We’re so excited to share this fabulous kids’ activity with you today — we’ve hand-crafted it, kid-tested it, and have gotten rave reviews from kids and parents alike! It’s a sensory treasure hunt that makes learning super fun.
The idea all started when we were graciously asked by the director of the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station to participate in their amazing Autism OdysSea event — an ocean-themed fun-filled day for children on the spectrum and their families.
So, we brewed up a fun, interactive activity from scratch for kids with autism, their siblings and parents to learn about some of the coolest animals that live in the sand and sea. It was a hit for all!
What’s more, we’ve made it easy for you to re-create at home. Adaptable for big or small spaces using a DIY divided kiddie pool or utility caddy, it’s a fantastic activity for the classroom, birthday parties, and a hot summer’s day at home.
Oh, and our free printable Animal ID Cards and Treasure Hunt page make it a complete activity. So dive right in! 🙂
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Printable Sand & Sea Animal Cards Set AND Printable Sand & Sea Animal Treasure Hunt (we printed ours on parchment-looking paper)
- divided caddy tote container (no holes on the bottom) OR divided hard plastic kiddie pool
- Alternatively, you could use two clear plastic shoeboxes or other containers, and secure them together with clear packing tape.
- We divided the kiddie pool using 3 pool noodles and blue duct tape. How?
- Put the first pool noodle down in the shape you want it on the bottom (you’ll need at least two people to wrestle it). While holding it down, put strips of duct tape around the noodle at intervals to secure it to the bottom.
- Add a second pool noodle on top of the first, using strips of tape at intervals to secure it to the first noodle and bottom of the kiddie pool.
- Add a third pool noodle on top of the second, attaching all the way to the bottom with strips of tape at intervals.
- Fill in any gaps with strips of tape to the bottom to make it more sturdy (see images below). Viola!
- NOTE: We didn’t fill it with water, so we can’t attest to any sort of water-tightness.
- sand to fill one side of the container
- You can grab some at the beach, buy some play sand at a home improvement store, or make your own! Recipe to make your own:
- water (add blue food coloring if desired) OR sensory beads to fill the other side of the container (we used lots of cut up blue pool noodles for the “water” in the kiddie pool, so that’s an option too, unless it’s going to be windy)
- for sensory beads, let them soak overnight:
- this plastic sea creature toy set from Amazon OR Printable Sand & Sea Animal pictures, cut and laminated
- For the toy set, you’ll need to sort out the ones that are on the Treasure Hunt page since these are the ones we made cards for. By the way, there are typically about 2-3 of each critter in one set, so go ahead and use the duplicates to make the hunt a little easier.
- If you’re doing the kiddie pool version, you may want to buy 3-4 sets of the toys to make it easier (that’s what we used).
- markers, pencils, or pens for the kids to check off the animals on their Treasure Hunt
- optional (to hang the animal ID cards if desired): a large magnetic board with magnets or wooden board with twine and clothespins
- optional: prizes are fun for a party event, especially when they’re in a treasure chest! (Ocean-themed stickers and seashell necklaces were our picks for prizes.)
How to set it up:
- Print the Printable Sand & Sea Animal Cards Set on cardstock or other paper. (We used a treasure-map-looking paper.) Cut them on the lines into individual cards. You can clip them onto a board with string and clothespins for a display board (we went all out and decorated a wood board), or use magnets to stick them to a big dry-erase board.
- For the smaller version, fill each side of the tote caddy: one with sand and one with water or sensory beads. If you’re using the kiddie pool idea for a party or larger event, you can use just water or an alternative (we used several cut-up blue pool noodles – but we don’t recommend it outdoors if it’s going to be windy!).
- Put the correct animals (or pictures) in the Sand and Sea (use the Treasure Hunt page to determine the correct location). Bury them a bit to up the challenge!
- Give each kid a Printable Sand & Sea Animal Treasure Hunt and a pencil, marker, or crayon. (We used a dry erase sleeve and marker to be able to re-use it for the many kids who attended the event.)
- Have the kids search each “environment” to find at least 5 of the creatures (of course, more is always encouraged!). As they find them, they can take them over to the Sand and Sea Animal Cards to try and identify them and learn a cool fact about them (and check them off on the treasure hunt).
It was so much fun to see the learning and excitement that the kids had while experiencing the activity. It was a hit for kids of all levels. They were bubbling with enthusiasm about their discoveries!
Participating in this incredible event was especially meaningful — hearing parents respond with deep joy that their autistic child did something like this was beyond what words can express.
We hope you and the little ones in your life enjoy this fun ocean-themed activity as much as we did!