With social-distancing guidelines changing the way we interact with the public, parents around the world are getting creative with how they keep their little ones entertained at home. This gives you the chance to break out a time-honored tradition in children's games: the scavenger hunt!

This activity combines critical thinking with a sense of adventure that's sure to keep your whole family entertained for hours. Not sure how to make a scavenger hunt of your own? Don't worry, we have all the inspiration you'll need.

Here are twelve of our favorite scavenger hunt ideas for children that are fun, safe, and educational.

1. At-Home "I Spy"

Being stuck inside due to travel restrictions in your area doesn't have to be boring. The easiest social-distancing scavenger hunt activities can take place right inside your home.

Start by making a list of abstract objects that could be found around the house. Some examples include:

  • Something that uses electricity
  • Something reflective
  • An object with more than three colors
  • Something that weighs more than 5 lbs
  • Something you can eat

The more out-of-the-box thinking your little ones need to find an object that matches the descriptions, the better.

2. Encourage budding scientists

Is your child interested in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics? Are you hoping to foster an interest in these subjects from an early age?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, try making your scavenger hunt into a STEM activity. There are countless ways to do this, but here are a few of our favorite ideas:

  • Periodic table hunt: Write clues that direct your child to elements on the periodic table in a specific order; the paths they trace between elements will spell out a word that tells where their prize is located.
  • Simple Machines: Compile a list of simple machines (pulleys, levers, wheels, etc.) and have your child find real examples of them in household objects. You can even build a Rube Goldberg machine!
  • Parts of the body: Print out a basic anatomy diagram and have your children identify the right part of the body based on riddles and fun facts.

With a little creativity, you can turn any STEM subject into a fun scavenger hunt for children.

3. Code Crackers

There aren’t many things more fun than a child playing “Spy” and investigating mysteries. You can build on this natural tendency while teaching great critical thinking skills with an encoded scavenger hunt. Bring your little ones on an adventure where each clue is written in a different type of code and give them the materials they need to reveal the messages.

Want to turn this scavenger hunt into a "secret" history lesson? Consider using historical codes like Caesar ciphers and Scytale ciphers. As part of the clues that help your child uncover the message, include facts about how the codes were designed and how they were used in real life.

4. Colors, letters, and numbers

Scavenger hunts aren't just for older children. Even toddlers and preschoolers can get in on the learning fun!

Try making an "I Spy" sheet with one of these topics:

  • Colors: Find objects that are black, green, red, etc.
  • Shapes: Find objects that have a circle, square, triangle, etc.
  • Letters: Find objects that start with every letter of the alphabet
  • Numbers: Find objects that match numbers, like a stove with three knobs or a stuffed animal with four paws
  • Sight Words: Find objects that relate to sight words, like a book about puppies for "dog"

You can even take this scavenger hunt with you to keep your child entertained while running errands. If you’re heading to a farmers market, try our scavenger hunt about fresh produce and eco-friendly habits! 

5. Holiday Hunt

Whether you're looking for a way to involve your little ones in celebrating Halloween, Hanukkah, Christmas, or any other holiday, a themed scavenger hunt is sure to be a hit.

If you want to stage the game around the house, hide small themed decorations in different rooms. It's easy to combine this theme with the early learning challenges mentioned above. To make this an outdoor activity, take a walk through a neighborhood that goes all-out with holiday yard decor.

6. Piece by piece

If your children love to play with jigsaw puzzles, why not send them on a hidden puzzle scavenger hunt?

First, assemble a jigsaw puzzle and flip it over. Then, write a clue to your children's final location on the back. Mix up the pieces and hide them in various places around the house and yard.

After your children follow the clues to locate the pieces, they'll then have to assemble the puzzle to find their prize. This is a fantastic way to keep young ones busy and entertained for an entire afternoon.

7. Around-the-world challenge

Even though you may feel like you're trapped in your house, there's nothing stopping you from having adventures across the globe!

Visit an outdoor monument on Google Earth or find free virtual tours of museums, zoos, aquariums, and other attractions online. Some of these attractions may already have scavenger hunts available for download. If not, you can also take the tour before your children do and easily whip up one of your own based on the exhibits.

8. Learning to scout

Want your youngsters to get out in nature and learn some valuable survival skills? Try presenting them with a navigation challenge.

Give them a compass and a list of landmark-based instructions (eg. walk ten paces north toward the mossy tree) and ask them to navigate their way through a park to an end destination. Make sure to supervise them at all times so they don't get too lost along the way.

9. "X" marks the spot

Calling all pirates, buccaneers, and adventurers—the search for buried treasure has begun! Start by making your own treasure map of the house or backyard out of tea-stained paper. Then, use one of these methods to turn it into a scavenger hunt.

Method 1: 

Tear the map into pieces and only give them one piece at the beginning, hiding the rest in various locations. Write a clue on the back of each piece that leads to the next one (bonus points if they're rhyming riddles). Once your little ones have all the pieces, they can assemble the map and follow it to a hidden surprise.

Method 2: 

When you're making the treasure map, use more tea-stained paper to write out the location of the hidden treasure. Tear up the word so each letter is on a separate piece of paper and hide one in each location specified on the map. Once your children visit each location and collect all the letters, they can unscramble the word to find their final destination.

10. Photography challenge

This scavenger hunt is similar to the at-home "I Spy" challenge we listed earlier, but it encourages your child to use the artistic side of their brain. Write out a list of abstract concepts or objects (something black and white, something curved, etc.) and have your child take photos of items they think fit the bill. When they're done, make a digital album to show off their artwork!

If your children are too young for photography or you don't have enough cameras for them to use, you can still do this challenge. Give them a notebook and a pencil or crayon and have them draw a picture of the items they find instead.

11. A trail of stories

Want to encourage your child to dive into a good book? A "Trail of Stories" scavenger hunt can lead them on an adventure through literature. Draw a simple map with stops along the way that ask them to read a book:

  • While sitting outside
  • That was turned into a movie
  • That your friend recommends to you
  • While riding in the car
  • That's non-fiction
  • That has an animal on the cover
  • That's part of a series

Offer a prize once your child makes it through the whole map. If you aren't sure what books to recommend if your children ask you for suggestions, Time Magazine's list of the top 100 children's books is a fantastic source of ideas.

12. Real-life RPG

Imaginative role-play is a great way for your little ones to practice their social skills in various situations.

Do they have a favorite book, movie, or fairytale? Try designing a scavenger hunt where they have to follow a trail of themed locations, solving problems in-character along the way.

Have Little Red Riding Hood find her way to Grandma's house safely, help the Paw Patrol on a rescue mission, or assist the Harry Potter trio in finding all seven Horcruxes. You can make it even more fun with costumes and themed props.

Ready to put these amazing scavenger hunt ideas to the test?

These scavenger hunt ideas are the perfect foundation for a social-distancing activity. Feeling inspired? It's time to gather up your children, involve a few of your neighborhood friends, and start the adventure!