How to Have an Outdoor Leaf Scavenger Hunt With Your Kids

Do your kids like to explore and discover new things?

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.

Learn how to create a fall foliage leaf 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.

child sitting in leaf pile

Help your kids take a closer look at the world around them with a fall leaf scavenger hunt.

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!

You Will Need

  • A printout or handwritten checklist of leaves to find
  • A marker or pen
  • A plastic grocery bag or large Ziploc bag
  • Something hard to write on (like a clipboard or notebook)

Preparation Time

15 minutes to gather materials

Activity Time

15-30 minutes, depending on the age of the children

Location

Your backyard, neighborhood or nearby park or anywhere there are lots of different trees.

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.

maple leaf

“Find a maple leaf” vs. “Find a pointy leaf.” Tailor the list to each child.

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.”

When making your lists, be sure to include different species of leaves and leaf characteristics for older kids and simpler words or even pictures for younger kids.

list of what to find

A scavenger hunt list for a 5-year-old will be simpler than one for a 12-year-old.

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)

    dogwood leaf

    Include specific types of leaves on a list for an older child: a dogwood leaf.

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

    leaf hunt

    Ask younger kids to find more general characteristics: 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.

list of clues

Visual clues on the list can help your kids know what to look for.

If you want your older child to find a birch leaf, then include a photo of one on the list.

leaf photo

Include photos or sketches on the list to teach kids about different kinds of leaves and trees.

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.

child with leaf

The goal is to have fun, get outside and learn about leaves, not to “win.”

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.

looking for leaves on list

It’s fun to look for the leaves on the list.

If your older child completes his checklist too quickly, ask him to find a second or third example of each leaf (from different trees).

check off list

Check your finds off the list and keep the leaves in a bag.

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.

leaf collage

Make a leaf collage.

Fill a clear glass vase or jar with colorful leaves to use as a decorative centerpiece.

vase of leaves

Fill a vase with leaves and display as 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.

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About the Author, Holly Smith

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 »


  • http://www.mykidsadventures.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    Thanks, Holly! The pictures were worth the wait.

  • futuredoll

    Such fun! When I taught kindergarten we pressed the leaves between two sheets of wax paper and made window displays. Re-posted on College Savings Dols FB page-Sarah

  • Holly

    We’ll try using wax paper next time. This time around, my daughter couldn’t wait to display her finds and went right for the “vase full of leaves” look!

  • Christina Kettman

    This is a great idea. My daughter loves collecting and looking at leaves when we are going for walks. I will have to try this activity with her.

  • Holly

    I hope you have fun! My 5-year-old’s favorite part was finding “crunchy” leaves and yellow leaves. :)

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