Motherhood

A Fun Way to Get Kids Outside in Winter

Winter scavenger hunt with kids by Katherine Wolkoff

A few years ago, I started trying out slow parenting, where you sloooooow down and soak up the moments (bubble baths, eating crackers, an ant on the sidewalk) with your kids. But, I have to say: it feels easier in the summer! My boys are the GROUCHIEST when it’s cold out, even though I’m always trying to get them out of the house. So, when photographer Katherine Wolkoff shared her brilliant idea, I was thrilled…

Winter scavenger hunt with kids by Katherine Wolkoff

Winter scavenger hunt with kids by Katherine Wolkoff

Katherine Wolkoff (of deer bed fame) lives in Brooklyn but spends a lot of time at her mom’s house in Block Island, Rhode Island. Her mother is a science teacher, and they’ll often take walks together, boys in tow. To make things fun and playful, they give them a scavenger hunt.

Winter scavenger hunt with kids by Katherine Wolkoff

Winter scavenger hunt with kids by Katherine Wolkoff

“Today’s game was that the boys had to find: something green, something red, something left behind by an animal, something alive, and something dead,” Katherine explained. They ended up finding green grass frozen in the ice, red berries, tracks left behind by deer, an owl pellet with mice bones, alive lichen, and a deer jaw. “They always laugh over finding scat, of course!” she adds.

Winter scavenger hunt with kids by Katherine Wolkoff

At home afterward, the boys observed their specimens through magnifying lenses and drew everything while sipping hot chocolate. “In the summer, the scavenger hunts morph into tide pooling, which the kids also love because it involves nets and muddy feet and humming to periwinkles,” says Katherine. “This has become a wonderful way to learn about plants and animals, and also to have a larger conversation about the environment and taking care of the earth.”

Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata by Katherine Wolkoff

Katherine’s beautiful new work — also inspired by nature — is now on view at Benrubi Gallery, until March 2nd.

Would you do this? What a fun way to spend a winter afternoon, right? I’d love to do one in Brooklyn, but we might have to use different clues: leaves, rocks, the library, a Toyota!

P.S. The best parenting advice I ever got, and our winter guide to NYC.

(All photos by Katherine Wolfkoff, including her final photo Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata. from her current gallery exhibit Critical Zone.)

  1. Grace says...

    At our preschool we sometimes do a primal scream with the kids when it’s too cold for little ones to safely be outside. We all put our shoes and coats on but leave the snow pants and other layers behind. Then we set a one minute timer and all run outside and scream as loud as we can “IT IS TOO COLD!!” over and over while running in circles. This releases adrenaline like nothing else and then kids can come back inside reset for more indoor playtime.

  2. Joanie O says...

    We do indoor scavenger hunts too. I have a bunch of drawings of places around the house, and I hide them for the kids to find.
    The first drawing tells them to look on the couch, on the couch they find a drawing of their bed, on their bed they find a drawing of the shower, in the shower they find a drawing of the fridge, in the fridge they find a picture of their gumboots at the back door, in their gumboots etc etc.
    Tbh its over pretty quickly as they run backwards and forwards in my small house, but it’s enough to break up the monotony of the day.

  3. Mims says...

    letterboxing is great fun too…..finding hidden carved stamps after following clues. https://www.atlasquest.com. It is a more artistic version of geocaching.

  4. Kristen says...

    I, too, am stuck in the polar vortex currently with three kids, and appreciate all these comments and ideas for getting time outside! We still try to get a breath of fresh air, but it’s hard to think about spending 15-20 minutes outfitting the kids for a few minutes outdoors on these super cold days- but worth it in my opinion. Since becoming a parent, it’s funny how my own clothing needs have changed. I look for a winter coat that can endure sledding adventures, snow angels, and wet hikes, as well as cozy boots for snow and rain- I don’t want to hold back the fun because I am uncomfortable! I read a book called Barefoot and Balanced a year or two ago which just helped to confirm the importance of getting children outdoors for unstructured play, and helps to keep me motivated to make sure I include outdoor time for us all each day.

  5. Christina O says...

    Just had to mention I was very excited to see Block Island mentioned in a post! I live in Rhode Island and it’s a wonderful place, I got engaged there and we take a week long trip every summer!

  6. Jessie says...

    We have real logs from trees in our yard that our daughters go and play on. Or we go to a nature center and walk around with mini hikes. Sometimes I call it forest Bathing. They end up building forts and climbing up trees. Remember it’s not bad weather, just bad clothing. We also either bring hot chocolate with us or have it when we come home and sit by the fire while I read to them a book with history in it (My daughters are home schooled). I do LOVE the idea of the scavenger hunt and then draw and look at it closely with a magnifying class. I’ll have to try that. When we do have $ we go skiing.

    • Sasha L says...

      That all sounds so lovely Jessie!

  7. Sarah says...

    My kids love riding bikes, walking, hiking outdoors etc. However in the midwest we can go long stretches when outdoor time is super limited due to weather conditions. We had school canceled 3 days last week and they have already canceled Tues-Thurs this week due to a “Polar Vortex” which dangerously cold temps. Wind chills tonight through tomorrow are -40 to -60. We look forward to setting foot outdoors again in a few days. :)

  8. Sarah says...

    We do adventure walks. The kids decide which way to go. Left, right, straight. Just see where we end up. And usually at the end we find a cafe or something for a nibble.

