Everyday Scavenger Hunts

I’m sure there are many sticklers who would argue that what I’m suggesting here is not a real scavenger hunt, but let’s skip past the dictionary definitions and focus on how you can incorporate the fun of a scavenger hunt into everyday activities.

You can search for anything

You could make a list of specific things to find, or try to see how many things you can find that fit a certain category. Personally, I’m a fan of categories and descriptions because they are great for developing vocabulary and they require a lot less preparation. Here are a few examples:

  • colours
  • sounds
  • shapes
  • words or letters (or things that start with a letter or sound)
  • movements (things that roll, fly, bounce, walk, slide, never move…)
  • sizes (what things are huge? what can you find with a magnifying glass?)
  • textures
  • groups of things (things found in pairs, 3s, 4s, 5s…)
  • things that fit a theme (tools, animals, plants, wet things, things that rhyme…)

 

You can search anywhere

Really, anywhere:

  • outside (what do you notice: walking down the street, on the bus, in the park, around a pond, at the zoo…)
  • at home (in a particular room or searching the whole house)
  • in other buildings (the garage, the grocery store, a greenhouse, the library, the post office…)
  • in books, magazines, and newspapers (newspapers are great for finding words and letters, and you might be amazed how many things they can remember seeing in the books you have shared together)
  • in your imagination (very handy when you run out of things to spot on long car rides)
  • in the garbage (maybe you’re learning about recycling or composting?)

 

You don’t need a “list”

While traditionally you start by handing out copies of a written list, a lot of young children will not find that very helpful. More often you will be reading the list to them. You can also use pictures with or instead of words, but that takes time, so you are probably only going to do that for special occasions or with things you use all the time (like turning your grocery list into a scavenger hunt).

Some people like checking things off in a list, but I never understood the appeal myself. Instead, if you want to keep track of what you find in your search, you could draw together, take pictures, use the voice recorder on your phone, collect the items themselves in a bag/box/backpack/basket (half the fun is remembering where the things you collected came from), or scribe for them (they will love seeing their words in print).

Or, you can skip the list altogether. Just pick a category or theme and go exploring together to see what you can find, or take turns deciding what you’re going to look for next.

 

Consider your audience

It’s easy to be overwhelmed if you think that a scavenger hunt needs to play out like the script to a blockbuster movie or an episode of a reality TV show. I’m not saying that wouldn’t add to the appeal, but young children are natural explorers. They will notice all kinds of things that you never thought to look for, and they bring a level of excitement to “let’s go find things that are red” that you rarely get from us older folk and our teenage friends.

 

Why are we doing this again?

  • It’s fun!
  • You can encourage them to be more observant and methodical. Often children forget to look everywhere or take a running approach to everything. By looking for things together, you can teach them some helpful strategies, like how to slow down or form a plan before you start looking.
  • We are building vocabulary! If your little one is starting to read, then circling all the words they recognize by sight on a newspaper page is great practice.
  • As exciting as it can be, this can also be really relaxing. How often do you take the time to look for shapes in the clouds? Or really listen to all the sounds in your neighbourhood?
  • There are all kinds of categories, themes, and ideas that you explore with these kinds of activities, so you’re helping them develop a broader, deeper, and more coherent worldview.
  • If you are missing a few things (your keys for example) this can be a sneaky way to recruit some help. I’m kidding, but not really. If you approach everyday tasks in a playful manner, you can keep the kids engaged, help them learn, still get everything you need done, and have fun doing it.

What Brings Your Family Together?

Our Tree Named Steve is a story about a family who comes together and grows together around a tree in their yard. The parents build the family’s house and leave the tree standing for their family to enjoy. The youngest child isn’t able to pronounce the word “tree” initially, so instead she calls the tree “Steve.” The name sticks and the tree is referred to as Steve for the remainder of the story.

Steve is a constant figure for the family as the children grow up. Through happy times and through tough times, Steve is there.

As I was reading Our Tree Named Steve, I was reminded of the various objects and events in my childhood that brought my family closer together. I lived in five different towns growing up, which always meant changes in houses, schools, friends, etc. However, no matter where we went we had our family dog. This family dog lived for 16 years and was a constant companion for us — no matter where we were living.

My parents also tried to make sure we sat down and had supper together as much as possible. As much as I grumbled about eating together with my family (as I would have rather sat in front of the television), I am thankful for our mealtimes together. It was a consistent event every week that helped us to know what was going on in each other’s lives and get to know one another better. In fact, some of the biggest laughs I had with my parents and my brother growing up were at the supper table!

