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Need to Keep Your Kids Busy? Write a Scavenger Hunt!

Little fills a parent with more dread than knowing you’ve got a stretch of time ahead when your kids will be unoccupied and bored. Rather than succumbing to hours of screen time, write them a scavenger hunt instead! When you need to keep your kids busy, writing them a scavenger hunt engages them in fun, action, and problem-solving, and you get to flex your creative muscles as a writer and as a parent. Scavenger hunts are win-win, and below you’ll see several examples you can use as templates for your own kids!

If you’ve got a yawning gap of time looming ahead when your kids won’t have anything to do, rather than have them spend more hours on screens (rarely an option we feel good about), fill it by writing them a scavenger hunt. A road trip, birthday party, or any random weekend day playdate can be filled with a fun interactive game that will give any number of kids- and you- a dose of fun, physical activity, and lasting memories. 

All you need to write a scavenger hunt is a little creative energy, some paper or a computer for a virtual version, a setting or theme, and a couple of kids, and you’re off!


1) Road Trip Scavenger Hunt

papers with different colored ink on beige background

When my family was about to take a 5-hour trip up to Yosemite, after hearing of my dread for the long drive ahead, my clever and compassionate brother-in-law, Brent Geris, magician and owner of The Magic Apple magic shop in Studio City, Los Angeles, wrote us a road-trip scavenger hunt.

Right as we were pulling out of the drive, he handed us a care package of envelopes containing instructions and a few magic tricks the kids could learn and practice on each other. 

It was a brilliant move on his part: the children were grateful (even if they didn’t know it) for the reduced injuries they would have otherwise inflicted on each other out of boredom in the backseat, and it was so nice to see them look up from their video games and have a good time just being kids.

Needless to say, I will now be writing scavenger hunts for all of our longer car drives.

Instructions for How to Write the Scavenger Hunt:

Use these as written or modify to suit the terrain, trip parameters, and personalize based on those taking part.

1) Envelope: Enter the mileage here of the car before you take off. When you have gone 127 miles, open this envelope. (Great for getting them to do math!)

Inside: $15 and a note- in 3 more stops, exit the highway, and buy each person in the car either a blue drink or a drink with a blue label.

2) Envelope: When you see a cow or a horse, open this envelope.

Inside: a note- everyone has to make a chain poem. The person in the front passenger seat starts with “There once was a man from …” and the next person fills in the last word plus the next line (stopping before the last word). Go around until someone gets stumped. Do this 3x.

3) Envelope: When you hear Taylor Swift, Lizzo, or Arianna Grande on the radio, open this envelope.

Inside: buried treasure (follow the note in the photo with the green ink –>)

4) Envelope: After driving for 92 minutes, open this envelope!

Inside: one piece of bubble gum per passenger. Have a bubble blowing contest. The first person to blow the most bubbles in 3 minutes wins!

white paper with green text
envelope with writing on it and note written in red ink

5) Envelope: After you see 5 yellow cars (or your tween says, “Shut up, I hate you” for the 3rd time), open this envelope.

Inside: $10 and a note- Exit the freeway at the next chance you get and MAKE SURE you buy one piece of chocolate for everyone in this car with this money.”


Depending on your trip length, you can add more envelopes and clues and modify depending on whether you’re on an airplane, a train, or even a walk!


2) Home Birthday Party Scavenger Hunt

If you’re hosting your kid’s birthday party and at a loss for how to fill the hours, a scavenger hunt is a perfect solution. This scavenger hunt can be modified based on the ages of the kids, number of kids, number of adult chaperones/helpers you have, and other variables such as mobility issues.

You’re welcome to download mine and use as-is:

Click on Birthday party scavenger hunt

checklist with graphic of camera

Design your birthday party scavenger hunt

If you’re customizing your own, you can make the sheet as fancy or grassroots as you like (I modified an existing checklist template in Canva). 

Personalize it with your child’s name, instructions, and clever actions the kids have to complete that are unique to your neighborhood/area, the kids’ interests, and even the partygoers themselves!

Suggested actions:

  • Make 2 human pyramids on a neighbor’s lawn

  • Run beside or behind a neighborhood jogger (2 people)

  • Everyone pose in front of a picture of the real estate agent on a “For Sale” sign

  • Take a group selfie with a dog

  • Take a group pic with everyone jumping in the air

  • Cross the street like ducklings in a row (waddle, crouch, etc.)