  9. Amy B says...

    I love these 2 ideas – how clever, yet simple :)

  10. sarah says...

    Sometimes the only way I get to exercise is by putting both kids (5 & 2.5) in the stroller and going for a jog. They got binoculars for Christmas and love bringing them along to look for birds, people, bikes, etc. I think it would be fun to add in a scavenger hunt idea with the binoculars. Thanks!

  11. Sasha L says...

    I think it’s helpful for parents to have a mental list of the essentials of a child’s daily life. Essentials (non negotiables) for a good day, for well being, for healthy habits….. Eating (well and healthfully), enough sleep, grooming and hygiene (baths, hair, teeth), unstructured play time, outside time. These are things that happen everyday regardless of anything. There might be choices surrounding them (carrots or peppers? Play in the backyard or go for a walk? What song while we brush?) but doing them each day, not a choice. When kids are raised to expect and depend on these things as just life, there aren’t battles. Going outside is as natural as breathing. Being consistent and dependable with these things helps parents so much too, so many fewer battles. Plus tired children sleep well and eat well, and those are such helps for parents.

  12. Leah says...

    Here in Arizona, the challenge is the summer. Can’t blame the kids when all I want is to stay inside when it’s 120 outside!
    (My apologies to all of you stuck in snow & freezing weather right now :-)

    • Christy says...

      Leah I can relate to that. I lived in hot Florida most of my life and moved to Colorado 6 years ago. We have a foot of snow in our yard (Colorado here) but it is the best time with my 3 year old! I feel like the extreme heat is much more difficult than the cold winters. We layer up with multiple light/warm layers and a snow bib and hit the great outdoors no matter what. We just built an epic snowman with the neighborhood this weekend, we go on nature walks with the dog and kiddo, sledding and snow shoeing. It’s truly a fun and magical time of year but all about the clothing. If they are cold, they will be miserable and therefore you will be miserable. Stay cool in Arizona!

    • Sarah says...

      Born and raised in the midwest yet I still have struggles in both the cold winters (like our current Polar Vortex) and hot summers! Not 120 but 90+ with high humidity is tough for me! Why do I live here?! J/K great people, schools, a relaxed pace to life, etc.

  13. Vero says...

    Ants on a sidewalk is so city! We call them ants on a log in my small town :)

  14. Emma says...

    This is so lovely to read. As a new teacher, I have become a strong proponent of outdoor and place based learning. Not only as parents should we teach children to engage with the world around them but also as educators. I think that we often forget to give children a chance to explore and discover for themselves. By placing value on the exploration of the world around us children gain a stronger understanding of place and how we are all interconnected. I love this!

  15. Melissa says...

    Ahhh ha ha. Winning comment.

  16. Ramona says...

    I am reading this from Chicago, where we currently are borrowing the weather system that usually hovers over the North Pole. We will be trapped inside our house FOREVER. Maybe I could challenge my kids to find something with crumbs on it, something that belongs in the dirty laundry hamper, and something that is garbage? I’d challenge them to find something we haven’t played with yet, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t exist. Ahhh, let us go, polar vortex!!

    • Sasha L says...

      Hang in there!!! Sending you patience from balmy Montana where it’s happily above zero and no wind. You can keep the polar weather thank you very much.

    • Sarah says...

      “Freeze dancing”! Yes to indoor scavenger hunts! Do you have any glow sticks? One harsh winter I let my daughter take them in the bath with her and turned out the lights. Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube! And then you let them rot their brains on tv. They’ll go back to school eventually and they’ll be fine!

    • Ramona says...

      We are literally drawing with chalk on our family room floor now. There are no words.

  17. Rue says...

    As a little kid, I played a game I called “nature collection,” which was a less structured scavenger hunt. I’d roam around the yard or a town park (usually the beach, because I grew up in a small coastal town). I’d take a plastic bag or a jam jar and put cool stuff inside it: leaves, rocks, etc. I’m now a professional field scientist and college professor, and I don’t think it’s coincidental that those are some of my earliest memories of spending time outside!

    I do intense outdoorsy stuff for work (camping, climbing mountains, driving SUVs through mud up and down those mountains), and people assume that in order to have this job, I must have grown up in one of those outdoorsy families, where you pitched your own tent by age 8 or whatever. In fact, most of my outdoor exposure all the way through high school was just this: wandering around my town, noticing the natural world around me.

    Now I love pitching my own tent, collecting and maintaining my favorite gear, and knowing more than the employees at outdoor stores. But that’s my life as an adult, and it pains me when people think that a kid has to grow up surrounded by the right “stuff” in order to be outdoorsy. Turns out the key is just spending time outside and cultivating curiosity about what’s around you. I promise that the natural world is so big and humans are so tiny (even in a big city) that you can practice your naturalist skills no matter where you live, no fancy equipment required.

    • Kate says...

      Can I just say that you sound awesome.

  18. SFord says...

    We used to do similar things when I was younger:

    Matchbox challenge – see how many things from nature you can fit in a matchbox – with a prize for the winner

    Penny hikes – you leave the house with a penny (or coin). Outside the front door you toss a coin (heads turn left, tails turn right), Every time you get to a corner, crossing or junction, toss the coin again to decide which way you are going to go. You can also print out a local map and get kids to map out their journey as they go. I used to love this!

