FOR THOSE THOUSANDS of us who will not be rolling eggs on the White House lawn come Easter Monday, there's a handy alternative -- a neighborhood Easter egg hunt. The preparation can be as much fun as playing Easter Bunny, the hunt itself is a treat for all ages, and there's still enough time to put it all together before the big weekend.
Here are a few suggestions to keep the work at a minimum for the organizers and the fun at a maximum for the hunters:
1. THE LIST -- If this is your first time as master of the hunt, keep it small. Divide the children by ages. If most of the children are at the lower range, have the few older ones be helpers to the youngest ones. You will be dividing the Happy Hunting Grounds by age to keep the odds fair.
2. SUPPLIES -- Add up the cost of eggs, fillers, favors an all else, estimate the cost per child, and ask parents to pay a share. It's easier to have the organizer buy the eggs and do the filling and hiding. Here's what you need: plastic eggs, four or five for each child; one real egg (hardboiled) per child; jelly beans, M&Ms, stickers, raisins or other fillers; cookies; lemonade; napkins; cups; and a large chocolate bunny or fruit-and-nut egg for the "golden egg" award. More on that later.
3. THE EGGS -- Dyeing eggs for a large number of children is a big job. And children really prefer opening up plastic eggs to find surprises. So consider this compromise: Let them hunt for the plastic eggs and give them one real hard-boiled egg to take home afterwards, dyed or even decorated with stickers. Filling the plastic eggs with treats is quick and easy. And, unfound ones have no odor later -- which is no small matter, especially if the hunt is in your yard.
4. THE "GOLDEN EGG" -- "When I was a little girl," recalls a lifetime veteran of neighborhood egg hunts, "the egg was a real egg, covered with gold glitter." Now, in this petrochemical era, she uses a yellow plastic egg with a note inside announcing it's the one, but she says the idea still "really captures the children's imaginations. I can still remember the time I got the golden egg, and now my own daughter hopes each year that she will win it."
If you're having a large group of children, especially a lot over three, when the idea of winning something becomes more important, you might add a "silver" egg that provides a smaller prize.
5. THE SITE -- Pick a spot with natural boundaries -- a fenced yard, common area with tree border, something like that. Use chairs or a rope on the ground to define the areas for the smallest children and your older group or groups.
6. HIDING THE EGGS -- This is the fun part for the organizers, and for the helpers if you do it that way. The trick is to make the hunt fun, but keep the eggs "findable." In the toddler section, the eggs should be scattered but left in plain sight, so that the crawlers and walkers will have no trouble spotting them themselves. Hiding the eggs takes about half an hour. If you're the careful sort, count the eggs before and after the hunt. If you're really careful (or forgetful), make a mini-map.
7. OTHER PREPARATIONS -- Set up a refreshment table for the cookies and lemonade afterward (coffee or tea for the parents is nice too). Have the wrapped "golden egg" gift on the table.
8. LET THE HUNT BEGIN -- Line the kids up together. Now's the time for pictures of the group; you won't get them together again after things start. Outline the rules -- no fighting over eggs, stay out of the younger children's territory. And they're off.
In a minute or so, the golden egg winner will shout out his/her good fortune and run up to claim the prize. In about fifteen minutes, the kids will have found all the eggs, even those most carefully hidden, and all will be back at the table eating M&Ms and munching cookies. After the "golden egg" winner has been roundly applauded and rewarded, you can give out the real eggs to all. A few minutes more, till the lemonade and cookies run out, and then it's home to finish those jelly beans and dream of finding the golden egg next year.
Should you decide to dye eggs for the big event, make sure that you use bowls large enough to completely cover four eggs at one time in each color.
Regular food coloring with a bit of vinegar can be used to color the eggs instead of those little kits with all of the decals.
Joan Leotta, a Washington writer, last wrote for Weekend on the Christmas home tour in Marietta, Pa.