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DIY Treasure Hunt: Our Favorite Game

DIY Treasure Hunt: Our Favorite Game

Whether you're spending a weekend upstate with somebody else's kids or just need to entertain your own, setting up a treasure hunt will always make you the most beloved adult. They're a great way to pass a rainy afternoon or explore some new ground on a sunny day. I've been making them on every trip to the Catskills since I was a kid, hiding notes in tire swings and in the many bedrooms of our bunker-like double-wide. As a parent, I think that treasure hunts are the easiest and most fun way to teach kids how to read.

The set-up is simple. You write a clue that leads to another clue. This hunt's first clue reads, "Look in the purple sand." You put the first clue in your pocket and hold onto it until you're ready to start the hunt. I hid the second clue in the sandbox:


The clue in the sandbox sends the treasure hunters to a new location where the third clue is hidden, and so and and so on. A great hunt has at least 10 clues leading to the treasure.

The only rule is that the treasure hunter must read each clue aloud. For kids who are stubborn about reading, this is the key to getting them excited about it. You can't get to the next clue until you read the one in hand.

That's Archer, reading the clue he found in the sandbox, "Look under the wheels of Uncle Pete's car."

If you've got little treasure hunters who cannot yet read themselves, the big kid sounding out the clues suddenly becomes the master of the universe. Reading is power!

We do a weekly treasure hunt at my house, and I think they've been instrumental in teaching my son how to read. He's a few months shy of kindergarten and already joyfully reading paragraphs at a time.

Keep the vocabulary simple, but feel free to throw in some new words. Archer was really happy to decipher the word "mink," after we'd recently spotted one in our lake.


The treasure can be as simple as some paper and stickers or crayons. It might be a handmade ticket to the local ice cream shop. In some cases, I use things I was going to give the kids anyway. A treasure hunt makes items that kids wouldn't normally be too jazzed about -- like these really cute personalized bags from Garnet Hill -- seem like an awesome reward. And I love giving books as treasures to keep the reading going long after the hunt is over. Here, Ramona got the classic Susan Jeffers picture book, My Pony and Archer added Birdwatching in New York and Long Island to his extensive non-fiction library.

As kids get older, they can split into teams, choose treasures to give to their siblings/cousins/friends and learn to write clues themselves. For now, this is my favorite kid activity, but I look forward to the days when my kids can treasure hunt without me so I can finally just sit back and enjoy the view.

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