  19. Dee says...

    Going outside every day is not optional here in Norway during the winter.

    Every day, no matter the weather or how cold it is. I think once you make it part of your routine then no one questions it and it really helps with getting the kids’ energy burned off and helping them sleep better. Plus you need to soak up every bit of sun you can get during the long, dark winter months.

    It helps that the entire culture and school system here supports this and is built around normalising being outside during all sorts of weather. I think if it wasn’t, then you would need an arsenal of tricks to get your kids outside, which to me seems even more tiring. It helps that even in Oslo there are parks and forests that are so easily accessible so it doesn’t turn into a big deal to get out into nature. It took me a long time as a Californian to make this part of my everyday routine, but I do notice it helps everyone get through the winter!

    • Sasha L says...

      This is how we live in Montana too. Outside everyday, outside for hours and hours unless it’s very cold. There is skiing and sledding and snow shoeing and hiking and playing in the winter. Children don’t even question it. At public schools (I teach private preschool) when it’s very cold, especially with wind, kids have indoor recess. But I think that’s more for the grown-ups’ comfort and because some kids are not going to be properly dressed unfortunately. I don’t allow kids to be dropped off without proper gear so we have no excuses. Even if it’s only for ten minutes, it’s important to get out. The children never want to come back in. They create a whole magical world out there. They eat well and get along together and nap well, and it’s largely due to enough tiring *work* playing outside.

    • Christy says...

      Same in Colorado! It’s a necessity to be out every day, getting sun and enjoying nature.

  20. This reminds me of my go-to outdoor activity for any season – geocaching! It’s like a real treasure hunt with the possibility of finding anything from a teeny tiny scroll to a huge box filled with trinkets. We bring along small toys (think goodie bags or matchbox cars) and trade them for those we find. We’ve spent many long afternoons stomping through the woods, but we’ve also killed time with a quick search near the dentist. Caches are everywhere – it’s mind blowing!

  21. Hannah says...

    I think I’ve done just about every type of “walk” with my five year old that there is:
    rain walks (splash in puddles), hunting walks (scavenger hunt), bird/butterfly/cat/dog walks (competition to see who can spot the most), art supply walks (gathering stuff to make crafts like pine cones, flowers, sticks), superhero walks (we dress up and walk around delivering anonymous notes to neighbours), mindfulness walks (we talk about all our senses and how they are engaged), bubble blowing walks (self explanatory)…. yeah. I like walks.

  22. Janik says...

    What a wonderful post! my children are teens now but I would have loved to propose them such a cultural, natural game. I keep it in mind for my grand children!

  23. AHawkins says...

    As a big outdoorsy person myself, I tend to look for the most unusual things that nature can create. Whenever my younger sisters and I would go for a walk in the woods, we would try to see who could find the strangest looking item in the woods. Most of the time it would be sticks twisted at awkward angles. Or if you used your imagination, a perfect “sword” for a stick sword fight. Sometimes we would find rocks that were perfectly smooth or rocks that look like faces. There was even a time when we found a petrified rock, and to this day that rock is still sitting on a shelf back home in TX.

  24. AdriannaB says...

    Yes absolutely! My kids love going on scavenger hunts. I also want to do some geocaching with them or a ‘pirate hunts’ to locate treasure! We live in Manitoba and it’s going down to -40 tonight, but we still play outside almost every single day!

  25. Jennifer L. Sullivan says...

    Great inspiration for next weekend! I made some “nature bingo” cards a few winters ago and we’ve use these in the winter a few times over the years. I bring little prizes and dole them out as the kids find the items on the cards (“something that flies”; “something beautiful”; “something shaped like a heart” etc. etc.) And then there’s a big prize waiting for everyone at home – usually involving marshmallows. :)

  26. Kay says...

    I’m a strong believer in at least 30 minutes of outdoor playtime for the kids (and adults!). My infant has the best naps outdoors and a quick romp in a play structure-free setting with ample space to run around is the cure to any toddler grouchiness, and is fodder to so much creativity! That said, I’m in Ontario and it is literally -30 right now, so we’ll be lucky to last even 10 minutes outdoors this week, despite being layered up. When we’re not in the middle of a polar vortex, I try to incorporate as much Waldorf/Forest School elements into our outdoor play. Not only does it teach kids about the planet, and help fuel the imagination, but it also helps them learn to assess risk and personal strengths…which keeps me from being a helicopter parent, because I know my boy is more conscious of his capabilities and surroundings than I often give him credit!

    • Crystine says...

      My kiddo has napped outdoors since she was a babe. That said it may not be possible for everyone depending on location and climate. When it gets really cold we put her in a snowsuit, gloves, hat and a few blankets!

  27. TARA says...

    Block Island is wonderful for these types of outings! A quick ferry ride from Long Island.

  28. laura says...

    we used to play ‘search and rescue” inside the house as my daughter’s babysitter was on the county search and rescue team…. stuffed animals would be hidden in the living room and dining room- then my daughter- with a flash light, bandaids and jump rope- you know you need the right supplies to rescue folks- would go hunting for them- sometimes we even used a compass-these animals always needed some medical help and then a cookie to help them feel better and well cared for…..I do believe that parenting is 90% marketing- and this game was a very easy sell!

