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Let’s Have A Scavenger Hunt

This article is part of our weekly series Executive Function Tips for Families.

This activity will give your child the opportunity to work on mindful concentration, which will help them learn how to remember rules, stay focused, and use flexible thinking. 


Are you looking for a fun way to help your child work on their memory and thinking skills? How about a scavenger hunt? In this activity, your child will search for items based on different rules you give them.

Executive Function Skills Practiced

  • EF: Working memory – Your child will need to remember what item they are searching for as they play.
  • EF: Cognitive flexibility – Your child will have to switch from one thought to another, as they try to match an item to the color, shape, letter, or clue they are given.
  • EF: Planning – Your child will plan for how they are going to find the mystery items.

Ready To Play?

Duration: 10-15 minutes

Materials List:

  • Assorted items around your home
  • Pictures of a rainbow or colors, shapes, or the alphabet
  • Writing implement and clipboard

Environment:  Anywhere in your home, yard, or neighborhood

Game Levels and Step-by-Step Instructions:

  • You can adjust the activity at any time if it seems too difficult or easy. To do this, simply move up or down a level.
    • Read: Check out this article for more information about the stages of EF!
  • Give your child some think-time if needed. Younger children may need extra reminders.

Game Level 1–  (2-3 years): Rainbow Scavenger Hunt

  1. Introduce the game to your child by showing them a visual of a rainbow.
  2. Point to each color of the rainbow and name them: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and pink.
  3. Explain that they will hunt for items of each color in the house.
  4. Start with the color red and ask them to find something in the house that is red.
  5. Repeat the instructions for each color of the rainbow until they have found items for every color.
  6. As a bonus activity, have the children arrange the items in “Rainbow order.”

Game Level 2–  (3-4 years): Shape Scavenger Hunt

  1. Repeat Level 1 but with a focus on different shapes instead of colors.
  2. Show your child shapes such as a square, circle, triangle, star, and rectangle. Name the items as you show them.
  3. Start by looking for a square-shaped item and ask your child to find something like it.
  4. Repeat the instructions for each shape you want the children to find.

Game Level 3–  (4-5+ years): Alphabet Scavenger Hunt

  1. Repeat Level 1 but with a focus on items that start with different letters of the alphabet.
  2. Review the sound of the letter “A” (A-a-a-a) and examples of words that start with “A” (apple, alarm, apron).
  3. Encourage your child to find items around the home that start with the letter “A.”
  4. Repeat the instructions for each letter of the alphabet.
  5. You could break this activity up over several days to help your child become more familiar with letter sounds. 
  6. If your child is just starting to become familiar with letters, start this game by helping them label and identify familiar letters such as the letters in their name, before jumping into the whole alphabet!

Game Level 4–  (5+ years): Can You Solve the Mystery?

  1. Hide a favorite toy or different objects around the home.
  2. Write a “Mystery note” with the clues to solve the mystery of where the toy or object is hiding. For example, your mystery note could be, “I thought we could play a silly game today! I’m hiding somewhere…can you find me? Here’s a clue! I’m near something white and cold. It’s a place where you might find something to eat! Where am I?”
  3. Tell your child they are going to be a detective or a person that looks for something using clues! Read the note to your child. 
  4. Encourage your child to think about the clues and guess where the toy or object might be.
  5. Repeat the activity as desired, hiding the toy or object in different locations around the home.

Talk & Reflect:

After you finish, ask your child questions like:

  • “Was it easy to remember what you were looking for?”
  • “Did you do anything special to remember the clues while you were looking for things?
  • “What steps did you use to look for what you were trying to find?”

Additional Ideas & Resources: