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Without the welcome distraction of school, sports, playdates or playgrounds, parents are banding together on social media to find innovative ways to amuse their kids, as well as keep themselves sane.

One bright spot in the midst of all the confusion surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the humble scavenger hunt – which evolved from ancient folk games – has emerged as a popular way kids and parents are filling their days after being advised to stay home.

On St. Patrick’s Day, children and parents in neighbourhoods across Canada and the United States hunted for pictures of shamrocks in people’s windows and then posted a slew of photos of their finds on social media to share proudly with their friends.

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“With everything going on in the world right now, the mood can be very gloomy, so we need to find ways to keep people busy and buoy everyone’s spirits,” says Jayson Merryfield, who created The Great School’s Cancelled Photo Scavenger Hunt, which he posted on Monday at, an online forum aimed at parents and kids.

“I’ve done photo scavenger hunts each of the past four summers for adults,” says Mr. Merryfield, an accountant in Edmonton. “This is the first one I’ve done for children, specifically.

“The mood can be very gloomy around us if we don’t take care of ourselves. This is to engage children and keep them busy. It isn’t a one-stop solution, but it can be one good thing for you to work on with your kids in an afternoon. Tick a few of the items off the list, and everyone feels more productive, like there is purpose in their days.”

Chat groups and neighborhood platforms are filling up with other innovative activities that get families out of their heads and into the great outdoors. For instance, Danforth Living, a social media group in Toronto’s Riverdale neighbourhood, has recently posted something called the Neighbourhood Window Walk, which provides a list of items that participants are asked to draw on a certain day and then post on the front door. (March 17 was shamrocks; March 26 is encouraging words; April 1 is jokes.)

Kids then walk around their community hunting for the artwork.

With Mr. Merryfield’s scavenger hunt, players get points each time an item on the list is completed. It inspires goal-setting and sparks purpose, Mr. Merryfield says. Photos are taken and uploaded to social media to be shared online with family and friends – another good way of staying connected with loved ones in different cities or provinces.

“One of the attractions of doing the scavenger hunt is telling and sharing stories of how you accomplished the item, after the fact,” he says. “Not every item will necessarily result in a cool picture, but there is work and effort required to go into each one, and those are often the best stories.

“It keeps us busy, engaged and occupied – and it keeps us all safe for social-distancing purposes.”

Marie MacCallum, in Truro, N.S., started The Great School’s Cancelled Photo Scavenger Hunt last night. “My kids are really sad about not having playdates and seeing their friends,” says MacCallum, whose children are 10 and 7. “This will be a good way for all of us to stay involved in something that’s not necessarily work sheets and still be interactive with other children. We’re excited about it.”

In Saskatoon, Danielle Fletcher and her three daughters also plan to take part. “All of us suddenly being at home together – without a plan – is overwhelming.

“This gives us something concrete we can do, and frankly, it’s one less thing for me to have to worry about at this point.”

The Great School’s Cancelled Photo Scavenger Hunt

Level 1: Max & Ruby

  1. A functioning leprechaun trap. Bonus points if you’ve caught a leprechaun. (1 point + 1 for a leprechaun)
  2. Read a book you’ve never read before. (2 points)
  3. Make lunch for your whole family one day. (2 points)
  4. Take a five-minute break in your day to Pop See Ko with a friend over Skype or FaceTime. (2 points)
  5. Organize all of the stuffies in your house any order you want, but show your work. Largest to smallest, by colour, by cuteness, etc. (2 points)
  6. Build something totally new (not a set) out of Lego. Use at least four colours in your creation. (2 points)
  7. Make up a new no-hands handshake/greeting for you and everyone in your house. (2 points)
  8. Cover your front door with homemade paper flowers so everyone who sees it feels like spring is coming soon. (3 points)
  9. Spend one day calling your parents by their first name. (3 points)
  10. Get dressed up in your favourite outfit and do your own hair and/or makeup, and let Mom or Dad take your portrait. (3 points)