    • Anne-Hélène Dupont says...

      “parenting is 90% marketing”… So true! I love that!

  29. Crystine says...

    Maybe they need really really really cozy and weatherproof outerwear!
    We live in the PNW where it rains and rains and just make sure we all have things to keep dry and cozy. Also, a thermos of hot cocoa or soup and a sweet cozy place to go afterwards or a movie to watch.

    • Brilliant!! This reminds me of the slogan, “No bad weather – only the wrong gear” or something to that effect. I’m going to be more intentional about outfitting my kids for cold weather.

  30. CanadianJane says...

    Lovely photos but I’m here to tell you that…as someone who lives in Canada…that is not winter. Perhaps early November. But. Not. Winter.

    • Rachelle says...

      Haha I thought the exact same thing!!

    • CanadianLindsay says...

      Aaahahaha! I was thinking the exact same thing!! In Toronto we’re buried in 20cm of snow and all day it has felt like our house was going to blow away due to the horizontal winds. Now THAT is winter.

    • Kay says...

      Lol yup. Hello polar vortex.

    • Darby says...

      Ha! I agree…. Although we live in Alberta, close to the mountains, and we get Chinooks; warm westerly winds that can warm the temperature up by 20-30 degrees in a day. Today, the entire school ground was covered in ice because it warmed up on Saturday (melting everything) then froze again on Sunday (with a little snow and CRAZY wind). Today was somewhere in the middle but it sure made for treacherous conditions for pedestrians!

    • AdriannaB says...

      Haha agreed. It’ll be down to -40 with the windchill tomorrow morning at my place in Manitoba. Might be the first day we haven’t played outside all winter thus far!

    • Karen Agnes says...

      Lol! Norway agrees!
      It’s very dark here now so we do afternoon walks with snow gear and flashlights, my son loves it, and the fresh air does everyone good :-)

    • Sarah says...

      I was going to mention them! Love them so much.

  31. Kelly says...

    Joanna (and anyone else in Brooklyn), I highly recommend checking out the Salt Marsh Nature Center at Marine Park. When in the middle of it, you’d never believe you’re in the heart of Brooklyn. Really neat place for kids. It’s lovely in warm weather, but we toughed it out a few weeks ago and it was still great. http://www.saltmarshalliance.org/

  32. Love this! I always need some extra motivation to get the kids outdoors in the winter but faced with four kids and cabin fever it is always worth it!

    I wrote about some of our trustiest winter activities for preschoolers a while back – here, in case it’s of interest:

    https://themumandthemom.com/2016/12/30/the-best-activities-for-preschoolers-in-winter/

    And also really liked Trish’s comment below about sensory searches, will try that this year!

    Hannah x

  33. Becca says...

    Come ski with us in Utah! We count down to winter every year and my now-grumpy-moody 12 year-old transforms his incoherent grunts to heartfelt conversations right as the ski lift takes off. It’s magical.

  34. Rachel says...

    Totally unrelated but do you know where the red and black jackets are from? And do they come in adults size?!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i’ll ask katherine!

    • Lindsay says...

      The print is buffalo plaid. It’s part of the Canadian uniform ;) Roots Canada sells adult jackets in buffalo plaid, among many stores in Canada. If you google ‘buffalo plaid jackets’ you’ll find lots of options.

  35. Candice says...

    My husband wanted to go to NYC’s Museum of Natural History real bad this summer while we were visiting family. I had no idea how we were going to convince our kids (4&5) to go to a museum where they really couldn’t touch anything. I had my husband sketch up a scavenger hunt on some printer paper and voila: we got 4 hours of happy museum hunting. It was pure bliss!

    • Such a great idea! I’m going to try this next time I take my daughter to an art gallery :-)

  36. Olivia says...

    I’m 21 weeks pregnant and have added this to my iPhone note called “kid tips.” Just put the whole link in there so I can refer to all the great ideas in the comments. I feel like I read so many inspiring ideas and then immediately forget them, so now this is how I hope to remember all this great advice :)

    Best thing I’ve read so far for baby is to bring my breast pump to the hospital for training, and to pin a swaddling blanket to myself for a day or two so when I put baby in it she will (hopefully) feel comforted.

    The fairy door idea from your insta is also on my kid list!

  37. Ana says...

    I do this with my nieces (5 and newly 9), who live in California. I take an egg carton and tape little prompts into each well to find something with a specific attribute (prickly, hard, soft, growing, green, red, etc.), and then label it as their “Nature Lab Kit”. They love it and always want to keep finding more treasures.

    • Megan says...

      This is genius!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      LOVE this idea! So clever!

    • Carly says...

      I’ve done something similar with an egg carton in my preschool classroom. A color hunt- the children painted each section of the container a different shade. Caution: young children won’t keep it level and contents will get mixed around, so if you’re collecting something delicate or need to keep contents separated this isn’t the best vehicle.
      X

  38. Rachel Coleman says...

    Love this! We live in NYC with our two little kids but have a home in Block Island. Admittedly, I sometimes dread being outside with the kids in the city during the winter–commuting with a toddler and a baby is hard enough when it’s nice out–but we always go outside in Block Island, no matter what the weather. Sometimes we will take them on a “Snoopy Hunt”: we bring small stuffed animals (Snoopy and Woodstock) and a few pieces of candy and tell our daughter that they escaped and are hiding along the trail. Then my husband runs up ahead and hides them on the path (or after awhile he just tosses them a few feet away, ha!) Our daughter is always so excited to discover where they are hiding!

