Neighborhoods Are Putting Together ‘Bear Hunts’ To Entertain Bored Children Everywhere

by Karen Belz
Karen Belz has written for sites such as Bustle, HelloGiggles, Romper, and So Yummy. She's the mom of a sassy toddler and drinks an alarming amount of Sugar-Free Red Bull in order to keep up with her.

My daughter is days away from turning 3. Despite the stereotypes saying it’s “terrible,” I found her second year to be one of the most enjoyable.

Her personality truly developed, and she was finally able to better communicate her wants and needs. I saw her blossom into her own person. And she became much more social.

At the age of 2, we started signing her up for programs — just to get her out of the house and interacting with people aside from my husband and I. We had no idea that she’d turn into a social butterfly. That’s what makes the stay-at-home orders hard for us. She’s too young to understand what’s happening in the world — and she misses her friends.

And while she loves taking walks, they’re getting a bit repetitive.

As a parent, you feel like an absolute monster telling your children they can’t play with the kids across the street. Every time my daughter sees someone ride by on a bike, she begs to join them. She misses kids. And she misses being able to discover new things outside.

That’s why plenty of neighborhoods are creating “bear hunts” to keep kids having fun and connected while outside. The best part? It’s fairly easy to participate. It might seem a little strange, but it can make all the difference for a child.

While they may be further extended in the future, the current social distancing guidelines are set until April 30. That means that your kids probably won’t be seeing their friends for a long time, outside of video chats. But if you’ve got friends in the neighborhood, they can participate in a bear hunt together.

Have a stuffed bear? Or perhaps a bear decal? That’s all you need to participate. All you have to do is put your bear in a window — or somewhere outside the house where it won’t be destroyed by the weather — and children can walk around the neighborhood and try to spot them all. It’s just one more fun activity they can do outside.

And they’ll also technically be working together. Bears can also move throughout the week, so you can participate in a new “hunt” whenever you want. It’s just the perfect distraction children could use at a time like this.

Scary Mommy credits the idea to the 1989 children’s book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. The book has been a hit for years. “Children love the obstacles the characters run into on their way to finding a bear,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “Each page has beautifully illustrated pictures with breezy colors.”

So parents can also order the book and use it to set up their bear hunt, if they can get their neighbors interested in participating. One of the best ways to set this up digitally is through a neighborhood Facebook group or even on Nextdoor, if you’re signed up. Now may be the best time to really meet your neighbors.

There’s also a great website that serves as a good resource for many of the bear hunts out there. “Neighborhoods are doing an awesome thing for kids and families going on walks or drives,” it says. “Everyone who wants to participate will put teddy bears in their windows so families can go on a ‘bear hunt.’ Families love the Going on a Bear Hunt book, so we are all thrilled and eager to participate.”

The site lists specific areas that bear hunts have been popping up, but it makes sure that safety is the first priority. “Please be careful and make sure you are accompanying your children on the Bear Hunts. Out of respect for others’ health and safety, keep a safe distance when ‘hunting’ and do not approach the properties of others,” the site warns.

It’s been so successful that the domain is actually scheduled to be taken down on April 10. So before that time comes, you may want to start organizing your own hunt, if it hasn’t been done already. Even a few local businesses that remain open and essential are participating in the hunt.

Of course, with quarantine orders comes boredom. So some families who happen to have a lot of bears on hand have made quite the display for visiting outside guests. Remember, this is a way for you to have some fun as well. If you’re big with holiday decorations, this is another fun way to jazz up your home while staying safe.

If bears aren’t your thing, parents are trying other methods to entertain their neighborhoods. Some families are creating motivational quotes of the day using chalk. For younger kids, they may enjoy the fact that the walkways are so colorful. If you’re far enough from your neighbors, you may want to spend some time outside drawing.

Chalk messages are also a great way to communicate. It may sound silly, but one of the draws of social media is that you can put your message out there for everyone to see. The people outside right now need as much inspiration as they can, and perhaps they can look toward your daily words of encouragement.

Whether it’s chalk or bears, it’s just nice to see neighborhoods working together to try to make this as easy as possible for everyone. While adults have very big concerns based on this virus — such as lack of work or possibly losing their jobs altogether — this is a key moment in our children’s lives. We should make it as fun as possible.

Looking on the bright side, all of these activities are also a great way to spend time with your kids. While you may have been depending on screens for entertainment (and there’s nothing wrong with that — Disney+ exists for this very reason), it’s also important to go outside, take a walk, get some fresh air, and admire nature. Prior to the stay-at-home orders, you may not have had the time to do that.

So even if you don’t have a group or use the Nextdoor service, consider putting a stuffed bear in your window. It may bring someone a little extra cheer when they need it most. Or take action and try to digitally connect with your neighbors regarding other fun activities you can do at a safe distance. When this is all over, you might end up with a few local friendships that you never expected.