Monday, May 14, 2012

Photographic Scavenger Hunts

This is a great activity for any age (the whole family can participate together).  This list of activities and activity variations helps kids practice their observational skills.  These skills are incredibly important to both the artist and the scientist.  If you have an eye for art, you can also make this specifically about the art of photography.  Give your child some tips on framing, lighting, angles etc. as you work together to photograph the items on your scavenger hunt list.  If the hunt is to be a part of a lesson or an assessment of understanding toward the end of a unit, make sure to follow up by completing a "sort" at the end of the activity and discussing with the child why he or she chose the photo subjects he or she chose. 

This activity can also simply be a wonderful way to encourage slowing down and looking at the world around you while you go for a family walk and connect.  Or it can be a great way to foster a little healthy competition if you have multiple teams race for speed against each other while at a park. 

You'll need at least one digital camera you feel comfortable handing over to your child or children, or that you can at least use together.  With disposables out there these days, it shouldn't be too hard to find such an item.  While on a walk or hike together, at a park, botanical garden, zoo or other outdoor type of space you can complete a photographic scavenger hunt. 

Things You Might put on a Scavenger Hunt List:

Each of these items can be combined into a list appropriate for your child's age and the region in which you live, or you can choose one theme on which to focus.  For example, you could create an entire list on just plant life alone.  If you were to do this, you might focus on leaf shapes, bark texture, and seeds and flowers that help identify and distinguish between the most common trees in your area.  But it is also just as much fun to combine ideas from different themes to create variety and interest.  Especially if your goal is simply to have a good time together.

Plant Life: 
Different types of leaves (look for different shapes as well as color in the fall), Different types of "seed containers" (any type of fruit, cone, berry, pod etc. . .  ), or different types of flowers.

Make sure you choose numbers of each item to be found, in such a way that suits  the season.  For example, in early spring there will be more flowers to find and fewer "seed containers". 
Seed Containers
For one variation that will help your young child practice colors, you can specify additional flowers you know they will find in particular colors.  Such as, 1 red flower, 1 pink flower, and 2 different yellow flowers.   Or, if it is fall, 1 yellow leaf, 1 red leaf and 3 brown leaves.

Another variation might simply relate to number of petals on flowers photographed.  "Find one flower with six petals and another with three".  You can even call for multiples if you have a child practicing with the concept of multiples in math.  Interesting piece of trivia: all true flowers come with petals in sets that are multiples of 3, 4 or 5.  A list relating to this might look like this: find 1 flower that has a number of petals that is a multiple of three, 2 flowers that are a multiple of 4, 3 flowers that are a multiple of 5, and 4 flowers that have way too many petals to count.

You can make similar variations with the seed containers where you specify finding 2 different types of cones, two different types of pods and two different types of berries or other "fruit" such as drupes or pitted fruits.  Check out these "seed containers" on top of this dessert tree.

It is easy to directly relate a list of items to find from plant life to any biology objective about plants, or diversity of life.  Especially when you preface the activity or follow the activity with a comparison of what the child finds to what is in his or her curriculum.  There are also lots of  books you might pick up and read on the subject.  You can also do a comparison of living to non-living or plant, to animal etc. If you make sure to focus your list appropriately to fit your goals, a child will retain a lot of information after a hunt like this AND remember that information longer than if many other methods of teaching were used.  If you happen to be traveling through different types of habitats, you can stretch your scavenger hunt over days and miles and make sure to include items specific to each habitat through which you will be traveling.  Just follow up with a comparison activity.  Revisit and sort the photos at the end of the "hunt" or trip while you discuss those photos with one-another.

And yes these photos are from our
own walks and adventures.
This one can be a great way to practice with shapes, or you can just say, "go find 10 completely different but interesting shadows to capture on your camera".  If one of your children is learning his or her shapes, create a list with the goal of shape practice in mind.  You might ask him or her to find a straight line, find a wavy line, find a shadow of something rectangular, something square, something circular, a diamond (or rhombus if you want to use geometric terminology) and something hexagonal (then make sure there are some street signs they'll be able to see along the path).
A Shadow hunt is also a great one if you are trying to educate your child about positive and negative space in art.  For more shadow activities click here.