    Speaking of scavenger hunts, Block Island actually has one for grown-ups and kids! Every summer hundreds of blown glass orbs are hidden around the island for people to find. We’ve been going for 20+ years and have yet to find one…but we’re always on the look-out!
    http://www.blockislandinfo.com/glass-float-project

  39. Erin says...

    I bring snow inside for my children to play with. We fill the kitchen sink or bathtub and they use squirt bottles with food coloring, tools, toys etc. to play in the snow without getting too cold. This worked especially well when my kids were younger and didn’t want to keep their mittens on outside. Also, blowing bubbles is the winter air is wonderfully satisfying because the bubbles don’t break as quickly as in summer.

    • Claire says...

      Have just discovered this about bubbles, and it’s great for winter play when everything else is frozen!

  40. Courtney says...

    I live in Texas with the opposite problem. We can get out in the winter fairly often, but in July and August, we can reach around forty days in a row where it’s over 100 degrees outside. It feels like you’re melting and it’s too hot to do anything. I feel cabin fever in those months. Even going to the pool needs to be a shorter amount of time because little one gets sunburnt, dehydrated, etc. It’s difficult!

    • beth says...

      I feel you! We live in Florida, and unless I am actually in a body of water, being outside in summer is torture. To top it off my son has incredibly fair skin. Throughout the year we always stoically say to one another, “summer is coming”, a la Game of Thrones.

    • Leah says...

      Same here in AZ!
      Never dreaded summer as much as since I moved here.

  41. Katie says...

    I’m a third grade teacher, and I LOVE this idea. Even just for an energy break in the middle of the afternoon, I could see myself asking students to go outside to look for one or two things. What a great idea — especially after multiple indoor recess rainy days!

  42. Amy W. says...

    I use to teach toddlers, and one of our favorite activities was when we would take ‘tape walks’ outside. We would simply make each child a bracelet of duct tape, or packaging tape, flipped inside out so that the sticky part faced outside. They were allowed to bring back anything they found that stuck to their bracelet. The children would come back to the classroom with blades of grass, dried leaves, flower petals, and even little pebbles stuck to their bracelets. Sometimes we would cut the bracelets off and hang them up as art, or they children could use their little treasures to make their own artwork. It was a suuuuper easy (and cheap!) way to get ourselves some fresh air and keep things interesting for everyone involved!

    • Kelly says...

      I’ve done this! it also ends up being an interesting exercise in what will stick . when you’re done, you can cover with saran wrap to maintain the creation.

    • JORDAN G says...

      Might have to steal this for my twins who are turning 3 soon! I’m always looking for ideas to get those brains working in new ways!

    • JFS says...

      We do this too, Amy! Such a fun idea; you never know what will make it onto the bracelet.

  43. Kelly says...

    we are fairly good at getting outdoors in all kinds of weather…my 8 year old couldn’t get enough outdoor activities last weekend when it was a high of 10 degrees here in Midwest…but we’re in for ultra cold this week (High of -15 degrees on Wednesday with high winds)…plus school was cancelled today and likely for next 2 days…feeling a bit cabin fevery already :(

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      my dad just called from michigan to say how cold it is there! his colleagues are in MN right now (doing “cold testing” for cars; they’re in the automotive industry) and apparently it’s going to be -35!!! brutal. hang in there! xoxo

  44. katie says...

    Yaaaaaaaaaas. Love this! Getting bundled up to do anything in winter has changed it for me: ice skating, fishing, little boat sailing (I think you can do this in Central Park?), but there’s also indoor scavenger hunts, which are especially fun at museums and/or using cameras. You can buy two disposable cameras, then give kids a list: a lone umbrella, a map, a squirrel, a painting with 2-3 people in it, etc., and drop the cameras off to get developed within a day or so (obvi these places are hard to find now, but they’re out there!). You can also start in the museum store and buy postcards of the art, then challenge kids to find said art & take pics of them in front of the work, with their postcard. I did this all the time with the kids I used to nanny, and it turned into a cool kind of wes anderson album with them standing in front of all kinds of art.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s such a great idea, katie! you must have been the best nanny.

    • shade says...

      Yes! We went to The Whitney last weekend to see the Warhol exhibit and my 5 yr old asked the ticket desk for a scavenger hunt book. To my surprise, she pulled one out and handed it to him with a little pencil. It was the most fun, successful museum trip we’ve ever had with the kid… he didn’t want to leave! Highly recommend.

  45. Kara says...

    For Christmas I bought myself this little guide to the urban trails of my city. Every weekend my 4 yr old and I have opened it up and picked a trail to explore. Since the trails are all in the city or suburbs, they are well-maintained, snow-free, and we are never very far from a coffee shop or bakery if we need to stop and warm up. We have had so much fun discovering new neighborhoods and little slices of nature right here in our own backyard!
    https://www.amazon.com/Urban-Trails-Seattle-Shoreline-Renton/dp/1680510320

    • Marina says...

      That’s cool, thank you! They have one for Everett, WA/Sno Co too. Hi neighbor ;)

  46. celeste says...

