A Treasure Hunt for the Kids
I made a little treasure hunt for my kids last weekend, and here is how it played out. Entertaining a four and a seven year old, I wasn't too concerned with how seriously they would take it, that is, I didn't care too much if they really believed pirates had been involved.
Setup took about an hour. I bought a treasure, packed it into a box, buried it in the backyard. Then I drew a map, hid that, and wrote a note to kick off the hunt.
Here's what happened.
I let the kids see me pull the introductory letter out of our mailbox, and let them presume that somehow we got mail for some pirates that used to live in our house before we bought it. They didn't ask many questions.
They helped each other read the note and discuss what it meant. It was too late to start a treasure hunt that evening, so we set it aside for the next morning.
I was half expecting to wake up and find them digging in the backyard at dawn. Luckily they weren't exactly sure how to attack this problem, so they waited for me to prompt them.
The first thing they did was to check all the trees in the backyard.
This bushy maple was where they found the map, taped to the trunk.
They had seen a sketched map of our backyard before, so they quickly figured out how to orient it.
My son assumed there would be a key and a chest, hidden seperately. I hadn't done that, but I thought it was a pretty good idea.
We have a long strip of bare dirt in a brick planter along our back fence. The map showed the X in the center of this strip, near a cresent moon shape.
I had planned to draw a cresent moon with chalk, but could only find a pen at the time I was setting up the hint.
This was the toughest part of the treasure hunt, finding this tiny moon which I had drawn onto the side of a 2x4 in the fence.
The kids immediately spotted this knothole in the fence. It looked very similar to the moon I had put on the map, but luckily it was flipped vertically, so it only provided a bit of misdirection.
I was determined to avoid pointing out the moon, but they didn't find it immediately and began to stray from the task.
I outlined a section of fence and repeated that according to the map, the moon "must be in this area". Then I split the task between the three of us. Unfortunately, no kid wants to search low. The moon was on the lower string of the fence. They both wanted to get on their tip-toes and scrutinize the very top of the fence, the spot which seemed the most mysterious and hard to reach.
After about 5 minutes of searching, my daughter spotted it.
"I found it! I found the moon!"
I was equally pleased.
The map showed the X just a step away from the moon.
My son seemed a little unnerved by the fact that there was no physical X on the terrain, but brushed that aside when he saw his sister digging.
My kids have plastic trowels. Plastic trowels prevent severed fingers, but they invite a digging motion which flings dirt into the face and hair of one's partner.
I wanted to give my kids that moment of discovery, where they strike something odd in the ground, stop and look at each other like "Ah! Here's something!"
That's why the treasure was a high-pressure bladder of crude oil.
They struck the box, exchanged a look, and reconcentrated their efforts to find the edges. I hadn't realized that they would try to open the box before they had it completely unearthed, but that is what happened.
I would seal the box if I set up another treasure hunt.
The treasure was about a dollar in change and two new calculators.
Calculators probably sound pretty lame if your kids have a PS Vita, but my kids loved them!
Setting up a treasure hunt is pretty fun, and I assume everyone enjoys following maps and figuring out clues, even if the treasure isn't gold.
If you set up your own treasure hunt, put yourself in the shoes of the searcher. Don't assume they will recognize connections that you made when you set it up. Vague clues can completely stymie your hunters.