Nature is filled with surprises. Our treasure hunt activities will have you and your little one walking, running, smelling, touching, tasting, listening, and talking as you search for nature’s treasures. We have put together a collection of activities, games, finger plays, and projects that are especially suited for your active, inquisitive toddler. Happy Hunting!
Activity: Wax-Resistant Underwater Painting
- Wax crayons or candles
- Watercolor paints
- Large paint brush
- White paper
Adult secretly draws a shape, word, or picture on the paper using a white crayon or candle. Ask your child to guess what it is. Then ask your tot to cover the paper with watercolor paint. The drawn areas will resist the paint and reveal the secret drawing.
Activity: Sparkling Shapes
Fill a jar with warm water. Mix borax into the water until it disappears (dissolves) and only a little sinks to the bottom. Bend a pipe cleaner into a shape. Be sure it will fit in the jar. Tie a string to the shape. Tie a paper clip to the other end of the string. Push the shape into the water, letting the string and clip hang over the outside of the jar. How does the shape look after a few hours? After sitting overnight? Carefully pull it out of the jar. The borax has made sparkling crystals all over your shape. Display in a window. Food coloring can be added to the borax solution if you like. DO NOT EAT THIS!
Activity: It’s Nuts!
Place 2 large nuts or acorns beneath 2 paper cups. Place 2 more cups upside down with nothing under them. Ask your child to point to a cup. Turn it over. Is anything there? Try another, and another. When all the cups have been looked under, ask your tot to hide the nuts under cups. Then you can ‘guess’ where they are hiding. Add cups as your tot masters the game.
Activity: Treasure Bottles
Place several small items like buttons, small rocks, or sequins inside a clear plastic bottle or jar. Fill the jar with rice, flax, or millet leaving a 1-inch space at the top. Glue lid on. Let your tot shake the bottle and watch the small items appear. For older children, give them a list of the items hidden in the bottle. Ask them to search for the items in the bottle.
Activity: Treasure Hunt
Hide a favorite stuffed animal outside. Make sure your tot can reach it when it is found. Working backwards, place clues for your tot to follow. For instance, if your stuffed animal is sitting on a tree stump near the garage, draw a picture of the stump on a piece of paper and place it on the kitchen table. Place the picture of the kitchen table on the refrigerator and so on until you are satisfied with the number of ‘clues.’ Hand the first drawing to your tot and ask her to find that item. Use terms like “under,” “on,” “behind” when describing your drawings. An example of some treasure hunt clues could be: under the phone, behind the chair, inside your shoe, on the refrigerator, on the kitchen table, in the sandbox, on the gate, in the garden, next to the red flowers, on the stump, by the garage. Happy Hunting!
Activity: Nature’s Treasures
Little kids love rocks. Go on a rock hunt. Collect rocks of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Keep your rock collection in an egg carton. Encourage your child to sort them by color, size, or shape. Children under 3 years of age are just beginning the ability of sorting. Gather leaves and sort them. Display them in the middle of your dinner table as a centerpiece. Gather weeds and make a centerpiece if you don’t have a flower garden. Make sure your weeds haven’t been sprayed with herbicides and you have permission if you aren’t picking on your own property. Gather a collection of twigs and use them as a centerpiece. Paint them if you want a more colorful display!
Activity: Mystery Rock Game
Collect a rock for each person playing the game. The rocks need to be different in size, shape, color, etc. All players take time to get to know their rock. Is your rock smaller than your hand? Is it smooth or rough? What color is your rock? Does your rock sparkle? Now, mix the rocks together in a pile. Each player takes a turn to find his or her own rock. When your tot has mastered this game, make it harder by trying to find your rock with your eyes closed, using only your sense of touch. The same game can be played with leaves and twigs. Can you find anything else that would work?
Rocks are made up of minerals. If you see oranges or reds, there could be iron in your rock. Greens could mean serpentine or green jasper are present in your rock. Clear, glassy-looking bits of white, gray, pink, or yellow are often quartz. Solid pinks, peaches, and reds are often feldspar. With your child, discover the many colors in rocks. Start by coloring the bottoms of egg carton cups with different shades of green, brown, black, white, gray, red, pink, and purple. Gather up a variety of rocks from a trail or from your backyard. Spray rocks with water to make their colors stand out. Pick out one rock at a time and see if its color comes close to any of the shades in your egg carton. Plop your rock into the closest matching carton cup. Remember to leave the rocks behind when the matching game is through. Note: If your child is too young for color matching, he will have fun putting rocks into the carton and spilling them out again.
Activity: I Spy
On your next nature walk, play the I Spy Game with your child. Say, “I spy something green.” Give your child a lot of leeway: If they point to anything green such as grass, leaves or shrubs, say “That’s it!” “I spy something hard” could be a rock, tree trunk, sidewalk, etc. “I spy something that flies” could be an insect or bird. For younger children, point to the object as you say your “I spy” words then let them explore the object by seeing, smelling, and touching.