What brings your family together? Is it a weekly family games night? Do you take a regular family trip to the grocery store? Is it a swing set or a sandbox in the backyard where you can play? Do you have a favourite book that you like to share before bedtime?

Whatever it is, enjoy the things and events in your family that bring you closer together!

Our Tree Named Steve is written by Alan Zweibel and illustrated by David Catrow.

Summer Cooking: Chocolate and Marshmallows Are All That You Need!

Although that title may not be entirely true, especially if you like fresh vegetables and fruit and want to avoid those pesky things like scurvy or other vitamin deficiencies, they are definitely a staple for campfire treats over the summer!

Each year, my family looks for new summer recipes to try while we’re camping, barbecuing, or just cooking together. My kids are excited to discover something they can help with and add to our summer cookbooks. We experiment and have a great time finding different ingredients, measuring, and, of course, eating our final product.

Capturing the recipes can be just as fun as trying them out. A scrapbook of favourites might go camping with you. You could make a family cookbook by getting everyone in the family to send you their best summer recipes. Adding a picture of each relative would give it a personal touch.

Recipes and food, in general, lend themselves to stories — they tend to stir up memories and are a great way to get people talking about “days of yore.” Written in one of our family cookbooks, my grandmother’s fried chicken recipe starts out with “Go out to the hen house, choose a nice fat bird…”  (I’ll let you finish that). It was a fun (and funny) way to hear about her life and your recipes might just do the same — have fun with it!

Here are some of the recipes we will be adding to our book this year!

 

Chicken and Peach Skewers

You need:

Chicken (cut into cubes)

Bacon (cut in half)

Peaches (cut in 8 wedges)

BBQ sauce

Skewers (soak wooden ones)

 

What to do:

  1. Wrap bacon around chicken pieces and put on skewers. Alternate pieces of meat with peaches.
  2. Brush all with BBQ sauce and cook on the BBQ until chicken is not pink.

 

Banana Boats

You need:

Bananas (sliced lengthwise with peel on, not cut all the way through)

Marshmallows

Chocolate chips

Tinfoil

 

What to do:

  1. Put chocolate chips in the banana.
  2. Push marshmallows in over top of the chocolate chips.
  3. Wrap in tinfoil.
  4. Place on hot coals of a campfire until warm and melted.

Frozen Chocolate Bananas

You need:

Popsicle sticks

Bananas (peeled and cut in half)

Chocolate melting wafers

Toppings like peanuts or sprinkles

 

What to do:

  1. Put the Popsicle sticks in the bananas.
  2. Completely freeze bananas.
  3. Melt the chocolate and dip the bananas in.
  4. Roll in the topping of your choice.
  5. Put back in freezer.

 

Roasted Beet and Carrot Salad

You need:

Greens (your choice)

Feta cheese (or goat cheese)

Pecans

Beets (sliced thinly)

Carrots (sliced thinly)

Balsamic vinegar

Olive oil

 

What to do:

  1. Toss the beets and carrots in olive oil and roast in oven (or BBQ) until soft.
  2. Place beets, carrots, feta, pecans, and dressing on greens.

Put on a Show

“Come one, come all! The show is about to begin!”

These words echo through your backyard, inviting families of neighbourhood children to come and watch the production they’ve created. It will be a night of fun and memories as the performance unfolds.

It may sound a little daunting, but dramatic play is something kids do naturally. When they get together, they’re often making up stories and acting them out. Putting on an actual play or puppet show is just a different way to capture their creativity so everyone can enjoy it.

It can be as simple or complex as they want it to be. They can use a story or rhyme they know as the base for their play, or make one up. It could be a shadow play, puppet show, reader’s theatre (just Google it and a number of scripts will come up), or any other format they want.

They may want props — the crafty ones in the group will be excited to paint boxes or make puppets (sock and paper bag puppets are quick and easy). Costumes can also be made out of craft materials or old clothes and Halloween costumes. If it’s a night production, glow sticks and flashlights might be a good choice — a white blanket and a flashlight can create a shadow play.

Advertising a show is sometimes just as important as the performance and if they are a little entrepreneurial, they may even think to sell tickets and buy a treat for themselves afterwards.

There are many different ways a project like this can come to life. If you act as a guide instead of the director, you will be amazed at what kids come up with and they will be excited to show their families what they’ve done.

It’s a task that keeps them busy and having fun, and working with other kids in the community builds connections and helps people meet and get to know each other. How can you go wrong with that?

Got Cards?

