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Backyard Safari with Stuffed Animals

Updated on September 7, 2013

Hide and Seek never had it so good.

If are seeking ways to engage your child in the outdoors, try this hiding game called Backyard Safari. You will love seeing your child spending time in the sunshine and your child will have so much fun they won’t know it’s good for them. Two great things about it is that you probably already have the items on hand and once you set it up, the children will continue with it on their own for quite awhile.

Human Camouflage

Children these days adorn themselves in t-shirts, pants and even shoes that are covered in military style camouflage. I created this game as part of a study on camouflage for my students. Knowing how much children love stuffed animals, I knew I had to include them in the activity. I used camouflage clothing as a starting point for a discussion to get them to think about what the word camouflage means. Children love to share their thoughts on word meanings. Even if they don’t get it right, it is always amusing for the adult listener. Just make sure you correct any misconceptions as you go.

Camo - Chameleon

Next, I show photos of animals that are using camouflage. The most famous animal for using camouflage is probably the chameleon. If you are with older children, they may know of the phrase ‘blending in like a chameleon’. This could even be a good segue to a discussion of similes!

These are some other good shots of animals with exceptional camouflage. Challenge the children to find the animal.


Visit the Library for a Great Book

You can just get some photos off of the internet or better yet, borrow some library books on the subject. Some of my favorite picture books for this include Where in the Wild? by David Schwartz or Animals in Camouflage by Phyllis Limbacher.

Great Books To Add to Your Home Library

Where in the Wild?: Camouflaged Creatures Concealed... and Revealed
Where in the Wild?: Camouflaged Creatures Concealed... and Revealed
The photos and accompanying poetry will peak your child's interest in camouflage
Animals in Camouflage
Animals in Camouflage
If you prefer artwork, this book has beautiful drawings in it.

Hiding in Plain Sight

If I have a group of children, I’ll often take the group outside to show them how effective camouflage can be. I tell the group that all but one of them will be a predator. One person will be the prey, but they also have camouflage. I will choose a child who is wearing good camouflage colors (green if it is summer, brown or white or gray for winter, etc.) and tell them that the rest of the group will turn their backs for 8 seconds so they can hide somewhere in plain sight. (Don’t give longer than 8 seconds or the child will run too far away to make the game effective). The group turns their backs and counts to 8 out loud while the hider scampers away. When time is up, make sure the hider has hidden correctly, then instruct everyone to turn around. I usually ask the group to silently point to the person if they see them, because, afterall, predators are supposed to be quiet and stealthy. I tell them the hider can’t hide behind a tree, but they can crouch or hide in front of a tree to blend in.

It is amazing how difficult it can be to find the hider in this scenario. Sometimes I will ask a child wearing brightly colored clothing to hide, also. This provides a nice comparison to the child who has on camouflage colors.

How to Hide the Stuffed Animals

At this point, the children should understand the concept of camouflage, so it is time to advance to the safari portion of the activity. Before the children go outside, I have pre-hidden some stuffed animals. Hiding spots are not too difficult and are selected because they work with the animal’s camouflage. Under a shrub or at the base of a tree or clump of flowers works well. The stuffed animals I use for this are earth-toned colors. It is fun to stick one or two brightly colored animals into the hunt, as it highlights the need for good camouflage since they are so easy to find.

The Colorful Frog is Much Easier to Spot than the Rabbit (above)

Hike Your Own Backyard

I like to turn this into a hike. I will walk around the backyard and as I near each hidden animal, I will say, “A furry creature who likes to nibble on grass and has a white, cottony tail is hidden here. Does anyone see it?” It helps to have them still pretend to be prey, so they should silently point to the camouflaged animal. I generally hide 7 or 8 animals for the first round.

Can You Spot the Three Animals Hiding in My Backyard?

I usually space the animals further apart than show in this photo, but it gives you an idea of how to hide them so they blend in to the scenery.

Who Is Up for Round Two?

After you have completed the first round, the children will want to look for more. I allow the children to take turns hiding animals while the rest of the group has their back turned. You may need to give younger children more time to hide the creatures, but don’t give them so long that they stand there dithering over where they should hid the animals. You can also select more than one person at a time to hide the animals.

When the animals are sufficiently hidden, then I will say “Tally Ho” and that means the hunt is on! The other children turn around and look for the animals as if they are in an Easter egg hunt. It is at this point that the children will want to play repeated rounds of the game.

You Can Hide the Stuffed Animals Indoors, A la Elf on a Shelf

Don’t worry about trying to find stuffed animals that are lifelike. If they blend with the environment, they will work for this activity. If the weather isn’t suitable for outdoor play, you can do the Backyard Safari indoors. Just make sure that the camouflage colored animals you select match the décor of the room in which you hide the animals!

Folkmanis Makes Realistic Looking Stuffed Animals

Folkmanis Raccoon Hand Puppet, Large
Folkmanis Raccoon Hand Puppet, Large
You can use whatever animals you have on hand, but purchasing something lifelike, such as these plush puppets instills greater nature appreciation!

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