Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Scavenger Hunts for Library Visits

Last week on the ALSC listserv there was a thread (no, not that thread) of messages on the topic of library games for group visits. The question was posed in the context of a first grade boy scout visit--what sorts of activities do libraries offer for such a group visit? I shared a few examples of what we do here at my library, and after getting a some questions and requests to share details, I opted to expand here on the blog. Most of our scout groups and some school groups opt to visit the library as a means of introducing children to how the library is set up--the idea is to make them familiar with the library to encourage its use. We happily assist in this pursuit with scavenger hunts that get kids moving around the library.

One such scavenger hunt (and I cannot take credit for it; a version of it was in use before I took my job) operates both as an exploration of the library and a decoding exercise. Library familiarity and literacy reinforcement rolled into one, hooray! This coded scavenger hunt involves a clue sheet with numbered clues; each clue prompts children to go to a specific section of the library, e.g., the juvenile graphic novels or the reference desk. When children make their way to each specified area of the library, they search for a small sign. These signs have a number and image that correspond to the clue on the kids' code sheet, and they also include a large uppercase letter. Children are prompted to write down that letter on their code sheets by the clue number; thus, if the sign for Clue #9 leads to the Wii games, and the Wii sign has the letter "W" on it, "W" becomes associated with #9. When children have found the letters that go with all twelve of our clues, they are ready to decode the message of the game. See the above images of our clue (left) and key (right) sheets to better visualize the setup.

Another scavenger hunt uses the same sort of seek-and-find format albeit without the decoding aspect. I've written on this blog about our summer seek and find, where children look for an image of a book character who is mentioned at the library's entrance. During the academic year, we modify this premise to be a little more engaging. Children are given a sheet of paper with images of five or six children's book characters, each with a line next to it. Those same images are posted somewhere in the children's area of the library, and children are instructed to locate each of them. When a child locates an image, he or she is meant to write down (or dictate to a grown-up) the section in which the image is posted; for example, if Clifford is on a shelf with audiobooks, the child would write "audiobooks" or "CD books" on the sheet. This variation on the scavenger hunt works well for younger groups of children who may not yet have great reading skills--they are able to look for visual clues instead of trying to follow written ones.

Mix in STEM!
Our last scavenger hunt model features a bit of STEM mixed into the exploration. The hunt handout includes instructions like "Go to the juvenile magazines. How many magazines for children does the library subscribe to?" Each instruction includes a line for children to fill in; in this example, kids would write down the number of different magazines they count in the children's area. These activities include counting, measuring, reading a book list, and navigating Dewey, all of which support STEM skills as well as library knowledge. The one potential downside of this scavenger hunt is that it is text-heavy, and thus it often requires a larger number of adult "team captains," if you will, to help the kiddos navigate the different activities. It's been a hit in the few times we've used it since creating it this fall, however, so it's a model worth trying out.

All three of these scavenger hunts work for larger groups as well as small ones, although when there are lots of kids going on a hunt, I like to divide them into teams and stagger the starting place for each team. I also emphasize that the scavenger hunt is not a race--every participant gets a prize (usually a library pencil or a small piece of candy) for completing the hunt regardless of how quickly they do so. Things don't usually get too crazy during the hunt once kids know they need not rush around the library.

Those are our three go-to activities for acquainting kids with the library when they come for a group visit. What do you do to entertain and inform children who visit your library?


  1. Oooh, nicely done! Great way to engage the kids while introducing the collection. For scout groups at our library, if we are 'splaining the NF collection arrangement, we often "catalog" the kids into dewey number of a subject they are interested in, give them a barcode and handwritten spine label and "shelve" them by their dewey. It lets kids get up close and personal with favorite books and gets the message out about how NF groupings work!

    1. I really like that idea, Marge! I usually talk about Dewey in terms of every book having an address, but the idea of giving each kid an address based on their own interests--terrific. They figure out Dewey AND find great books! I'm going to see how I can integrate this idea into visits by older groups who really want to get to know how the books are organized.

  2. Thanks guys,
    I know this is an older post, but I am looking for some new ideas for a school group, and this was a good discussion to stumble upon - I love the 'cataloguing' of kids into Dewey order (sorry, I have to spell catalogue the English way, because I'm Australian!). I usually use a scavenger hunt like the third example, for my Guide/Scout groups, and they love it. They work in groups for a bag of chocolate frogs. My current search is for something to use with a school group of special needs kids. They are a mixture of autistic, deaf, and learning delayed kids, who take part in a special program each week. They are coming on an excursion tot he library, and are super excited! Any thought for a simpler sort of treasure hunt? Ages vary widely!

    1. Robbie, you might consider doing a simpler seek and find/scavenger hunt with this group, where their goal is to find good-sized pictures that have been "hidden" in key places of the library you want them to visit/want to show them. Do you have time to contact their teacher to find out what sorts of books or characters they've been sharing together as a class? If you do, I'd use those characters for the scavenger hunt items, as they'll promote a level of familiarity and comfort. Also, depending upon the ages and abilities, you might make and hand out maps showing exactly what sections the images are in; that way they can focus on identifying the hidden item within certain smaller parameters instead of the whole library at once.

      Have fun!

  3. This is excellent! Just the activity I was looking for to do at my school's literacy night. Thanks for sharing!


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