A photography safari, or photo scavenger hunt, is a creative, interactive way to usher your kids away from screens and out into nature this summer.

Getting kids outside is more important than ever. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that kids are spending upwards of seven hours a day with screen technology, which means less time outside playing. According to a nationwide poll conducted by The Nature Conservancy, only about 10 percent of children spend time outdoors every day. In the poll, kids said they aren’t interested in being outside, they don’t have access to parks or outdoor recreation or they’re uncomfortable outdoors.

But spending time outdoors has numerous mental and physical health benefits. Research finds that kids who spend time outside are more creative in their play, more physically active and have enhanced attention spans. And as they get older, children who’ve spent time outdoors show a greater appreciation for the environment.

I found that by taking my two sons, ages 13 and 11, out on a photography safari at one of our local parks, we were able to slow down and intentionally observe nature’s quiet rhythm, including wildlife, insects and seasonal plants and colors. Here’s how to plan a photography safari with your family:

Select a location.

Parks with nature trails, botanical gardens, nature centers and zoos provide plenty of material for a safari. Or start in your own backyard.

day at zoo

Consider the time commitment.

Set aside 30 minutes to an hour. Or, if you’re on vacation, turn the safari into a multi-day event where snapshots are collected over the duration of your trip.

Gather your supplies.

If you don’t have a digital camera and you’re uncomfortable with your child borrowing your phone or iPad, check out inexpensive, kid-friendly digital camera options available online and at large discount stores like Walmart and Target or purchase a disposable camera. Also, pack sunscreen, bug spray, water and snacks.

Construct your list.

Do some advance research of your destination to decide what to include on your list. Maybe you plan to hike in a forest or camp at a national park this summer. Make a list of animals, plants, birds or landscapes to be on the look-out for. Decide how many and what types of items to put on your list according to the age of your child.

Types of lists.

If you’re going to the zoo, you might craft a list of adjectives that describe different animals. For example, look for animals that are striped, have tusks, swim, waddle, fly, etc. I opted to keep my list for the park general and stuck to having my kids search for particular colors, shapes and textures. To challenge kids who are already handy with a camera, you might have them hunt for interesting angles, lighting and reflections.

Establish ground rules.

For our safari, we decided that we couldn’t choose the same subjects to photograph. Consider how you will structure your hunt. For example: Can we help each other? Is there a time limit to complete the list? Can we only shoot natural objects or are man-made subjects game too? Will we head out together or split into groups? How competitive do we want the hunt to be?

girl taking pictures

Decide if you want friendly competition.

I opted not to make our safari a competition with prizes at the end. But you could, especially if you’re hosting a large group of kids you plan to split into teams like a Boy Scout/Girl Scout group or for a birthday party. Dollar stores offer a variety of inexpensive prize options. You might award prizes to teams who captured the funniest, most striking or creative images.

Review and discuss.

Go through your photos together and share what you like about each other’s photos. Ask your kids about their favorite shots and why they like them.

Make it seasonal.

Help your kids see the beauty of the changing seasons through the eye of their cameras. They may be surprised about how much nature has to offer even in the winter. Look for wintering birds, animal prints in snow, wild grasses and stick-like tendrils of ivy that will resume its climb when spring arrives.

My sons and I began to see all kinds of various shapes and interesting colors we’d never before noticed when we’d visited the park in the past. We watched a goose swimming gracefully across the lake, a fisherman casting his line and a kayaker paddling smoothly across the water. We peered over a bridge and marveled at the geometric design engineers used to build the lake’s dam. And best of all, while we walked side by side, cameras in hand, we simply enjoyed each other’s company.

Post Safari Photo Ideas

• Print out the photos and make a collage or scrapbook
• Paste a favorite photo into a journal and write about it
• If you went to the zoo and picked up a map, cut and paste photos onto the map to keep as a souvenir
• Create a digital photo book
• Write a make-believe story to go with the photos
• Start a private family blog and have your child write a post about his outing featuring his favorite snapshots
• Make a movie slide show of photos set to music

Sample List for Your Photography Safari

Snap photos of something:
• Green
• Furry
• Red
• Striped
• Orange
• In motion
• Feathered
• Round
• Square
• Oval