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Family Treasure Hunts: parenting insights from the parent powerline
Sunday, September 12, 2021 by Becky Cerling Powers

When I told our 10-year-old grandson that I was writing a blog about treasure hunts, he immediately began an enthusiastic trip down memory lane reminding me about the time I first introduced him to treasure hunts.

His grandpa and I were on vacation in a foreign country with him (age 5) and four other adults, and we had been driving all day long. We were all road weary, and the adults were cross. It was a working vacation for most of them, so when we arrived at our house rental, half got out their computers and started working and the other half started making supper.

Our poor kindergartner had been cooped up in the car all day.

Now he was bored, restless, underfoot and needing both activity and cheering up. I wondered what I could do with him.

Then I remembered what I used to do sometimes on dull days with my children when his mom was a little girl. “We’ll make a treasure hunt!” I told him.

We took paper and pencil and wandered around the vacation rental, drawing sketches of different pieces of furniture. I’m no artist, but since Nesta watched me make the drawings, he knew what all my clues meant. Then he had to go somewhere and not look for a while so that I could hide a treat like a cookie (to eat after supper) or a little memento I’d bought in the markets, and then made a trail of clues to the prize.

He loved that game.

He loved following the trail of clues and finding something special. He wanted to do it over and over, so that’s what we did until the adults were ready to eat dinner.    

After that vacation, as the years passed, we kept on playing the treasure hunt game, making the clues harder as our grandson’s reading skills improved.

Making a trail of clues through the house for a family treasure hunt is a fun way to give kids practice and incentive for writing. And treasure hunts are great for cheering everyone up on a sad or a dull day, too.

You can begin by introducing the idea to your preschoolers with pictures.

Take photos or make several simple drawings of familiar furniture – the rocker, the refrigerator. (Printing out photos is easier, but if you have to rely on drawings, don’t worry about poor drawing skills.  If your children can’t figure out what you have drawn, tell them what it is.  Next time, they will remember.)

Your children can follow the picture clues from the crib in the baby’s room to the rocking chair in the living room, then on to the sofa, and so on, following the clues until at long last they come upon—ta da! -- new underwear. Or two cookies apiece. (Simple things turn into something special when you find them at the end of a treasure hunt.)

If your children are beginning readers, add simple instructions, like “LOOK UNDER THE (picture of keyboard).”

Pretty soon, your children will want to make their own treasure hunts.

Keep a stack of photos or drawings available for preschoolers to arrange a trail of picture clues for siblings. After they begin to read, encourage them to add more and more writing to their clues. Even children who dislike writing don’t notice they are getting practice when they’re making clue cards for a treasure hunt.

As children’s writing skills improve, they may like the challenge of making riddle clues or clues in rhyme (see my grandson’s example).

If children ask how to spell words, just tell them simply.

(No exasperated “You should know that!” comments.) Keep it a fun activity. I did not correct my children’s spelling mistakes on clue cards because I figured that it would dampen their enthusiasm and it might make my Writing-Hater quit one of the few writing activities he loved. In time he started correcting spelling himself because he wanted people to be able to read his clues.

If you don’t have a good prize for your treasure hunt, use dinner.

A treasure hunt meal is usually conducted outdoors to reduce damage from spills. At the end of the first two or three clues, the family finds plates, silverware, a beverage, and another clue. A couple clues later, they discover the salad, and everyone sits down to eat it. The family keeps on following clues and sitting down to eat as they find the rest of the meal, including the final treasure -- dessert.

©Becky Cerling Powers 1992, updated 2021

Reprint with attribution only www.beckypowers.com

For more insights from Becky Cerling Powers see her parenting insight book Sticky Fingers, Sticky Minds: quick reads for helping kids thrive in the Bookstore

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