    My husband is the best at this, even doing one around our house. I would never think to do this on my own.

  47. Lana says...

    There’s a great book out by Dr Scott the paleontologist from Dinosaur Train (hahah) called “How to Raise a Wild Child”. It’s about how kids need to be outside and filled with ways to get them outdoors! Worth the read for sure!

  48. Jill says...

    Bucket of water and paintbrushes..,my boys have painted fences, sidewalks, trees, etc. They loved it!

  49. Reg says...

    If you’re trying to find a group to explore outdoors with, the Free Forest School is a great option for kids aged 1 to 5-ish. There are groups all around the states. Caregivers and kids meet at a designated spot, share healthy snacks, explore the outdoors (child-led), do a little circle time, and then head back. My 1 year old and 4 year old love it! It’s all about getting the right clothes and just going outdoors

  50. Great idea!
    I just usually tell my kids to go outside – and if they stay out long enough to get roses in their cheeks, I’ll make hot chocolate for them.

    We also have a park near our house and sometimes we’ll have races (parents included) on the path around the park. Feels so good to get the blood pumping.

    • margaux says...

      “if they stay out long enough to get roses in their cheeks, I’ll make hot chocolate for them.” stealing!

  51. Lana says...

    I downloaded an app that identifies plants into my phone. My four year old will point it at every plant in our alley like a space gun, snap a photo and then stare at the screen waiting for its identification despite not being able to read. 😆

  52. Kate says...

    My brother and I would always use sticks and rocks to examine scat we found on the trail to see all the teeny tiny bones and skulls left behind! My favorite thing of all to do was peeling off the bark from fallen trees and branches and seeing what bugs were making their home in the damp parts of the dead wood.

    My dad would take me out “deer hunting” on full moon nights. We definitely weren’t actually hunting deer, but we’d sometimes find their tracks and follow them for a while, and more than once I found antlers on the ground! There’s nothing more magical than a walk in the snow at night in the moonlight.

  53. Susan says...

    We do a lot of shoveling our driveway in the winter here in Michigan. My son is 4 and has had a snow shovel since he could walk. It gets us outside and shoveling is surprisingly entertaining for him.

  54. Kylee says...

    We use this go find it game sometimes, both in NYC and on vacation – you don’t really need the cards, just the idea (find something furry, soft, crackly, long, etc) but my kids like the cards.
    Also, the right clothes are essential. If you’re warm and dry and the kids are too, it will be fun. It’s a very rare day that we don’t do something outside. Also, I use the reward of hot chocolate 😀

  55. Anni says...

    I also try to make our walks outside more fun. Not just for the kids (5 and 7), but also for me. We live close to the forest and fields and there you never run out of ideas (what animal‘s sound do you hear right now, go collect 3 different leaves/stones/bugs :)
    One day a week our kindergarten has a nature day, all year round. The group hikes into the forest, looks out for traces, birds, other treasures. Best days for our little one! Many german kindergarten offer that :)

  56. Ann says...

    I just love that owl print above the fireplace. Did she take that shot?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i’ll ask her!

  57. Dee says...

    When my daughter was little she was obsessed with throwing stones into water. We made a game of it, wrapping up warm and bringing along a little pail to collect interesting stones and rocks on our stroll to 5e lake where she enjoyed throwing them in and watching the ripples. Keeps walks interesting!

    • Yes! My kids adore throwing stones in water, too! Love the idea of a little pail to make it more official.

    • Catherine says...

      We are fortunate to have a glorified creek/drainage ditch with a new walking bridge behind our house. When my boys are cranky or bored, we go outside to pick up pebbles and sticks, and then they get to chunk everything off the side of the bridge into the puddles in the creek. It makes everything better!

    • Olivia says...

      Man. This definitely makes me reminisce on the oddly satisfying feeling of throwing rocks in water as a kid. Haha

    • SFord says...

      Pooh sticks is also a great game if you have a flowing stream/river with a footbridge

      Collect a stick each. Stand on one side of the bridge and drop your stick in the water. Go to the other side to see whose stick comes out from under the bridge first

  58. We’ve been cooped up the past few weekends and honestly a bit desperate to get out this Saturday. After the library, we ended up at one of those dreaded indoor bounce houses. Between the endless shrieking and too rough lot (and paying $12 per kid!), I was suddenly fine with bundling up like a christmas story (I can’t put my arms down) and walking to the park. Adding a scavenger hunt is right up my boys’ alley. Appreciate the idea :)

  59. Maggie says...

    When I was nursing a newborn and my three-year-old got bored/antsy, I’d send him to find something yellow, something fuzzy, etc. around the house :) Love the idea of doing this outside!

    • Ruth says...

      That’s a great idea!

  60. Kate says...

    When it comes to long hikes (let’s face it “toddler-long hikes”), we hand over the iPhone in its shatterproof case and let our four year old take pictures— ANY pictures she wants. It engages in her on the walk and I am always surprised at the pictures she takes. They are often beautiful and something the adults’ eyes naturally passed over.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s really sweet, kate xoxo

    • Crystine says...

      Wonderful idea!

