How Going on a Bear Hunt Can Build Early Literacy

by Cindy Johanson, Douglas County Libraries

Guest Blogger

Sightings of bears – stuffed bears, that is – are on the rise in Colorado this spring. But there’s no reason to be alarmed. Big bears and little bears peek out from windows and porch swings. Kids scour the area on foot, scooters, and bikes, some dressed in safari clothes and toting binoculars. With schools closed during the coronavirus pandemic, families are venturing out on safe, socially distanced bear hunts in their own neighborhoods. When playdates and trips to the library have been put on hold, scavenger hunts like these provide a way to stay active and engaged.

With a little creativity, scavenger hunts can also boost early literacy. To set the stage, begin by reading Michael Rosen’s captivating book, “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. In the book, a courageous family navigates wavy grass, a deep river, squishy mud, a dense forest, a blinding snowstorm, and finally, a dark cave. (When I read this at my toddler storytime, I add a safety message to kids – looking for real bears in real caves probably isn’t the best idea!) Nevertheless, this book is an awesome way to get kids excited and curious about scavenger hunts.

Next, adults can take toddlers and preschoolers on their own local hunt, using their imaginations to explore their natural environments. Ask open-ended questions like, “Where would a bear hide on our street?” or “What other animals might live here?” This hunt boosts literacy using discussions about animal habitats, food choices, sleeping habits, and science vocabulary. If possible, encourage kids to take interesting photos with a cellphone to discuss later, using non-fiction books or websites to answer their questions.

For children who aren’t yet reading, parents can craft a scavenger hunt that emphasizes alphabet skills. Whether indoors or outdoors, kids can find items that begin with “a” or that rhyme with “hat” to practice their emerging awareness of letters and sounds. They can use a checklist to identify things that are red, blue, yellow, and green. This hunt works well in a grocery store, giving kids something to look out for as they match letter sounds and colors with specific foods. Children can make comparisons using sizes, shapes, and colors to classify their treasures.

Scavenger hunts create many opportunities to enhance math skills, too! Offer kids a list of shapes to recognize on their neighborhood walk. As they get the hang of it, they’ll notice details like square and rectangular windows, triangle-shaped rooftops, octagonal stop signs, circular wheels on cars, and so on. Ask them to count the number of trees on the block or the number of segments on the sidewalk. This type of scavenger hunt can actually change the way children see things in their world by making these important connections.

Whether it’s a personalized scavenger hunt for your preschooler or a traditional teddy bear hunt with the whole family, this hands-on experience will be fun, educational, and active. If you’d like to join like-minded people in a broader experience, National Scavenger Hunt Day is May 24. For more ideas or to listen to Michael Rosen’s book, see the resources below.


Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position or opinion of the Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy organization or the individual committee members.