Learning through Scavenger Hunts

Photo credit:  Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

One of my all-time favorite activities to create is the scavenger hunt.  There are so many ways to use a scavenger hunt as a tool of exploratory learning in the garden.  I’ve used scavenger hunts to:

  • Teach students to recognize the plants in their garden plots (ex:  find the cucumber plant, find the carrot plant, etc) You will need to find or take pictures of a distinguishing feature of each plant you want them to find.  I do this type of scavenger hunt when students are first assigned vegetable plots to help them know what they are growing.  I also use this type of scavenger to prepare students for harvesting.  As new vegetables come into season, I will create a scavenger hunt having students find the fruits and vegetables that have become ripe and ready to harvest.
  • Recognize trees, by using picture of their leaves and seeds.
  • Reinforce plant parts lessons by seeking plants with interesting plant parts.  For example, you may have students search for a plant with a red stem (rainbow swiss chard), a plant with orange roots (carrots), a plant with a yellow fruit (summer squash), or a plant with a soft leaves (lambs ears). For older students, you may have them search for different edible plant parts  (ex: “Find three plants that have roots which we eat” and students would find carrots, beets, and radishes; or “find five plants that have flowers which we eat” and students would need to find broccoli, lavender, zucchini, nasturtium, and chamomile)
  •  Reinforce seed dispersal lessons by finding seeds that use different dispersal techniques (for example, “find three seeds that use wind for dispersal”)
  •  Learn about critters in the garden by seeking them out, or evidence of their presence (birds’ nests, spider webs, animal tracks).

Be as creative as you can! Have students use as many of their senses as possible: listening for bird calls, or cicadas, find specific fragrances, or find different textures (ex:  a soft fuzzy leaf, or very rough tree bark).  You may want to have primary students look for different shapes and colors that they are learning about.  And because I usually work with younger students, I always find pictures to use as clues. I also really like to use scavenger hunts to keep students occupied during long walks. Scavenger hunts really can help prevent behavior issues if you’re anticipating a long walk during which students may get tired and start complaining.  If this is the case, simply take the walk yourself the day before and note down any interesting plants you may want to point out, or evidence of wildlife.  Here is an example of a scavenger hunt I once created for kindergarteners and first graders, when I knew we had to make a long trek across the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens in order to see a presentation:

Sample Spring Scavenger Hunt 

English: Daffodil (Narcissus) Nederlands: Narc...

____  DAFFODILS

English: Male mallard duck Français : Canard c...

___ DUCK

____ HEAR A BIRD SINGING

____ LEAF BUD

English: a bird nest Français : un nid d'oiseau

___ BIRD’S NEST

English: Magnolia × soulangeana Français : Mag...

__MAGNOLIA

__BEES

____ ANIMAL FOOTPRINTS

A pink tulip.

___ TULIPS

______ SMELL A FRESH SMELL

The Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) ...

___SQUIRREL

Small White butterfly (Pieris rapae)

___BUTTERFLY

English: lily pads floating in a lake in Toron...__LILY PADS

__CATTAILS

English: Broad-bodied Chaser (a dragonfly) Lib...

DRAGONFLY

__A SEED

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