  61. Emma says...

    My mom was such a genius at coming up with games for us outside. Looking back I think she was just trying to stay put on porch haha! We played mother may I and another game where we started at the end of the lawn and ran as fast as we could before she counted to ten (she would mix up the speed she counted at to keep it exciting). Trying to touch the front door before your sibling was the object! Any steps after getting to 10 meant you had to go back to the start. My favorite game involved her guiding us around the yard by simple instructions while we kept our eyes closed. “One step to the right. Now reach out and touch the tree. Now walk to the sound of my voice.” Etc. It always ended with us back in front of her and a hug at the end. And of course red light, green light.

    • Emily says...

      Love this! I’m always looking for parenting ideas that let me sit still. I don’t remember where I heard about it, but my favorite one is called “what’s on my butt” where the parent gets to sprawl out facedown on the couch and has to guess what toys/objects the kid it setting down on their butt.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      HAHAHAHAHAHA

  62. Lucy in Devon says...

    One of my new year intentions was to see that my children (nearly 4 and nearly 2) spent at least a half hour outdoors every day! We haven’t quite managed every day but much more days and they really are much more fun when they’ve been out! We’ve splashed and dug and raked and built and collected colours and planted seeds. We started with crying from my oldest but she’s getting more and more into it. Their preschool is also investing in Forest School training and they will be doing sessions at a local wildflower Farm soon 💓

    Of course, huge privilege of living in the countryside. But so much to explore in town too I imagine.

    • Anne-Hélène Dupont says...

      Love this intention (and the fact that you call it that, and not a resolution)!

  63. Amy says...

    I don’t like being outdoors in winter, either. But I try to remind my kids (and myself!) of the Danish saying, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” This helps. Some :-)

  64. ND says...

    Try Geocaching! This is a free download for your phone. You follow coordinates to find a little treasure. They are all over the world and specify levels of difficulty and terrain, etc. Many of them have little treasures hidden inside: you take one and you leave one. My son loves this and he will walk forever to find one when normally he would complain. We live in a moderately-sized city and there are hundreds of them here. They are often hidden at nice spaces or viewpoints too, which is an added bonus.

    • Maggie says...

      My sister [27] takes my mother [67] out geocaching and I think it is the sweetest thing.

  65. Amy says...

    I don’t like being outside either, but I try to remind my kids – and myself – of the Danish saying, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” I have found this to be (mostly) true!

  66. Rebecca says...

    I love this post! We are blessed to have an amazing nature preschool in our area, and it’s been a gift to watch my children go through the program. They are outside in all weather, exploring ponds, leaves, animals–you name it. It’s fantastic to see how they grow up, enter traditional school, but still carry that love of nature with them through the years. I wish that all kids could have the nature preschool experience.

  67. K says...

    Winter is tough. This is a great idea, especially with the after hunt project indoors

  68. CT says...

    Oh my gosh, can someone please set up a scavenger hunt for me, an adult? This sounds like an awesome mindfulness practice and I also need to get outside more!

    • Kelly says...

      super easy scavenger hunt you can create for yourself anytime – walk around and choose a color to notice. it will get you really looking at people’s clothing, store windows etc. Awesome for mindfulness. You can make it more specific too…for example look for ‘red hats’.

      can’t recall where I heard this before, might have been here!

  69. Jessica says...

    My daughter’s last Koala Crate from Kiwi Co was a scavenger hunt kit. It came with several cards, so you could choose to find things that matched eight colors, or eight shapes, or eight particular items, or make your own and then stow them in the box you decorated. Both my daughter (4) and her older brother (6) absolutely loved the activity!

    • Erica says...

      My father in law bought my kids Kiwi Crates for christmas. They have far exceeded my expectations!

  70. Louisa says...

    We do a similar “name” scavenger hunt. I hand my daughter my phone and she has to take a photo of every letter of her name, in order, using the shop signs (and other things) as we walk. The hardest letter to find is the first letter in her name – after that it’s simply a matter of getting through all the letters, in order. It’s pretty easy and cute to then print out her “name” using letters she found! (Also, when I say “city” think “strip mall in Boise.” While I’m sure this would be amazing in NYC, it works anywhere.)

  71. This is so brilliant! Here (in the Czech Republic) it is a really common family outdoor activity to go geocaching! (if you haven’t heard of it, look it up – it seems quite fun) Actual treasure hunting, using a GPS! Could be great in any season.

  72. we have some forest preschools here in maine and the kids spend all day outside. classroom is in a yurt, they use compostable toilets AND they sleep in hammocks in the forest! it doesn’t matter what the weather is! it’s amazing how resilient kiddos are to the elements. ;)

  73. Liv says...

    Also have you ever heard of geocaching? The app is free to download and geocaches are all over the place, including cities! Another great way to get outside and have a “scavenger hunt,” of sorts.

  74. Madeline says...

    Wow, I’d love to see more of Katherine’s home. From that one photo, it looks like a cozy place! Possible house tour?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s a great idea! it’s her mom’s house — i’ll ask her!

  75. M.T. says...

    Such fond memories. We always took our 2 young boys(now 18 and 21) on nature walks along the trails and lakes out here in the Hudson Valley. They always came home with pockets of treasures…bottle caps!! that they found on their “nature” walks…. A little like the TV show the Detectorists!!!!

  76. Jean says...

    We do this in our suburban neighborhood but it is a list that doesn’t require picking up (a grey cat, a red flower…) The twist is, if a service vehicle goes by (fire engine, police car) you have to start all over.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Ooh that’s a good twist!

