Looking for a fun and healthy way to spend time with your kids this winter? Get outside and help them connect to the natural world — take them on a winter nature scavenger hunt! There’s plenty for them to discover, even in the colder season.
Most of us tend to spend less time outdoors when the weather is cold and the sky is gray. However, activities like playing in the snow and going on a winter hike are good for the soul. They’re also good for your health and the health of your kids! Even with a cloudy weather forecast, we gain vitamin D, which boosts mood and overall health.
Spending time with children outdoors in the winter can help them appreciate nature more. Enjoy this scavenger hunt with the kids in your life during your next snowy, winter outdoor time. Take the kids to a public park, on a trail, or just step into your backyard.
Before You Start the Scavenger Hunt
It’s important to set some rules for the scavenger hunt before you set off. If you are on a public trail, be sure kids know to stay on the trail. Help them understand some of the “leave no trace” principles, especially “leave only footprints, take only photos.” By just observing nature, you help preserve ecosystems and keep habitats safe for the animals that live there. Be sure your kiddos know that you’re searching for interesting items to observe, not taking them with you.
The only allowable collectibles are litter. Pack a small trash bag in your pack to collect any trash you might find and responsibly dispose of it. As a parent or caregiver, you may feel squeamish about allowing your little one to pick up trash. It’s fine if you just pick up the trash yourself at the kids’ direction. It’s a good idea to pack hand sanitizer or gloves to use when you pick up trash. Discuss nature stewardship as you do these cleanups.
Winter Scavenger Hunt Guidance
Be sure to talk about each item on the list as you go. We have provided many talking points that will help your small nature scavenger hunt partner(s) think about the world around them. It might be a good idea to get ahold of an animal print identification guide as well as a tree guide to help identify your findings. Also, consider downloading an app that helps you identify flora and fauna, like iNaturalist.
Ask the kids to cross off the items on the list as they identify them. Remember that markers and pens don’t always work well in the cold so use a pencil or crayon on the check-off list during your hunting.
Take along a phone or camera so you can snap photos of what the kids find. When you get back inside, ask them to draw pictures of their favorite findings.
As the guide for the scavenger hunt, help your young hunters consider what’s happened with what they find. For instance, if you come across animal prints, consider where the animal came from and where they were going. What happened to the iced-over puddle that you found with a huge crack in it? This can become a great game of cause and effect as well as help them appreciate the plants and animals in your region.
Sample List for Winter Scavenger Hunt
Our scavenger hunt list assumes you are in a deciduous, colder winter environment and that the winter season is much different from your summer climate. But if you’re in a warmer climate, feel free to modify the list to fit your local conditions.
- Human footprint – This is an easy one to start with as you can count your own footprints! Do you see many other people’s prints in the snow? Is this a place that a lot of people have visited in the winter?
- Animal print – Once you’re looking at the ground, see if you can find signs of animals also visiting this same location. Snow helps you really see the outline of the prints. This would be an ideal item to draw once you’re at home with your hot cocoa. Take a photo to draw from later.
- Ice puddle – Can you find a puddle that’s been iced over? Has it already broken or can you stomp it with the heel of your boot? Is there water under the ice or not?
- Seedpod – Hunt around for seed pods, acorns, or pinecones. Have the contents been eaten by an animal? Can you identify which plant the pod came from?
- Evergreen tree – Conifers may be the only trees around you that significantly block your view. How many different kinds can you find? Feel the needles and compare the different textures of evergreens.
- Berries – Often, berries that remain on trees through the winter are poisonous so be sure not to eat them! What colors have you found? Can you identify the plant because of this fruit?
- Puffed up bird – If it’s cold outside, birds will often puff up their feathers to trap heat beside their body and they look so cute! Can you find any chubby looking birds? You might have to be still and quiet to watch them.
- Rocks – See if you can find up to three different shapes and sizes of rocks. Do you only see large landscape rocks that aren’t covered with snow? Does the path you are on contain rocks? Do you see rocks of different colors?
- Nest – You will be able to see many more birds’ nests with leaves off deciduous trees. Point out clumps of leaves that are squirrel nests as well that kids may not notice on their own.
- Interesting clouds – Frequently, winter skies are just monotone white. If you happen to be doing your scavenger hunt on a beautiful blue sky day, admire the view while you can and be in the moment with your young people.
- Noises – Once you’ve been outside for a while, ask your small nature partner(s) to listen quietly for a minute. Set a timer on your phone. If there’s a heavy snow cover, the world is quieter and more muffled. Do they hear nature sounds? Are the trees creaking because their branches are weighed down with snow? What about the noise of cars or people?
This scavenger hunt includes flora, fauna, and minerals. What else can you and your companions find?
When you get back inside with something warm to drink, don’t forget to give your exploring scavengers a chance to draw and talk about the things they saw on their hunt.
This post was originally published on February 15, 2021.