Are you looking to create a fun adventure in your very own backyard?
Do your kids place more value on their videogames than the real world?
How about bridging the two? Minecraft is one of the hottest games for kids.
Did you know you can create “adventure maps” in your own backyard?
Whether your kids are into Minecraft or not, this article is sure to get them outside for a fun adventure.
Why a Backyard Treasure Hunt?
My kids have been creating adventure maps on Minecraft for a long time now, so I thought it would be fun to create a real-life adventure map in our backyard.
This fun activity caused my kids to abandon their friends on Skype and leave their Minecraft characters at the mercy of Creepers and Zombies—for a little while, at least.
A Minecraft Village. Screenshot by Creeper99.
A backyard adventure map is essentially a treasure hunt, but in addition to finding clues, you throw in a few activities and riddles to make the quest a little bit more difficult, just like in Minecraft!
A Minecraft Adventure Map clue. Screenshot and scene created by Creeper99 (who is 8, and still learning how to write, so forgive the grammatical errors!).
I’ve found that by translating my kids’ online interests into real-life activities, it gives us a chance to connect about what they’re into on a deeper level, creates opportunities for problem-solving and collaboration and gives us all a reason to go outside and play.
A backyard adventure map is quick, easy and inexpensive to create, but it does require a little planning and, if you’ve got one, a willing collaborator. Here’s how you can create your own backyard adventure map.
What You’ll Need
- A printer (optional, you could hand-write the clues)
- A gas lighter or matches (optional and for grownups only)
- Tea bags (optional)
- A willing collaborator
- Some treasure (if you want to add a little extra bonus at the end)
30 minutes (part of the fun, really)
15 minutes+ (depends how many clues you use)
Your backyard, house or apartment or a local park
#1: Recruit a Willing Collaborator (optional)
For our backyard adventure map, I solicited the help of my youngest son. Let’s call him Creeper99 (not his real username).
You can create this adventure yourself, but involving a collaborator is a great way to include the younger kids.
Creeper99 rolling a clue in preparation for our backyard adventure.
Together we mapped out a route for the adventurers (also known as Brothers #1 and #2) and then set about creating clues.
At first we thought about kidnapping the dog and making the quest a rescue mission, but one of the would-be adventurers stumbled upon our plan, so instead we decided to make this adventure map a treasure hunt. I think our dog, Gerry, was pretty happy with this plan.
A diagram of our adventure map, showing where we were going to place each clue. We originally drew this on paper, but because we scribbled all over it while trying to figure out where to put the clues, we recreated it on the computer.
#2: Plan the Clues and Riddles
Once we worked out where to place the clues, we set to work creating them.
When you create each clue, it helps to imagine yourself reading it at the location where it will be planted. That way, you can picture in your mind what the adventurer needs to do next.
For instance, one of our clues was:
An example of one of our clues.
Make sure you let adventurers know what they’ll find when they discover their next clue.
- Is it a clue to the location of hidden treasure?
- Is it a clue to the location of the next clue?
- Is it a riddle they have to solve to get the next clue?
Spell out exactly what you want them to do, but try to keep it simple and age-appropriate so they don’t lose interest.
We created riddles that related to things the kids were familiar with, but you can also create imaginary quests and set up scenes at clue locations using Lego bricks, dolls, stuffed animals and other toys. Let your imagination run wild.
Adding some interactive elements means everyone is involved during the quest. At one point, the boys had to solve a riddle and knock on the pool garden door for their next clue, at which point Creeper99 slipped the clue under the door.
Surprise makes the adventure map more fun, so be sure to add a few activities that your kids won’t expect.
At the pool door, the boys were handed this riddle to solve. They had to give the gatekeeper (Creeper99) the right answer to gain access to the pool garden.
#3: Make Your Clues
Creeper99 wanted to make the clues look like real pirate treasure clues, so I burned the edges with a gas lighter to add authenticity.
Remember, safety first! Choose a fire-safe area to burn the paper edges. Over a kitchen sink is ideal, but keep an eye on embers.
Creeper99 then wiped the ashes onto the paper to make it look worn.
Your collaborator will have fun distressing the clues to make them look old. The more damaged, the better, as long as they are readable.
Another great tip is to use damp tea bags to stain the paper to make your clues look old. Unfortunately there was no tea in the house, so we just crumpled the clues to add some old-world charm.
#4: Place Your Clues
After making the clues, we put each in position around the garden.
Trees make great hiding places for adventure map clues.
We have a huge backyard, so finding great hiding spots was easy. Our challenge was keeping the dog from eating the clues.
If you don’t have a big backyard, look for simple, everyday items you can use to hide clues. If you don’t have a backyard at all (for instance, if you live in an apartment), you can place clues inside the apartment in different rooms, inside books or boxes, or go down to a local park and set the game up there.
#5: Ready, Set, Go!
Now for the fun part! As we hadn’t done a real-life adventure map before, convincing Brother #1 and Brother #2 to participate was a bit of a challenge.
At first, Brother #1 wasn’t interested (mostly because it was designed by his youngest brother), so we made sure the hidden treasure was something he would highly prize—food.
Once he knew there was something valuable in it for him, he jumped off the computer!
My eldest two reading their seventh clue.
To make sure the game flows, it’s a great idea to have at least one collaborator on hand to drop hints in case anyone is having trouble figuring out the clues and riddles. If you don’t have a collaborator, you can follow along yourself.
It’s not necessary to make the quest a treasure hunt. If your kids are really competitive (which mine are), they might want to play just to outdo each other (or you) or just because they want to know what surprises lay in store.
Our dog Gerry joined in the fun too!
A Few Final Words…
We had a lot of fun creating and following our backyard adventure map and the older boys are now keen to collaborate on the next quest. I can’t wait to see what ideas they come up with.