Want to send your kids on the ultimate birthday party treasure hunt? Here’s a quick how-to and some tips for a happy hunting!
1. Plan your route
You can send the kids through a walkable neighbourhood, or have everyone meet at a local park.
2. Scout out locations
Kids’ houses, that massive cottonwood tree in the park, the slide at the playground, the hammock in someone’s backyard, a favourite neighbour who might have the kids do 10 jumping jacks before handing over the clue. Make sure the kids can get to each clue within about five minutes or so of walking.
3. Write and number the clues, and put them in numbered envelopes
I wrote some bad poetry (“This clue hides/At the bottom of a very long slide”), scrambled kids’ names and generally had fun creating little puzzles for them to solve. You’ll hand the kids the first clue, which will lead them to the next, and so on.
4. Give yourself lots of time to plan
It took me about an hour to sit down and map out a route, identify good places for clues and write out the hints for each place. Once the mental work was done, the physical prep felt much less onerous.
5. Get helpers’ buy-in
I checked in advance with neighbours and friends to see if I could hide clues on their property. Everyone said yes. One family even gave me the password to the lock on their shed so I could hide a clue inside.
6. Set it up
The morning of the party, my kids’ grandparents took them out while I drove through the neighbourhood and distributed the clues. I brought packing tape and scissors to secure clues to tree trunks, posts, etc.
7. Prepare for contingencies
I sealed all the clues in plastic bags so they wouldn’t get soaked in the event of rain. And I printed out extra copies of each clue just in case any were lost or stolen before the kids could get to them.
8. Add in some random rewards to keep things interesting
At three or four stations along the way, clues were accompanied by candies, juice boxes (I figured they’d get thirsty) or dollar-store toys like bouncing balls.
9. Set ground rules in advance
Kids need to know to stay with the group, wait for each other before moving on to the next clue, clean up any litter and wait for an adult to cross major streets.
10. Go with them
I wasn’t prepared to let a group of excited second-graders run through the streets by themselves. In retrospect, it would have been great to have two adults with the group—one to race ahead with the speedier kids and one to bring up the rear with the dawdlers.
You don’t have to do it all by yourself. My kids’ other parent was in charge of procuring the piñata. My dad set it up and barbecued while the kids were out on the hunt. My friend Stephanie took home the dog that escaped its backyard and desperately wanted to join us for the rest of the treasure hunt. As it turns out, a neighbourhood treasure hunt literally takes a village.
Thunder Bay, Ont., writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences. Read more of Susan’s The other mother posts and tweet her @MamaNonGrata.