How to Have an Outdoor Leaf Scavenger Hunt With Your Kids
Looking for a fun outdoor activity that’s perfect for a cool, crisp autumn day?
Here’s something new to do with a favorite fall novelty: Take your family on a leaf-hunting expedition and get an up-close look at some of nature’s wonders.
In this article, I’ll show you how to create a fall foliage scavenger hunt that will keep your kids engaged and entertained as they explore the world around them.
Why Go on a Leaf-Hunting Expedition?
Fall leaves are pretty cool. They crunch underfoot and amaze us with their transforming colors.
They’re gorgeous. They’re interesting. They smell good. They’re only around for a short while.
They’re one of nature’s many wonders and there’s so much more to them than jumping into a pile! As satisfying as that big, explosive “crunch” can be, it’s also great fun to help your kids slow down once in a while and notice how special autumn leaves are by going on a leaf scavenger hunt.
Sometimes as adults, it’s easy to lose sight of what our endlessly curious kids notice. Rather than think of fallen leaves as a huge, messy headache to be raked and bagged, a leaf-hunting expedition with your family will help remind you to see them through fresh eyes.
Leaves change so gradually that they’re easy to overlook. Waiting for leaves to change is like waiting for a pot to boil, only less exciting! But take a look at this video to watch an accelerated view of the transformation. It’s sure to renew your appreciation and sense of awe.
Watch the changes one tree goes through in a year.
When you take a closer look at fall leaves, you and your kids can discover a lot of new and interesting things. You’ll learn about different kinds of trees; compare the sizes, shapes, and other variations among leaves; notice the changes in color and texture that leaves go through and you may see that some leaves never change at all.
A fall leaf scavenger hunt will help your kids (and you) notice these differences by searching for them as part of a game. What a fun way to learn something new!
So put on your jackets and get ready to go outside and explore the wonders of fall leaves.
#1: Make a Scavenger Hunt Checklist
Scavenger hunts and treasure hunts are great fun for kids of all ages. The key component to any scavenger hunt is a list of things to find, so make a checklist of leaves that can be found in your neighborhood.
Here’s a leaf checklist you can download (PDF) and print, though this one may not reflect the trees found in your area.
If your kids are a few years apart in age, you may want to create a separate, age-appropriate list for each of them. For example, my 12-year-old son understands “Find a maple leaf.” But my 5-year-old daughter needs a simpler clue like “Find a pointy leaf.”
Here are some examples of leaves to include on an older child’s list:
- An oak leaf
- A tricolored leaf
- A dogwood leaf
- A leaf with five points (a specific number like this requires your child to pay attention and examine individual leaves)
Include simpler items like these on a younger child’s list:
- A crunchy leaf
- A leaf with a hole in it
- A leaf with rounded edges
- A yellow leaf
To make your scavenger hunt lists more visual, include downloaded or hand-drawn illustrations. But don’t worry about being overly elaborate.
If you want your older child to find a birch leaf, then include a photo of one on the list.
If a younger child is merely seeking out a red leaf, sketch a basic one.
#2: Start Looking
Decide where you’ll search for the leaves (e.g., around the neighborhood, at a city park, in your backyard, etc.) and get going. Choose a location with a variety of different trees.
Plan to spend at least 15 minutes hunting, but don’t set a time limit (this isn’t a forced march). And don’t make it a contest.
The point of this activity is to get outside, soak up the fall colors and learn a bit about leaves. It’s not to frantically sprint around the block like Super Arborist. Keep it fun for everyone—keep it low pressure.
#3: Collect Your Finds
Each time one of your kids locates a particular leaf, have him or her check it off the list. Then put the leaf in the plastic bag.
If your older child completes his checklist too quickly, ask him to find a second or third example of each leaf (from different trees).
And if your younger child can’t quite finish her list, it’s ok to lend a hand!
When you’re done, talk about the scavenger hunt. Ask your kids about the leaves they collected. What kind of trees did they see? What colors were the leaves? What was something interesting or unusual that they discovered?
#4: Display Your Bounty
Once you’re back home, let your kids decide how to spotlight the beautiful leaves they’ve found.
Here are a few ideas:
Craft an autumn collage by gluing the leaves onto poster board or pinning leaves to a bulletin board.
Fill a clear glass vase or jar with colorful leaves to use as a decorative centerpiece.
To flatten leaves, place them in individual baggies and press them between the pages of a heavy book. Then preserve them between pieces of waxed paper to retain the fall colors and keep them from crumbling.
Find other fall leaf craft ideas on Pinterest or other places online.
Or, you can learn more about the colors in the leaves by doing this fun science experiment.
Some Final Thoughts…
My family had a lot of fun doing the fall foliage scavenger hunt. It prompted us to take a closer look at the trees and leaves all around us, got us all outside to enjoy the crisp autumn air and taught us something new about the natural world.
I hope your family has just as much fun as we did.
What do you think? I’d love to hear about your leaf-hunting expedition. What kinds of adventures did you have? What else do you like to do with fall leaves? Please share your comments and pictures below.
Holly Smith is a writer/editor based outside Washington, DC. Her work has appeared in numerous books, newspapers, and magazines, none of which her four children care to read. Other posts by Holly Smith »