  • Everyone sing a song from a Disney movie

  • Take a nap on someone’s patio chairs (2 people)

  • Take a pic of the group sitting on the curb reading books

  • Find something that starts with the letter “L”

The instructions [not included on the sheet pictured] will vary depending on the age of the children and whether you have adults supervising.

In our case, the kids were old enough to go alone, so I had them do it all as one group. To prove they completed the tasks, they had to take pictures to win their prize (pizza dinner)(That’s right; we made them work for their supper!)

You could do this scavenger hunt in two or more groups as well and make it a competition, so the winning group (or duo) gets a prize.

3) Playdate Scavenger Hunt

graphic of safe and number chart

This one involves math, riddles, and a lot of writing creativity!


Prior to creating the scavenger hunt:

1) Get a combination padlock and set up the 4-digit number that is a 4-letter word (use the above letter/number decoding chart).

2) Map out what house or business addresses you want to use (this part is to help you do the math that will ultimately get the kids to find the numbers on the padlock). This will require you doing some secret tours around the neighborhood.

Choose one, two, or even more houses/businesses that will factor into each clue (depending on how old the kids are and how much math you want them to have to do).

Ex: the first number you want them to get is “4”.Choose one address down the block that is 1304 and a second address around the corner that is 904. When you write the clue, your riddle will guide them to subtract 904 from 1304 and get 400, then remove the “00” to arrive at “4.”

Note distinguishing characteristics for each of the addresses you choose.

Ex: red door, garden gnome, weeping willow, dangling eavestrough, “we serve coffee t-shirts chips” sign, etc.

open sign on shop door

3) Do #1 and #2 four times to get the kids 4 clues to correlate with the 4 numbers of the padlock. 

When you write your clues, you can be funny or silly as you point the kids to each address. The clues can be about the house/business exteriors or even about their inhabitants if you know them.

You may also link one clue to the next with more math:

Ex: 40 paces toward your school then 31 back again, find the garden gnome who is sometimes the perching spot to the wren –

How do you know? Look for the white snow! At that house, write down the number. Now subtract it from the address of the house that came before, or else the prize will be yours no more.

*You can make this as simple or as complex as you like and involve multiple locations to really get your kids moving and keep them outside

Here’s a fun and encouraging fact: studies are showing that time spent outside and interacting with others isn’t just beneficial on its own; it can actually undo some of the damage from screen time in young children.

Scavenger hunt for the win! 

Design the playdate scavenger hunt document:

many keys locked on a bridge wire

You can make this as visual as you like (in Canva, another graphic design software, or even in a Google doc). 

You can also use the one my brilliant neighbor made for our kids during the pandemic HERE (be sure to make a copy of the Google doc so you can own it and make any changes/customize as you need!) 

Put the image of the number code chart at the top of your document, and leave space for them to write out their answers. 

Going on the Scavenger Hunt:

Give the kids the papers and pens and have an adult who has the answers join them in case they get stumped. (Or if they are going alone, you may want to give boundaries so they don’t wander way off base).

Let the kids know they have to answer each clue to get the 4 necessary numbers to open the padlock.

When they have gotten all the numbers, they can then correlate the numbers to the corresponding letter on the chart to get one a last clue that will point them to the suitcase or bag that is locked with the padlock back at the house (or in its hiding spot). Then they open the lock with their numbers, and everyone gets a treat/surprise.

Writing a scavenger hunt is great fun for kids of all ages. 

  • The participants get to be outside and active and use their deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills

  • As the writer/creator, you get to have some mischievous fun and feel like a kid again yourself. Importantly, you’re keeping your kids busy, engaging their creativity, getting them moving and collaborating, and having fun.


And that is a successful day in any writer parent’s book.

round black glasses on antique book

As a writer parent, you may want to write more than scavenger hunts (wait, that’s a thing?). If you’re looking for a literary partner, support and guidance, and an infrastructure that can help you write short or long works, the book you’ve had in mind for ages, or documents for work and to move forward with your practice and projects, we’re here to help with our personalized writing coaching, 4-month mentored book-writing programs, and much more. Reach out any time!

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