Creative Outdoor Activity

The Scavenger Hike

all material ©2004 Bruce Van Patter
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A Town Treasure Hunt

Learning to really see is not just for nature hikes. Cities and towns are just full of wonderful details, which most people just walk by without noticing. On a beautiful spring morning, I took my four-year-old daughter Grace with me into our small town with a list of things to find, a digital camera, and a spirit of adventure. When I asked her how we should decide what to look for, she said, "You just use your noodle brain and think of things to find!"

Because of her young age, I tried to keep things fairly simple:

Live near woods?

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Focus on Your Child

Our Treasure Hunt List

1. A number
2. A sound ("A mysterious sound," added Grace.)
3. Something surprising in color
4. A triangle
5. An animal
6. Something pointy on a roof
7. A face
8. A hole
9. A flag
10. Something round on the ground

Other ideas for your Treasure Hunt

• colors

• shapes

• textures (rough, bumpy, smooth)

• a strange-shaped window

• something with polka-dots or stripes

• a clock

• a particular word (for older, reading kids)

• something that looks like a letter

• a kind of person (like a mailman, or a woman with a stroller)

• a flower

• something sharp

• something soft

• rhyming things: something square in the air; something tall on a wall; number four on a door.

• a nest

Ideas for using
the photos

Whether you take digital pictures like I did, or if you take a little disposable camera, it's good to have a record of what you find. Then you can continue to share the experience.

Put the photos in a little album. Make new ones for each Town Treasure Hunt. Or keep a book just for the "faces" or "numbers" you see. Or make a book of "surprising colors."

You could make it a group experience, too. Have teams go to different locations with the same list, then come back, get the film developed through "one-hour" and gather together to compare what you found. It would be a great way to spend a Saturday with friends or with visiting cousins!

How did we do? Take a look.

We had hardly gotten out of the car before Grace found something round on the ground. The rhyme helped her remember, I think.

Finding a surprising color was easy, too. Deciding which one to use was harder. I liked the purple house.

Grace prefered the pink of the cherry tree in full blossom.

Unlike the face I was looking for on my Scavenger Hike, we wanted to find an actual face. Here is one carved into a church, one that I had passed hundreds of times without seeing.
Something pointy on a building made us look up.

While this hole made us look down.

A mysterious sound was hard to find. Most sounds in our town are engine sounds. We did trace the loud hum to the huge air-conditioners at the back of the courthouse, but Grace wasn't all that happy about getting close to the noise. It was good, though to stop and listen to the sounds all around us -- again, things we seldom notice. It's all "background noise", isn't it?

One of Grace's favorite parts of our hunt was getting to cross off the boxes next to each item. It's a great way to keep your child motivated, and work on those fine motor skills!


We found both a live animal, and a surprising picture of one. I didn't know there even was such a sign.

The flag was easy to find.

But the triangle made us use our imaginations more.

Finally, there were numbers all over: house numbers, numbers on signs in shop windows, but this was one of the more surprising ones. And no, I did not draw this on the sidewalk. It was put there in advance of a street fair that was coming; this was for booth 83. Grace liked it because she's big into chalking.


Though the pictures may not be as colorful as they might in nature, landscapes in towns or cities have as many delights, which take a "seeing eye" and a "hearing ear" (as the Bible likes to call them). The more you help your child be aware of the world around her, the more she'll be a creative kid!

all material ©2004 Bruce Van Patter
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