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Unlimited parental free time: spy scavenger hunt

Every once in a great, great while, I do an Awesome Mom Thing.

The spy scavenger hunt is one of those things.

parental free time - scavenger hunt by Robyn Welling @RobynHTV

It's not really a traditional scavenger hunt; that's just what my kids started calling it. The idea is still pretty simple, though: set up a series of clues that lead to a goal or a prize. Instead of getting a list of things to look for, they get one clue - which leads to the next, which leads to the next, and so on until they get to the Grand Finale! (More on that in a second.)

What makes it extra fun is the story line. During the game, the kids take on the role of spies searching for a bad guy, or private eyes solving a mystery, or adventurers hunting for lost treasure.

OMG, they love that stuff.

What's really awesome about the spy scavenger hunt, though, is that my kids never get tired of it, and I get to determine how long it lasts - thus, I determine how long I get to lounge around scrolling through Pinterest uninterrupted! Based on the number of clues, the difficulty level, and the location of the hiding spots, this game can last anywhere from a few minutes to almost forever.

It's the perfect game for one kid or a bunch, for parties, to keep little ones entertained when they're home all day for holidays or summer break, or just to bust up a case of the 'I'm bored's.

AND, in case coming up with stories and hiding spaces and clues sounds like too much work, I've even written up tons of ideas to get you started!

So, what are we waiting for? Let's get to Pinterest! Wait, I meant to say, Let's get started on a spy scavenger hunt!


  • supplies for writing the clues - paper, envelopes, tape, pen, highlighters, etc
  • items to include with clues that the kids will need for solving the mystery (optional) - varies depending on the hunt you set up, but might include a magnifying glass, a key, coins, etc. Hopefully my sample hunts will clarify that if it doesn't quite make sense yet.
  • a prize (optional) - again, depends on your story line, but some prizes I've used are:
    • a teddy bear (playing the role of bad guy)
    • rhinestones and costume jewelry in a small jewelry box (treasure)
    • candy or fruit snacks
    • stickers


  • Decide on a story line
First you need to come up with a premise - are the kids archaeologists looking for artifacts? Are they detectives hired to solve a crime? Getting their imaginations going, along with getting their feet moving all over the house, are the keys to keeping them engaged (and keeping YOU on Pinterest - or catching up on housework, if you're into being productive).

Because I'm lazy and don't like to prepare for things in advance, I usually start by thinking about whatever I have on hand that I can use for a prize/goal, and build the story around that - these hunts I've done in the past are examples of stories I've made up when I had fruit snacks, fake coins, stickers, and other things available. Feel free to use those ideas, or use them to inspire your own story!

If you don't have a prize, that's fine, too. Kids love doing this simply for the satisfaction of solving the clues - the prize is just a bonus.

  • Pick the hiding spots
Keep your desired difficulty level in mind when deciding where to hide clues; younger kids might need things to be pretty obvious and right at eye level, whereas older kids like to look for clues in more challenging, out-of-the-way places.

Remember that if your hunt requires the clues to be found in a certain order, you want to make sure none of the clues/prizes are someplace where the kids will accidentally find them before they're supposed to. You don't want to ruin the surprise! And obviously, don't put clues anyplace where the kiddos could get hurt trying to retrieve them. Need some ideas?

  • Write the clues
Start with the first clue - it should hint at where they can find clue #2. Clue #2 tells them where to find the third clue, and so on, until the final clue points to the location of the prize.

You determine how long the game lasts by the number of clues and their difficulty. Obviously, if your clues just say things like, "Look in the toy chest" the game will go pretty fast - though that might be necessary for younger spies. On the flip side, if you make the clues way too hard, they might get discouraged and give up, forcing you to get off the internet. (Noooooo!) You know your own kids well enough to gauge what's appropriate.

For older players, you can write vague hints, rhyming riddles, or puzzles. I also like to reference things specific to my kids (this is where occasionally paying attention to them pays off). "Look in the pages of your favorite book" is more fun for them than, "I stuck the next clue in that Magic Treehouse book with a blue cover." Use some of my clue suggestions for more inspiration!

  • Hide the clues
Some might be attached to an object that'll be used to solve/get to future clues (a key, for example), some clues might be found with objects the adventurer has been told to collect (like if they're hunting for multiple coins along the way), or a clue might just be a piece of paper sending the kids to another location. Just make sure you put each clue in the right spot - getting them out of order or accidentally putting a clue directing the kids to the bathroom sink in the bathroom sink is going to be confusing!

  • Let the game begin!
I like to slip the first clue under my kids' door, knock, and scurry off - and then pretend I have no idea what they're talking about when they come ask me questions about it. Because, you know, MYSTERY! Also, because I'm busy pinning stuff by then.

Don't forget, I have lots of ideas to get you started.

Now, enjoy all the free time you have coming your way - just be prepared for your kids to want to do it ALL THE TIME. Which is fine - we can always use a few more hours on Pinterest, right?

I hope you enjoyed yourself while you were here - and I hope you come back! Please share inappropriate giggles with me on Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook, or subscribe via email so you don't miss a thing!


BadParentingMoments said...

I love this AND I love that you did all of the work for me. A true win-win.

Nicole Shaw said...

Fun! I will do this, fo sho.

Robyn of HollowTreeVentures said...

It is fun, and easier than I made it sound with my inexplicable inability to explain things very concisely.

Robyn of HollowTreeVentures said...

I would do anything for you, BPM. *runs away, giggling*

fishducky said...


Robyn of HollowTreeVentures said...

It's just as I suspected - I NEED to move to Canada. That sounds awesome! The closest thing we have around here to a super-cool bomb shelter is a rather dangerous sinkhole. No bar, but it *is* underground... *starts packing*

StacyKK said...

I love this! My son is 5 and only wants to play video games during free time. Board games would just be torn apart by the baby but this, this idea is great for us!

Robyn of HollowTreeVentures said...

Yay, I'm so happy to hear it! Have fun!

Kathy at kissing the frog said...

Seriously, this is genius! My 8 year old wanted a scavenger hunt for his birthday, so I wrote out clues that lead to clues that led to his gift. He helped me make one for his 6 year old brother's birthday, too.

Robyn of HollowTreeVentures said...

That's so sweet that he wanted a scavenger hunt - and that he helped with his brother's! :D

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