Last weekend, my five-year-old granddaughter, Lilly, was coming for a visit, and we had a little gift to give her, a coloring book that we picked up at a museum on our last trip. But rather than just hand her the gift, I decided it would be a lot more fun, and prolong the anticipation, if I made a treasure hunt for her. This is a longstanding tradition in our family. I've been doing it since my kids were young, and it has never failed to delight everyone involved. Sometimes I think the hunt itself is a lot more fun for the kids than the jackpot they find at the end.
I have a stash of old clue cards that I've made over the years - these are the ones that I used 30 years ago with my kids - so I pulled them out last weekend to make a treasure hunt for Lilly.
I had to laugh when I started going through them and realized that most of them were things that we don't even have anymore: furniture from our old house, children's toys that were long ago given to Goodwill, appliances that were replaced twenty years ago, and all those pieces of our life that were such a big part of it then, but have long since been stored away or discarded. There's a picture of a cassette tape player, the one that my kids used to listen to for hours on end and take everywhere with them. There's a sketch of a record player and a high chair, and the changing table where I must have changed at least a thousand diapers (cloth ones!) I realized it was time to start updating my stash of treasure hunt clues.
I did some quick little sketches on 3" x 5" index cards of places and objects around the house. When Lilly arrived I handed her the first clue...
She took off like a shot! Up the stairs she ran, to the bench on the landing, where she searched under the throw pillows for the next clue, which said...
Then she raced back down the stairs to the bar stools in the kitchen, where she found a clue hidden under the cushion, reading ...
Lilly is just learning to read, so she relied on the sketches to figure out where to go next. Photos can be used instead of drawings, if mom and dad aren't feeling artsy. Just snap some pictures of things around the house, print them out, and add captions, if you like. The sketches are a little more cryptic, though, and make the hunt more challenging.
To prolong the fun, I always arrange my clues in a sequence that requires the kids to run from one end of the house to other when following the trail to their treasure. Upstairs and down, indoors and out - the more mixed up things are, and the farther they have to run, the more they like it.
Sometimes I challenge them to find a clue on a moving target ...
A treasure hunt like this is great for early readers. The drawings and text work together to help them figure out the clues.
When my kids progressed into elementary school and were comfortable with reading, I sometimes made treasure hunts that used poems as clues. Trust me, these were not great poetry, but it was a lot of fun. We had rhyming clues like these:
Will be found in the place
Where you go in the morning
To wash your face.
Go up the stairs and look around
That's where the next clue will be found
When dishes are dirty,
We put them in here.
So go find your next clue,
And your prize will be near.
In a hidden compartment
In this very room,
You'll find your surprise
In the dark and the gloom.
Treasure hunts are fun for kids and grownups alike. I once made a treasure hunt for my husband, and he actually had to get in the car and drive down the road to find his next clue!
We've done treasure hunts for special Christmas presents, for oversized gifts, for baby showers, for birthdays, and even for the Fourth of July. But you don't need a special occasion to put on a treasure hunt. It's perfect for brightening up a dreary winter day, or for injecting some fun into a hot day in August when all the summer activities that were so exciting in June have lost their appeal.
And you definitely don't need to have something impressive as the treasure. The smallest gift can be "treasure hunt worthy." It's all about the fun and excitement, the laughter, and the thrill of the quest.
When our granddaughter, Lilly, finally found her gift, after following eight or ten clues all over the house, she grinned up at me, breathless from her running, and begged, "When I come next time, can we have another treasure hunt?! Please?!!!"
Why not start a new family tradition in your home? Whether you do it with drawings, photos, or rhymes, give it a try - I can guarantee it will be a hit.