshoppers, toads and frogs, moths and butterflies. They’re also a great way to help children learn about patterns as you talk about seasons and life cycles, and of course, for them to gain an appreciation of the natural world.
Perhaps most importantly, they’re fun for little kids, big kids, and grownups! I still enjoy creeping through the grass and trying to spot bugs! One of my favorite apps is iNaturalist, which is a free app that allows you to identify plants and animals, and also share what you’ve found with other users in the area. I love figuring out what we’ve done and seeing what others have found near us.
In celebration of my little naturalist’s birthday, I’ve included my ultimate scavenger hunt below. You should be able to find just about everything on the list, no matter where you live, but feel free to substitute with region-specific animals or plants. Also, if it seems like too much, you can do this as a BINGO, where your child tries to find everything in one row. No matter how you decide to use it, remember to have fun and learn together!
If you're looking for more fun outdoor activities to do together, check out this post on hiking with kids.