By the time they turn five, they’ve probably heard us say “Look at that cow! See the red plane? Oh, over there! A rainbow!” a million times. Is it any wonder kids are explorers by nature? Our little Magellans love finding surprises in even the most simple of settings and from your backyard to the beach, here are eight great spots to set up a search for (extra)ordinary treasures. Happy hunting!

BinocularsPhoto: U.S. Department of Agriculture via flickr Creative Commons

In a Forest

You don’t have to be Snow White to know the forest is full of enchantment. Take to the woods with your little critters in search of things big and small, and you’ll be amazed at what else they discover along the way! You can open their eyes with items as simple and straightforward as a yellow leaf, or as imaginative as a fairy house. In between, their list might also include a fallen tree, four ants marching in a row, a mushroom, a flower with six petals, or something furry.

Beach Combers Photo: Heaton Johnson via flickr Creative Commons

At the Beach

Nothing beats a day at the beach with kiddos in tow. They’ll be blown away at everything worth picking up when you send them splashing with a scavenger list on your next trip to the shore. Enjoy the view from your chair as they search for seaweed (or mermaid hair, for your imaginative child), sandalwood, a crab hole, coquina shells, a piece of string, animal tracks in the sand, and more. For the smaller set, see how many different colors they can find as you walk along the dunes.

bug house

In the Backyard

Dorothy found out the hard way that there’s no place like home. Give your kids a shortcut to this realization by handing them a list of backyard treasures to find, and watch as your home becomes more exciting than Oz. From garden tools to groundhog holes, bugs to bird nests, the letter “o” to something orange, you’ll have them looking at their backyard in a whole new light.

Bike Tandem

Photo: Umberto Brayj via flickr Creative Commons

Around Town

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day in the neighborhood, won’t you … spend an afternoon exploring town? With a list that ranges from civic (can you spot a church, a school, a grocery store, a library?) to transportation (how about a red car, a bus with a “2,” a train, or a plane), there’s end to sites to be seen. Add people-watching intrigue while you’re out and about and try to find someone with glasses, a baby in a stroller or a dog on a walk. Won’t you be our neighbor?

PlaygroundPhoto: Ross Griff via flickr Creative Commons

On a Playground

Who knew playgrounds were full of science, just waiting to be discovered on a scavenger hunt? Before you go, spend a few minutes exploring simple concepts like a pendulum, a lever, a fulcrum, gravity, rotation, and revolutions. Then turn them loose to see if they identify the workings of a swing, a seesaw, a slide and a merry-go-round. If your small set isn’t ready for a scientific excursion yet, see how many shapes they can identify, or focus on textures (smooth, bumpy, springy, hard, grainy and squishy).

Hay balePhoto: David Amsler via flickr Creative Commons

On a Farm

Old MacDonald had a farm, e-i-e-i–o. And on that farm he had a: bucket, hoe, hose, scale, tractor, mulch, fence, barn, pasture, hay bale, livestock and crops, e-i-e-i-o! Whether you head out to a nearby u-pick farm or to a working farm with livestock and crops, you won’t have any trouble coming up with new and exciting things for your own little farmers to find. The best thing about a scavenger hunt on a farm? You’ll be teaching them all about where food comes from, and they might just be inspired to eat more veggies!

Pool

At the Pool

Just when you think you’ve played every pool game, wow your small swimmers with a scavenger hunt for endless end-of-summer fun. Whether you focus on finding shapes (a diving board is your rectangle, an inter-tube is your circle, the back of the pool chair is a square, the ice cream at the concession stand is served in a cone, and so on) or colors (expand the color category from basic to brilliant and include colors like teal, chartreuse, and tangerine), a pool scavenger hunt is just the ticket for keeping it exciting well after Labor Day.

Firefly

Under the Stars

Is there anything that screams “summer” more than sweaty kids racing through the grass at dusk and giggling right past bedtime into the night? Add to the thrill of staying up late with a sunset and after-dark scavenger hunt. Start with the usual suspects (lightning bugs) and then wow them with staged glow in the dark objects. Don’t forget to have flashlights and glow sticks ready, because it’s always a blast finding frogs, fireflies, and rocks that look like rabbits in the dark.

What’s on your scavenger list, and where do you do it? Tell us in the comments section below

— Shelley Massey