With her school closed, her city quiet and her country under lockdown, Stevie-Lee Tiller, 13, is stuck at home with her parents and three siblings.
Stevie-Lee, who lives in Hamilton, New Zealand, misses her friends at school. She is a little scared of the coronavirus because her father, a factory supervisor, is still going to work. She belongs to a close-knit extended family, but she can’t see most of her relatives in person.
So she and her cousins have found a new way to be together, at least in spirit. They’re playing the same game in separate neighborhoods: the teddy bear hunt.
The game is being played in countries around the world, from Australia to Japan to the United States. It’s like a scavenger hunt suited for social distancing: People put teddy bears and other stuffed animals in windows, on porches, in trees and on parked cars. Then, children go for walks or drives with their families and try to spot as many as they can.
On most days, Stevie-Lee goes bear hunting with her mother and two younger sisters. “It’s really exciting when you walk past, because there are so many different bears,” she said. “There’s little ones, and some are, like, massive. There’s stuff like emoji pillows, and there’s Minions.”
Her favorite sighting so far was a large white teddy bear that someone had propped up on a balcony.
Stevie-Lee’s cousins Elijah Horsburgh, 8, and Avah Horsburgh, 5, have been keeping count of the animals they see; so far, their biggest tally for a single walk was 68. Avah’s favorite sighting was a stuffed unicorn. Elijah’s was a stuffed kiwi, the flightless bird that is an unofficial emblem of New Zealand.
“It’s really fun because you have to go hunting, and you have to walk slowly so you can find it,” Elijah said.
“It started as something fun to do while taking the kids out for a walk: How many bears can we spot today?” said Annelee Scott, 44, Elijah and Avah’s mother. “But it’s so much more than that now. It’s helping people get through a really scary time. A lot of people are struggling with feeling anxious, alone and sad.”
You don’t need a stuffed animal to participate. Some people have tacked up drawings of teddy bears instead of using the real thing. Others have taped rainbows or green shamrocks to their windows, or scrawled messages in chalk on sidewalks.
The game seems to have been partly inspired by the 1989 children’s book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. In it, some children who say they are “not scared” push through tall grass, swim across a river, squelch through mud, stumble through a forest, trudge through a snowstorm and tiptoe into a cave.
Finally, they find a real, live bear! Then they run home.
Mr. Rosen has watched his work make its way into the real world. On social media, he shared photos from people who were going on bear hunts of their own.
But Mr. Rosen, who lives with his family in London, according to his publisher, could not be reached this week. He had been feeling sick with chills, fever and fatigue. “Even my eyelids complaining they’re tired,” he wrote on Twitter last week. “Every other muscle from toes to scalp shouting, And me. And me. And me. And me.”
Mr. Rosen, who did not say on Twitter what illness he had, was admitted to a hospital a few days ago. “He does know you’ve all been rooting for him with this lovely wave of support,” his wife, Emma-Louise Williams, tweeted on Tuesday.
In recent weeks, stuffed animals have been spotted in at least 13 countries — including Japan, Australia, Germany and Scotland — and in all 50 states, according to data compiled by Tammy Buman, 12, and Addy Buman, 8.
At their home in Norwoodville, Iowa, Tammy and Addy put pushpins on maps to keep track of teddy bear sightings around the world, which they monitor on social media with help from their parents, Julia Buman, 34, and Ryan Buman, 39. (Ms. Buman runs a Facebook group where people share photos of their bear-spotting adventures.)
When the sisters were younger, their parents used to read Mr. Rosen’s book to them. So the stuffed-animal hunt brings back memories.
“It’s like the bear hunt book, but it’s not just bears,” Tammy said. “I think that it helps people get their mind off of what’s happening right now.”
The Bumans have put up several stuffed animals in and around their home, including a brown hobbyhorse named Sticky, who is perched in a tree outside.
At Elijah and Avah’s home in New Zealand, there is a bear in the window wearing a bright red coat and a royal blue hat. His name is Paddington. Next to him is a purple unicorn with a pink tutu and a rainbow mane. Her name is Sprinkles.
Stevie-Lee came up with her own display last week. In a second-story window, a teddy bear named Russell is positioned under a bright pink sign.
“HI KIDS,” the sign says. “Remember to wash your hands.”