  77. Olivia says...

    Cute idea, but when I see pictures of dreamy block island in the winter I still think…winter is the worst! Sigh.

  78. We just did this over the weekend! My husband gave each of our girls a gallon-sized bag and told them to bring three interesting things in from our yard. They loved it!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      So cute!! And then you get a break too :)

    • Tis says...

      Yes, I give our boys egg cartons in which to collect their specimens…preferably 18-count cartons…”don’t come back until they’re full” lol

  79. Elizabeth says...

    Yes, we did this a lot when our daughter was younger. But the best was when did it at a family reunion. There were a few cousins and I gave them a list of things like “find the Uncle who was a middle school teacher….” They had fun, it kept them occupied while we got to catch up with family, and best of all they interacted with the family members.

    • Francine says...

      We did an activity book that included a game like that for the kids who were guests at our wedding! Great for encouraging mixing among both “sides”.

  80. We do this all the time, and like Trish says, I LOVE adding the sensory element! When we slow down, it’s amazing how many different sounds we can hear outside :)

  81. b says...

    I love this. Kids (and adults) don’t get outside enough.

  82. Becky says...

    You should give Toby a car scavenger hunt! if you haven’t already. For those days when the polar vortex is in town library scavengar hunts are fun too

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Great idea!! When we bike or walk to school, he’ll often name all the cars we pass: “Toyota, Chrysler, Honda, Hyundai…” hahaha

    • Tovah says...

      Joanna, my son names cars too, and when his baby brother was learning to talk (by imitating big brother, of course) he thought the word for “car” was “Hyundai!” We have video. It was seriously his third word– mama, dada, Hyundai.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, that is the cutest, tovah :) :) :)

  83. agnes says...

    We totally do that! We live on an island, in France; we live in a tiny home and we must go out, for every body’s sake. But my son never wants to leave his toys unless we have an exciting plan. Of course a simple “let’s go to the beach” is sometimes enough, but sometimes it has to be: let’s check if the sea is still where it was yesterday, let’s go build xy in the sand, let’s have a picnic (it’s just eating a biscuit), let’s go find a baby dragon, fairies. We also take toys for a walk (we realized some stuffed animals had never been to the beach before), etc. I love the idea of a very precise hunt… Can’t wait to read the comments!

    • KL says...

      I am going to incorporate “let’s check if the sea [or, insert thing here] is still where it was yesterday” with my 3.5 month old! Thank you for this idea.

    • Frenchfrog says...

      Oh How lovely! What is this Island called?

    • agnes says...

      île d’Yeu!

  84. Christina says...

    Jo – I know this might sound gross, but consider doing a trash pick-up scavenger hunt in Brooklyn! A soda bottle, a chip bag, a pizza box, etc etc. Then maybe on the way home, stop at the bodega and pick out one thing that they picked up from the garbage? (No cigarettes, lol! :) Get some really cool surgical gloves or big yellow rubber gloves, maybe even a trash “grabber” so their hands can stay in mittens. This is such a gorgeous photo series and what a cool idea from Katherine and her sons.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s a great idea, christina.

    • sarah says...

      we do this! The trash grabbers are a hit!

    • Claire says...

      Love this idea! We had a neighborhood-wide trash pick up day once when I was a kid. I remember it being so much fun. I was maybe 8 or 9 and went with with dad, brother, best friend, and his mom. We all got reflective yellow vests and cool trash picker upper thingies. We walked all around the neighborhood picking up things people had littered. At the end, the grocery store that had coordinated planned an ice cream social and we ended up serving ice cream to random passersby and telling them about our morning. I think it’s really fun for kids to take ownership over their neighborhood and keeping it beautiful. After that experience, it’s guaranteed they’ll never litter, too, haha!

    • H. says...

      This sounds really nice, but it reminds me that once I saw an abandoned syringe and also (somehow, more than once!) I’ve seen unwrapped condoms on the ground here in DC — Would be nervous for my kids to find either of those on a litter pick-up adventure. (Sorry to be such a downer!)

    • Laura says...

      My daughter’s preschool class did this on Earth Day! They walked around the block cleaning up any litter they saw. She was so thrilled to come and tell me about her “Garbage Walk to Save the World!”

  85. Emma says...

    I’m about to start this with my kids – but on holidays. We’re about to do a big family trip of Colombia and Argentina, and making town-specific scavenger hunts for my two is on my to do list. They work well when otherwise my daughter would notice that she doesn’t want to walk, or my son would ask to be carried. For days when we just want to wander and enjoy the towns, I’m hoping the excitement of spotting new things will work!

    • Stephanie Parry says...

      What an amazing idea — going to file that away for our next big trip. I am always looking for ways to help ME slow down and look around, too. This would definitely help. Brilliant!

  86. I am a pediatric Occupational Therapist, and we do these walks with little clients all the time. Add a sensory element (“find something soft”, “find something that smells wet”) or motor (“take slow turns to that tree”) turns the activity into a Mindfulness practice or a walking meditation. Adults pictures meditation as sitting on a cushion, eyes closed and chanting – not something at which the average four year old excels! But, this activity achieves the same mental state and is “just right” for our children.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i really love that, trish! going to remember this.