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Gnome Hunting is Outdoor Fun

Updated on September 3, 2013

Gnome Hunting with Children

Gnome hunting is a great hide and seek game in which children find gnome figures that have been hidden outside. You can do this activity pretty much anywhere there is space to have kids run around. The hunting can be modified to fit your circumstances. You can opt to do this activity with or without clues. The great part is that to participate in this hide and seek activity as an adult, you don’t have to hide interminably in some cramped space while the little ones look for you!

What are Gnomes?

It is fun to give children a little background information about gnomes before you set off on your hunt. Some children already have notions about gnomes, so start by asking them to share what they know about gnomes. If gnomes are new to them, the basics are that gnomes are mythical creatures that are elfish or dwarf-like. They are very small—shorter than 10 inches and they are very respectful of nature and the earth. I usually show a few pictures of gnomes to help children understand them a little more fully. At the bottom of this lense I will recommend some of my favorite books with great illustrations and illuminations about gnomes.

Set-up for a Basic Gnome Hunt

Since gnomes are outdoor creatures, I love to set this activity up outside. Your own backyard will work. Parks, playgrounds, public lands or your neighborhood sidewalk are also good options. Anywhere children can scamper as they search for gnomes is suitable, so don’t let an urban environment deter you. I usually hide five to six gnomes. A favorite place I use to hide a gnome is the base of tree. The base of anything, such as a clump of flowers, ferns, shrubs or even a flowerpot work well. Low hanging branches or the crook where the branch meets the trunk of a tree are a nice change of pace. Just make sure you keep everything not too far above the eye-level of a child. When placing a gnome, I try to make it look like it was trying to be hidden. I will place part of its face behind some leaves or hide part of its body in a tree limb. The most favored spot for children to find a gnome is peaking out of a hole on a tree limb or fallen log.

I prefer to set my gnomes up as a trail to follow. Either I will lead a hike or provide clues for the child to direct themselves along the path. If I am leading the hike, I will stop at certain spots along the walk and say something like “I spot a gnome peeking out from behind some yellow flowers. If you see the gnome, silently point to it so we don’t scare it away!” This technique works for one child or a group of children. I usually allow the child to go collect the gnome for me (so I don’t have to go hunt for it later!), then I place it in my ‘gnome basket’.

The Action in a Gnome Hunt

If you don’t want to make a trail to follow, there is also what I call “The Easter Egg Hunt Method”. You scatter the gnomes in a certain area and let the children know the boundaries of that area. You can use existing boundaries, like a fence or a backyard, or create boundaries by tying ribbons on the four corners that are the extent of the gnome hunting area. This works best if you have just one child at a time doing the hunting. Otherwise, they will see where the other person found some gnomes or the other person may take the gnomes, leaving nothing to find.

If the children are old enough to read, you can provide clues for them to follow along the trail. This requires a bit more front-end work on your part, but it can be used again and again by multiple groups. For this method, I place the gnomes, then write clues such as: Take five steps forward from the starting place, then ten steps right. Or, if we have been studying something specific, like trees, I may write the clue: Walk five steps forward from the starting place, then find the big red oak tree. Write here the name of the gnome you find under the oak tree. I often make little name tags for my gnomes for this purpose. I use old carboard boxes and string them around the gnome’s neck with twine. I give them gnome-like names such as “Fessel” and “Scratchy”.

You will need to acquire some gnome figures. Good sources for gnomes are garden supply centers. Decorative garden gnomes are generally sturdy and made to be outside, but don’t buy the heave concrete variety. Polyresin gnome figures are readily available and much easier to transport and store. Gnomes have increased in popularity, so it is possible to purchase gnomes in gift shops as specialty items or you can order them online. I have also found that party supply stores are a really great place to find gnome-like creatures, especially as fairy themed parties have gained popularity. Another option is to print out some gnomes from the internet. You or the child can color the gnomes then mount them on popsicle sticks or real sticks for ease of hiding. I have a variety of gnomes, but my favorites are each six to eight inches tall, made of poly resin, don’t have any delicate parts (no extended hands or fragile flowers that can break off) and are wearing earth-toned colors.


Staging the Hunt

When I stage a gnome hunt, I keep in mind that I want children to find delight in spending time outdoors while also getting some movement into their day. Place your gnomes so that you can’t see more than one gnome at a time. This ensures that the children will get ample movement while hunting. I also like to place the gnomes in a trail that loops back to the point in which we started, although this isn’t always possible.


If you are leading the hunt, it is helpful to show your followers books on gnomes or some pictures of gnomes beforehand. If I am leading young children, I will stop along the way to point out interesting flowers, grass, trees, whatever will hold their attention and get them enjoying nature. Then, when you stop and say “I spy a gnome” they will already be in the habit of looking for things.

If you are providing clues for the hunt, write them well in advance. Make several copies if there is more than one child. You may want to provide clipboards or make the clues on half-sheets of paper, both of which make carrying the clue sheet easier. If you ask them to write the names of the gnomes they find, then definitely provide a clipboard or at least a book or other hard surface on which to write.

If children are using clues to find the gnomes, I sometimes give them a prize when they have written in the name of every gnome they found. Or, you can give a prize to the person or group that found them the fastest, but you will need stopwatch to keep track of the time. Another way to end this activity is to take the child or children to a nice shady spot and read aloud to them a book on gnomes.

Gnome-hunting provides a little thrill for children while engaging them with nature. This is the first in a series of hunting activities for children. I developed this activity as part of a Home School Nature Day to get kids active in the woods.

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    • dennisbruckner profile image

      Dennis Bruckner 3 years ago from Salt Lake City, UT

      Never heard of gnome hunting but after reading this it looks like so much fun!!! I always just thought of them as decorations but this is a great way to have fun with the little fellas.

    • ibescience profile image
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      ibescience 3 years ago

      The kids absolutely love doing this. I've done this with hundreds of children and I have yet to hear one say they didn't like it!

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