Sometimes moments of boredom in our lives are expected, as when waiting at the dentist’s office. Other times they come as a surprise (although an unexciting surprise), as when you show up late to the dentist’s office and end up waiting anyways. Adults might be used to this kind of waiting, but children can rarely stand it quietly. They’re going to need something to do, and it will probably fall on the parent to provide it. There aren’t many things you can keep on you at all times just to please your child, but cards — cheap, compact, and endless in their opportunities for fun — work excellently. All you need is a flat surface to play a quick game with your children or let them entertain themselves. To that end, here are some fun ideas for curing boredom with cards:

  • Go Fish is one of the simplest card games out there. All it requires is a basic grasp of numbers and the names of cards. If there are two players, they both draw seven cards from the deck. If there are more than two players, everyone draws five cards. The first player can ask anyone else for a specific card: a six, for example. If the asked person has any sixes, they must be given to the asker and the asker gets another turn. If the asked person does not have a six, the asker is told to “go fish,” and must draw another card from the deck. If this card is a six, the asker can go again, but if not, the game moves on to the next player. The goal is to complete sets of four cards — in this case, four sixes. That set can then be put aside. At the end of the game, the person with the most completed sets wins.
  • Crazy Eights is a small step up from Go Fish, but you will find it very closely resembles Uno. Every player gets eight cards to start. The remaining cards are placed in a deck face down, except for a single card that will be placed face up beside the deck. The first player must play a card that matches either the suit or number of that card (or both). Then the game continues to the next person, who must do the same thing, and so on. If at any time someone cannot play a card, they must draw a card from the deck. If that card can be played, it may be played immediately. Otherwise, the game moves on to the next person. Some cards have special rules attached, however. Twos require the next person to pick up two cards from the deck. Eights allow the player to declare that the next card must be a specific suit of his or her choosing, regardless of the suit of the eight card. The game has been around for a long time, so there are many variations on these rules you can explore on your own. The goal is to be the first person with no more cards.
  • Matching is a much easier card-based task than both of the above. Simply lay all of the cards face down. A player picks up a card, and then another one. If they match, that player gets to keep the cards. If not, the cards must be returned. The key is to remember where previous cards were and pick them up again when you find their matches.
  • Building is another fun thing kids can do with cards. Trying to create a card house that doesn’t fall over will let kids stretch their creativity and problem-solving skills.

And a quick Google search will reveal even more options than that! So, will you finally be able to fend off your child’s boredom? The answer is in the cards. (They say yes.)

Keeping Kids Occupied in the Car

Are we there yet?” “She’s touching me!” “I’m bored, there’s nothing to do!”

Vacation time often means time spent in the car going from here to there. Whether it’s a quick drive to Grandma’s house or a grueling two-day road trip, keeping your passengers occupied while keeping your sanity can seem like a feat in itself!

Who remembers playing the License Plate Game as a child – or even as an adult? Why not try these simple variations or another one of these other games while on the road? All you need is a clipboard, some markers, stickers, a book of stamps, a hairbrush, and a little imagination and pre-planning, and you are on your way!

  1. The Name Game Watch for the letters in everyone’s names. They could come from license plates, billboards, roadside signs, or ads on the trucks whizzing by. First one to find all the letters in their names gets to choose a treat from the Goodie Bag they helped you pack before you headed out on your adventure (this is where the pre-planning comes in!).
  2. Boggle® Auto Style Using the letters from license plates, see how many three-letter (or four- or five-letter depending on their spelling ability) words they can come up with. Give them either a distance or time limit. Now go!
  3. Age Game How about the numbers? Perhaps they can try to write down the ages of all the occupants in the car. For mom and dad they may have to do some adding up of numbers.
  4. I Got it Game Randomly call out numbers and the first person to find it on a license plate gets a point. First to 15 gets to hit the Goodie Bag.
  5. Backseat Bingo Using pre-printed Bingo cards (there’s that pre-planning again) and stickers, be the first one to cover all the numbers on your sheet and shout BINGO! Or change it up and use some road signs they see along the way (construction, speed limit, animals on the road, etc).
  6. Post Office When you stop for gas or a snack along the way, let them pick out a post card. Help them address the card and write a message and then find the nearest post office and mail them (pre-planning, you already have the stamps). When they return home from holidays, they will have pictures of where they have been to add to their Summer Fun Photo Journal.
  7. Radio Roundup Sometimes radio reception isn’t all that great along the way. Or perhaps you just need a break from the scratchy all-talk radio or the blaring pop station. Why not try singing some rhymes or other little ditties and take turns interviewing (here’s where the hairbrush comes in) the Itsy Bitsy Spider or ask The Driver on the Bus why the babies were crying. Imagine the tales they have to tell!

Games can make the time spent in the car seem to go more quickly and everybody has some fun. Just don’t tell them that they have been learning at the same time!