Looking for the ultimate boredom-buster for your kids?
Want to wow them with an awesome adventure made just for them?
Turn your home into a wilderness with hidden treasure and your kids as hunting pirates.
In this article I’ll show you how to create the ultimate treasure hunt for your kids.
Table of Contents
Why Plan a Treasure Hunt?
Ever hear “I’m bored”?
It’s what all parents dread hearing and one of the most daunting problems to solve.
It’s far too easy to let your kids plop down in front of an electronic device and zone out, but we all know it’s better for their health and creativity to fill that down time with fun, stimulating activities.
Surprise them with a treasure hunt.
It will give them something fun to do, and treasure hunts are a great way for you to get more involved with your kids and learn about their interests. We have as much fun planning our treasure hunts together as we do actually completing them.
Treasure hunts are fun, interactive and creative and you can tailor them for kids of various ages.
You can have a treasure hunt right at home, in your yard or just about anywhere. And the different themes and styles to choose from are endless. We have held one at least once a month over the years and we always create different themes to keep them fresh.
For this tutorial, we did a very traditional pirate-themed treasure hunt, straight out of Treasure Island.
Here’s some pirate music to set the mood for our pirate treasure hunt.
Treasure hunts are inexpensive. You don’t have to buy anything at all for a treasure hunt—all you really need are some slips of paper and something to search for.
To go with our pirate theme, I bought these costume accessory kits from the Dollar Tree for $1 each.
If you want to make things a little more fun or play with the theme you choose, go to the dollar store to find your treasures. You can also use old Halloween costumes and other items from around the house for themed treasure hunts.
You Will Need
- Some prizes for your “treasure”
- Computer and printer or paper and pencil
- Costumes (optional for a themed treasure hunt)
15-30 minutes (longer if you add more clues)
Your backyard, house, apartment or local park/playground
Here’s how to plan the ultimate at-home treasure hunt. Let’s get ready to find some treasure!
#1: Pick Your Theme
Your first step is to determine a theme.
A theme is optional. You don’t need one to do a treasure hunt, but it does add a role-playing element that makes the activity a bit more fun, so I recommend that you choose one.
This time we did a pirate treasure hunt.
A theme (like pirates) adds an extra element of fun.
Use the interests of your kids to help choose your theme.
For example, one of my sons loves dinosaurs so we did an archaeology-themed treasure hunt that allowed the kids to learn more about dinosaurs while hunting for fossils.
One of my daughters is a big fan of Disney princesses, so her treasure hunt sent her on a mission to guess the princesses from a series of clues. At the end, her big prize was a princess dress-up kit, complete with crown.
A treasure hunt is a great game for a birthday party, too. Just include goodie bags or small prizes at the end for the guests.
Some other ideas are:
- Archeology/Indiana Jones
- Ancient Egypt
- Scavenger hunt (be the first to collect all the items from a list)
- Point-based treasure hunt
- Topical events
- Games and TV shows
You can also check My Kids’ Adventures for lots of different treasure hunt themes, such as Minecraft, Geocaching and an outdoor photo treasure hunt.
#2: Plan Your Clues
Next you need to write out some clues for your treasure hunt. The clues will guide your players from one spot to the next, building anticipation for the big treasure they’ll find at the end.
You can search for creative clues online or brainstorm your own clues based on the ages and abilities of the children who will be playing.
Tailor your clues to the ages and abilities of your treasure hunters. Make them difficult enough to be a challenge, but not so hard the kids become frustrated.
Use more difficult clues for older kids. They may enjoy the challenge of clues posed as riddles they need to solve, such as “I have a face that doesn’t frown, I have hands that do not wave, I have no mouth, just a familiar sound, I don’t walk—but I move around.”
Keep clues simple if the hunt is for younger children. They’ll enjoy rhyming clues like the ones we played with in our pirate treasure hunt.
If you have very young children, you can use picture clues instead of written clues.
Want to sneak something educational into their fun? Ask the kids to say the clues out loud to help develop their reading skills.
Here’s an example of some treasure hunt clues. We used 10 simple clues aimed at 5- to 7-year-olds:
- Clue #1: If you’re in a hungry mood, go here first and find some food. (I put Clue #2 in the pantry.)
- Clue #2: Now you’re on your second clue, these go on before your shoes. (I put Clue #3 in their sock basket.)
- Clue #3: If you want your teeth to shine, pick this up and spend some time. (I put Clue #4 under their toothbrushes.)
- Clue #4: If you want to learn and grow, turn the page, get in the know. (I put Clue #5 in a book on their bookcase.)
- Clue #5: Add some color to your days! Pick these up; you’re on your way. (I put Clue #6 in their art drawer with crayons and paint.)
- Clue #6: Take a walk and step outside, this is where you go to ride. (I put Clue #7 in the tire rim of our van.)