Level 2: Wild Kratts

  1. Design your own zoo with fingerprint drawings of the animals. Make it as big or as small as you like. (5 points)
  2. Find at least three different types of wild birds living in your neighbourhood. (5 points)
  3. Learn about one plant you find growing either in or around your home. (5 points)
  4. Take your dog for a walk every day for a week, or if you don’t have one, try to find a neighbour you trust and walk their dog. (5 points)
  5. Make a bird feeder to give the feathered friends who are returning to our neighbourhoods a little snack. (5 points)
  6. Find a beach somewhere and see what kind of evidence of living things you can find. (5 points)
  7. Find your first green leaf growing on a tree. (5 points)
  8. Learn about your favorite animal in the whole world and make a presentation to share what you learned with everyone. Google Slides, Instagram Story, anything goes. (10 points)
  9. Go for a road trip and count all of the non-farm animals you see. Birds not included. (10 points)
  10. Clean up trash at a playground or park near your home. (10 points)

Level 3: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

  1. Create your own Princess of Power costume and tell your family about your special powers. (5 points)
  2. Draw and/or paint what you see out of your bedroom or living-room window. (5 points)
  3. Make handmade cards for any first responders or medical professionals that you know. Mail or deliver them if you get the chance. (5 points)
  4. Build the coolest paper airplane imaginable and then take it outside to fly it. Decorate it if you think it needs to be prettier. (5 points)
  5. Find a sidewalk somewhere and make really cool chalk drawings on it. (5 points)
  6. Make homemade play-dough and then build something amazing with it. (5 points)
  7. Record a YouTube video telling other kids about some of the fun things they can do while school is cancelled. (10 points)
  8. Write a story about you discovering you actually have superpowers but can’t let anyone else know about them. (10 points)
  9. Draw a picture of your classroom with your teacher and all of your friends from school. If you can, send it to your teacher too. (10 points)
  10. Make a flip book or comic book and fully colour and illustrate it. (15 points)

Level 4: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

  1. Draw a map of Canada and label all of the parts of it you know or can learn about – provinces, cities, oceans or lakes, stuff like that. (5 points)
  2. Spend a few minutes Googling about an Indigenous culture and their traditional dress, and try drawing a picture of one. (5 points)
  3. Find at least five things in your house that were not manufactured in Canada, and then locate the countries in which they were made on a map or globe. (5 points)
  4. Pick a food that starts with the same letter as your name, then discover where it was invented or where it is grown. (5 points)
  5. Friends can come from all around the world. Have your parent choose a friend of theirs who doesn’t live here in Canada, and then ask them a few questions about life where they live. (5 points)
  6. What is your favorite sport? What country did that sport come from? How old is that sport? (5 points)
  7. Have you visited another country? Is there one you want to visit? Draw the country’s flag and tape it to your bedroom door. (5 points)
  8. Play a game of GeoGuessr and score at least 5,000 points. (10 points)
  9. Plan an around-the-world trip. Where would you go and how would you get from one place to another? How much would it cost? (10 points)
  10. Win a game of Ticket to Ride. You must go coast-to-coast to score these points! (10 points)

Level 5: Teen Titans Go!

  1. Draw a picture with all of the superheroes that you can name from memory. Villains included. (1 point per hero)
  2. Build a blanket fort or set up a small tent inside and “camp out” – sleep for a night in a different room in your house. (15 points)
  3. Research and discover a nature reserve or natural area near the city or town you live in and then plan a weekend trip there to explore. (15 points)
  4. Bake a pineapple upside-down cake. Just because they’re delicious. (20 points)
  5. Make papier-mâché masks to look like your favourite movie characters and act out a part of your favourite movie with them. (20 points)
  6. Finish a Rubik’s Cube. (20 points)
  7. Build a Minute to Win It-style game with at least five activities and do it with your whole family. (20 points)
  8. Find a kids’ yoga video series on YouTube (like Cosmic Kids Yoga) and do yoga twice a week for a whole month. (20 points)
  9. Learn how to play a song on a musical instrument that you’ve never played before. (25 points)
  10. Go for a jog. You have to run 1 kilometre for each grade you are in (Grade 5 = 5 km, Grade 8 = 8 km, etc.). Kindergarten or lower starts at 1 km. You might have to train up for it. (25 points)

The Final Boss: The NeverEnding Story

  1. Become a real-life pen pal to another child somewhere. Send some homemade pictures, letters and updates about how life is going in your house. Get your parents to help co-ordinate this one. (100 points)

– Jayson Merryfield

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