Activity: Stop, Look and Listen
Cover a toilet paper roll with colored paper. Leave the ends of the tube open. Secure the paper with tape. Take the “eye and ear helper” with you as you walk. Spot a bright flower or tree. Say, “You can see it with your eyes, now try to peek at it through your paper roll.” Have your child use the eye helper like a telescope to look at nature friends like bugs, leaves, trees, and rocks. Get up close. Do things look bigger? Place your hand in front of the hole at the end of the telescope, then take your hand away and play “peek-a- boo” with your child. Turn the eye helper into an ear helper by placing the paper roll up to your child’s ear. Say, “Can you hear birds singing, or wind blowing, or water splashing, or crickets chirping? What can you hear?”
Activity: Animal Signs and Finds
Take a walk to look for animal signs. With your child, look for tracks in the mud or dirt; thin paths winding up hills and around bushes where animals walk, animal poop such as deer scat or bird droppings; nibbled grass and leaf tips; piles of sticks, scratches in tree bark, matted down patches of grass where animals have slept, or floating feather dropped by birds overhead.
Activity: Tree Detective
Find a special tree and pretend you are a detective. Find which birds, animals, and insects live in or visit your tree. Nuts or acorns are clues that you have discovered a squirrel’s kitchen cupboard. Check the tree trunk (use a magnifying glass or your toilet paper tube binoculars if you wish). Are there any holes? Birds peck at the bark looking for insects and insect eggs. Scratches tell that an animal has climbed the tree. Listen for sounds that come from the tree or lie on the ground and look up at your tree.
Activity: Scavenger Hunt
Draw pictures of objects from nature on index cards (tree, rock, flower, insect, bird, worm, etc.). If you are not confident in your artistic abilities, you can use stickers or pictures from magazines and adhere one picture or sticker per index card. Have your tot choose a card then take a walk in the woods, meadow, or backyard to find a real version of the picture on the card. Once your tot has found the item, allow him/her to explore it by using the sense of sight, touch, and smell. Help your child to use simple words to describe the object (hard, soft, little, prickly, smooth, etc.). Remember to return the object where you found it before choosing another card.
Activity: Nature’s Gifts
Who doesn’t love getting presents?! Make a gift to your toddler of objects found in nature. Take old gift bags or boxes and fill each box or bag with one or several items that you’ve found ahead of time (a flower from your backyard, a pine cone, an apple from the fridge, a pretty rock, or a clipping from a juniper bush are just a few examples). Present your gift bags to your child and watch while he enjoys his surprises.
Activity: TP Roll Windsocks
Make windsocks for catching spring breezes. Let your tot attach stickers to an empty toilet paper roll. Tape longish strips of tissue or crepe paper to one end, and punch two holes and make a yarn handle for the other end. Have your little one clasp the yarn handle and hold the windsock over their head to catch a breeze or make your own wind—run!
Activity: Wind Catchers
Take one small empty strawberry basket. Cut long strips of land surveyor tape (comes in bright colors like pink, yellow, or green) and tie the strips all around the top of the basket. Turn the basket upside down and tie one strip about 12” long in a loop shape in the middle for a handle. Hang your artwork outside in an airy place and watch it fly around.
Activity: A Hairy Surprise!
Decorate a face onto a Styrofoam cup (except hair). Fill a knee hi with potting soil and then with grass seeds on top of the soil. Tie a knot in the knee hi and turn upside down…with the knot in the cup. Water and watch the ‘grass hair’ grow. Once the ‘hair’ is at a desired length, let your child give her happy face its first haircut.
Where are the bees?
Here is the beehive, where are the bees? (clench fist)
Hidden away where nobody sees (peek inside your clenched fist)
Watch and you will see them come out of their hive
One, two, three, four, five (slowly open up hand as you count with fingers)
Buzz, buzz, buzz! (tickle your little one)
Where is Thumbkin?
Where is thumbkin, where is thumbkin? (start with both hands behind your back)
Here I am (bring out one hand with thumb pointing upwards, then other hand with thumb pointing upwards)
How are you this morning? (wiggle the right thumb toward the left thumb)
Very well I thank you (wiggle the left thumb toward the right thumb)
Run away, run away (put one thumb behind your back, then the other)
Repeat with other fingers: “Big Girl” for middle finger “Ring Man” for ring finger “Pinkie” for little finger.
Activity: Sensory Seed Box
Fill a large container with a grain like flax or rice. Use cups, containers, and spoons, to fill and dump just like you would in a sandbox. Can you feel around and find the hidden items?
Will You Read To Me?
Take time to enjoy a story.
Treasure Hunt by Allan Ahberg
Treasure Hunt in the Hundred-Acre Wood by American Education Publishing
We’re Going on a Treasure Hunt by Tom Arma
Hide and Snake by Keith Baker
Playtime: Lots and Lots of Things to Look For on Every Page by Andy Crawford
Moo, Moo, Peek a Boo! By Jane dyer
Find a fortune cookie recipe and bake your won with a secret message inside for your little one. Or you can purchase fortune cookies in the Asian foods section of your grocery store. Your toddler won’t understand the message, but will have fun breaking open her cookie to find the slip of paper.
Make snack time into a Tasty Treasure Hunt! Fill a paper cup with Kix or Cheerios cereal. Hide some fruit chews, banana or apple slices, or other favorite treat in the bottom.
Activities provided by:
E Resources Group
2550 Stagecoach Road
Webster City, Iowa 50595-7375
Toddling on the Wild Side was supported by the REAP-CEP grant program.
Iowa Early Learning Standards:
1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 3.3, 4.2, 5.1, 5.3, 5.4, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, 7.3