- Clue #7: Time to chill, time to think; please go here for a cool, cool drink. (I put Clue #8 in the fridge on a shelf they could reach easily.)
- Clue #8: Keep it clean and keep it dry. Can you guess? Come on, just try. (I put Clue #9 on top of our washer in the laundry room.)
- Clue #9: You’re almost at the very end, but this is where your guests come in. (I taped Clue #10 to the front door.)
- Clue #10: The final clue. The final prize. Look into this to see your eyes. (I put the treasure box in the master bathroom in front of our large mirror. They actually went to every other mirror in the house first, so it was fun watching them get so close but have to keep looking.)
Another fun option is to tailor your clues to your theme. I did not do that for the pirate treasure hunt, but I did create a realistic-looking pirate treasure map that the kids loved.
Create a map on the computer. Crumple for an aged look.
Ours was just a prop—it didn’t show the course of our treasure hunt—but it was lots of good fun.
#3: Plan Your Treasure
Go somewhere private and prepare a surprise treasure for your players to find at the end of their quest.
I used a chest from my bedroom as a “treasure chest” and filled it with toys and trinkets from a dollar store. For less than $15, the kids were thrilled to find light-up rings, necklaces, glow sticks and small toys. You can also include candy, chocolate coins (if the weather is not too hot) and pencils.
Use any type of box for your treasure chest. Fill with inexpensive goodies and treats.
You can use any type of box or chest that you already have. You can also use plastic bins and decorate them for your theme. You could even use a cardboard box and construction paper to decorate. If you design your own box, I suggest that you let the kids help decorate it but then fill the box when they are not looking so the treasure will be a surprise.
Alternatively, you can skip the box idea altogether and use goody bags for individual “treasures.”
#4: Hide the Kids and Place Your Clues
Once the treasure is ready, it’s time to place your clues, but make sure the kids can’t see.
If your kids are in school, place the clues just before they get home for an after-school hunt.
For younger kids, if you have someone who can take the kids for a walk or even leave for a short drive, you can place all of your clues without any prying eyes sneaking a peek (you know how curious kids can be).
Place some clues that are easy to find and some that are more hidden and challenging.
Always keep the age of the kids in mind when placing your clues. I try to make some of the locations more challenging so the hunt takes longer, but not so hard they cannot figure it out on their own.
Hide clues inside places to make them more difficult to find.
You should also try to plant clues far apart and in places that are not too similar to ensure they don’t accidentally find the wrong clue (for example, I hid one in the pantry and one in the fridge without realizing this might have messed us up.)
#5: Send Them on the Hunt
When the clues are in place, it’s time to gather the children, get them in their costumes (if necessary) and explain the rules and boundaries.
Treasure hunts work best with five or fewer kids. Split a large group into smaller teams for treasure hunting to minimize chaos.
Tip: If you have a large group, plan your treasure hunt outdoors where there’s plenty of space for them to run between locations and stand around reading the clue.
To keep the game fair and fun (and prevent the faster child or better reader from running ahead of the pack and getting every clue first), help younger kids read the clues out loud. Instruct older kids to take turns reading the clues aloud and to brainstorm together as a group before going on to look for the next location.
Encourage kids to work together and help their teammates so everyone will have fun. Treasure hunts are a good way to practice cooperating and working as a team.
Encourage kids to work together to find the clues.
As your treasure hunters move from one clue to the next, go along to cheer and encourage them and to help if they get stuck. But be sure to allow them to think for themselves as much as possible and play the game at their own pace.
Success! They found a clue. Resist the urge to help them too much.
If they need help with a clue, give them small hints until they figure it out. You can also play “Hot and Cold” if your kids are struggling to find a clue. Tell them “warmer, warmer, hot” as they get closer or “cooler, cold” as they get farther away.
Resist the urge to point to the clues, solve the riddles or tell the children where to go—no matter how obvious the answers may seem to you. Part of the fun of a treasure hunt is the challenge of figuring it out themselves.
Dress-up, problem-solving, boredom-busting and prizes make for a fun day!
When your treasure hunters solve the final clue, reach their destination and find their treasure, be there to cheer, clap and celebrate with them.
And then you can start to plan the next treasure hunt!
Some Final Thoughts…
You can get as creative as you want with a treasure hunt. You can hold one outdoors, indoors (great on a rainy day), indoor/outdoor, around your neighborhood or at a park. And the possibilities for themes are endless, for endless fun.
Hint: I save all of the clues and ideas for our treasure hunts in a binder. Sometimes we go back to repeat the ones they liked best.
Treasure hunts are the ultimate kids’ adventures because they’re fun and exciting, they’re something that you and your kids create and play together and they can be personalized to the tastes and age levels of everyone playing.
I can’t wait to hear about your treasure hunts. Have fun!
What do you think? Have you ever had a treasure hunt with your kids? If you have a themed treasure hunt, share your ideas and pictures with us in the comments!