Outdoor Life:
Of course you can put all kinds of animals on your list, perhaps you include one insect, one arachnid and one bird, as well as one or two more crawling things (such as a worm, centipede or snail).  Just insects alone can provide an entire list for a budding young entomologist.  Insects with wings, insects without, insects with two wings vs. insects with four. . . (you get the idea).

You might also offer up part of a list as, a flying animal, a crawling animal, and a swimming animal.  Obviously if you are at a zoo, you would make these numbers a little higher.  If you will be doing this hunt near the beach, you could easily include seashells in most areas.  Since it is a photographic hunt, even still-occupied shells and other living creatures such as sea stars can still be "collected" in the memory storage on your camera.

The Non-living:
If your child is doing a unit on geology, you might include a few of the rocks with which your child should be familiar that you know are easily found in your region.  If you are being less formal about it, or if you are practicing colors, you might pick three rock colors that are easy to find in your area.  Some places have lots of greys while others have lots of browns or even reds, whites and greens or yellows.  You might also list building materials such as "a structure made with wood, a structure made with brick and a structure made with stone", something that is metal, something that is plastic. . .  you get the idea.  This can even be a scavenger hunt idea for traveling families on the road.  Just be ready to pull over for picture taking.  Add man-made landmarks such as bridges and tunnels as well as famous buildings (they'll need to have viewed a picture of these before hand to find the correct buildings).  For you kid who is highly interested in cars, trucks, tractors, trains etc., center your list around their interest.  Construction tools such as cranes and bulldozers, semi trucks, buses and the like can be part of a list you might make as well.

At A Zoo, Aquarium, or Botanical Garden:
Add a little geography to your scavenger hunt by including the idea that a representative from every continent be included in the hunt.  Zoos almost always include habitat ranges for each animal on display, some botanical gardens will include sign posts that give the location by country or range where the plant can naturally be found, but not all.  You may want to know if this information is available in advance of your trip.

Example of a General List for Your Own Backyard in the Late Spring:


Three very different shadow
         (look for different shapes or different types of lines)
Something that holds seeds
Three different colors
An interesting pebble
Two different types of insects
Two things that fly
Two things that crawl
Three different types of leaves
         (leaves do not only come from trees, so even if you don't
             have trees, include this one.  A blade of grass is a leaf).
Something that belongs to you (bring that one back and put it away)
A picture that shows four items that are the same
A picture that shows three items that are the same

Themed Photographic Comparison List Ideas (some of these are great for a walk in the city together too):

For these, give your child categories of things to find.  Then, when you get home sort them out on your computer (or get them printed and have your child sort them as you would cards) into their correct categories.  Have your child aim to get a number appropriate for their age for each category.  For example, I might ask a five year old to get photos of five things that are each of the three primary colors, but I might ask a six year old to get six of each or an eight year old to get ten each of items that are of primary colors and ten that are of secondary colors.

Living, was once living (fallen leaves, dead looking plants, logs, seashells etc.) and non-living things
Things that Walk, Crawl, Fly, and Swim.
Things with curvy edges and things with straight edges.
Things that are hard and things that are soft
Colors: Individual colors, primary and secondary colors, tints and shades etc.
Things with stripes and things without (and other similar variations)
If you can do two walks - one during the day and one at dawn or dusk: Nocturnal and Diurnal.
Man made things and Nature's Treasures
Vertebrate and invertebrate (Intermediate)
Monocot and Dicot (Advanced)
Regular shapes and irregular shapes
Opaque, transparent and translucent
Vehicles for transporting people and vehicles for transporting stuff
At the Farmer's Market you might do Fruit vs. Vegetable (careful, this is actually tricky for many adults
                                                too!  Did you know all types of squash are also fruits)?

With any of these scavenger hunts or comparison hunts, if your objective is specifically about learning or reviewing a specific topic or classification, you'll want to make sure to sort and discuss your photos after the hunting part is over.   A child might even make a poster out of their picture sort (I suggest columns).  Then their work can be proudly displayed some where for awhile and he or she (as well as the rest of the family) will continue to get reinforcement about the subject at hand.

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it will inspire you and provide a great place to start.  As you can see, depending on what you put on your list and what goals you have, this exercise can work for any age level from three on. 

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