Search among all these ideas for treasure hunts and scavenger hunt ideas for kids to find the one that suits you or gives you inspiration. Below you will also find a lot of code breakers/makers to use for secret messages.
Two of my children have asked me recently for scavenger hunt ideas because they
both were going to arrange a scavenger hunt, or treasure hunt (I find it
difficult to differentiate completely between these two kinds of games, so bear
with me if I mix them together sometimes/often).
Also I took part in an outdoor scavenger hunt for kids aged 3-5 a week ago, made for a 4th year birthday, so on top of having arranged lots and lots of treasure hunts through the years, I have a lot of recent experience and so many ideas that the almost pop out of my head :-)
You can start your career as an organizer of treasure hunts and scavenger hunts with this easy picture scavenger hunt for preschool kids.
First the basics of these picture scavenger hunts:
If there are more than 5-6 children to attend the scavenger hunt, I recommend you make two or more teams, each with 3-5 children. And YOU should make the teams, to make sure (as sure as one can) that the teams will work out fine and to avoid discussions quarrels between the children.
If there is only one team, I think I would make the birthday child the "captain" of the team, unless the birthday child will be uncomfortable with that role.
1. When the picture scavenger hunt starts you give each team a drawing of a drawer, a kitchen table or someplace else where you have hidden the next clue, with a very clear sign of WHERE in the drawer, or WHERE at the kitchen table the clue is hidden, using red arrows or other clear signs to show it.
|As you can see, you don't have to be that great at drawing, as long as it's possible to see where the next post is. Maybe with a little help :-)|
2. Then, at this next post they will find a new drawing, showing where to find the next post, and so on. You have placed all the clues hidden before the birthday party starts.
3. The last clue/drawing shows where the treasure is hidden, one treasure for each team.
4. The treasure should be a box or a bag ( it can easily be a simple plastic or paper bag) filled with candy, nuts, chips, pop corn or cookies - one bag for each child.
Important: Have always one or two bags with candy in reserve. Their might come an additional guest, or a child might spill all her/his candy on the floor.
If there are
more two or more teams give each team a color, maybe give
each member of the team a band with that color, and tell them
to only take the envelopes marked clearly with that color.
This is also where a following adult is very important, because in the heat of the game little kids tend to forget absolutely everything they have been told.
I made this treasure hunt once, where, after several times having emphazised that they should only take the envelopes with their team color, one team rushed away and proud came back with ALL the envelopes, red, green, blue, which left me to reorganize the whole treasure hunt.
children grow older, or when they are used to treasure hunts,
you can tell different stories about the theme for the
Here a some ideas:
1 - A thief has stolen the treasure that should have been for the kids at the birthday.
away the thief had to hide the treasure not to get caught, but
has left a lot of clues where he has hidden it.
Very fortunately you have found the first clue, which the thief had lost in the bathroom. (I guess he had to pee or something like that before he ran away).
Now the children will have to find and follow the next clues to find the hidden treasure.
The treasure hunt itself can be exactly like the picture scavenger hunt described above, or you can add that on each drawing there will also be a drawing of something the thief is wearing - like a red scarf, weird glasses, a big hood.
Then in the end, the last drawing will give the teams a secret password to say to the thief to get the treasure.
Now in the meantime one of the adults or bigger brothers or sisters have dressed up like described on the drawings, and the children will have to find the thief and say the password to get the treasure.
You can also make it into a mixture of a scavenger hunt and a treasure hunt:
2 - The thief has in his escape had to run so fast that he lost a lot of his things like keys, a hat, gloves etc., and he really wants to have these things back.
If the kids find all these things, the thief will exchange them for the candy and go abroad forever.
You make this scavenger hunt like the picture scavenger hunt above, with the addition that in every post there is, in addition to the drawing of the next post, one of the missing items. It would be a good idea to give each team a bag for collecting these items. This only works with 1 team, otherwise you will have to think of other ways to make each team get some of the items.
Then in the end the teams/team shall come back to you to see if they have found all the things the thief wants for changing back the treasure.
This also makes it a great game for not using competition: It is not about being fastest, the teams will have to work together to get to the treasure.
When you see
they have collected all the items (don't be too strict if
something is missing) you can either have one of the adults
hidden behind a curtain, and changing the items for the
treasure, or have one of the adults dressed up as a thief, and
finally, and maybe the easiest way, you can have a video
telephone conversation with the thief where agreements on how
and where the exchange can be done are agreed upon.
This scavenger hunt for kids can with great success be made as an outdoor scavenger hunt, or the thief can be switched with a pirate or even a bunny.
You can make it more "colorful" by at the start showing a picture of the thief, with his name on it (something like Robber-Bob or Burglar-Bunny), a poster with drawings of all the missing items. This you can use again in the end, making the kids help you check they have found it all.
advice: As a general rule I would say that you should
start making treasure hunts and scavenger hunts for birthdays
and other arrangements when the kids turn 4, but as there are
often kids of different ages invited as guests, 3 year old
kids can join in. Although then I would recommend one of their
parents to take part in the game.
2nd advice: Another general tip is: Let the scavenger hunt consist of as many posts as the birthday child is old, maybe one or two more, but not more than that.
We as adults often overestimate how much these children can cope with, because if we have them on their own, they can normally handle more than this. But when they are in a group and excited about finding the posts and in the end the treasure – well, these normally concentrated kids tend to focus totally on running fast to the next post even before they have really found out where it is – they forget everything about working together and wait for the whole group to go together – and most of the children run out of concentration really fast.
3rd advice: This is also the reason why I strongly advice that every group of children participating in the scavenger hunt is accompanied by an adult, who can help them wait till they actually know where to go next, help them stay together and take care of the not so fast children, and help the ones who get tired in the middle of it all.
When the children have learned to read and are old enough to remember things like staying together, not leaving any member of the team behind and such things, even when they are agitated and just want to jump for the next post - then it really gets fun arranging treasure hunts and scavenger hunts for birthdays and other occasions. And when the children are learning math you can bring that into the treasure hunt.
What I have
done most of the times I have made an outdoor scavenger hunt
has been using older brothers and sisters, or other parents,
uncles and aunts to be "live" posts. They can give the kids a
riddle, or a clue for the next post, and tell them a little
story that goes with the bigger story, if there is one.
Using "live" posts really adds to the scavenger hunt.
Now I will go into detail with one of these treasure hunts/birthday games:
The theme for this treasure hunt game is how to become a detective, and the treasure in the end of the game will be a detective license, maybe a hat, and some edible treasure like candy, popcorn and cookies.
arrange a detective treasure hunt for the little ones, but
then you will have to make it more like the picture scavenger
hunt, and just add a detective story and some easy tasks.
This treasure hunt game will be more fun for kids aged 7-8 and more. When the kids have learned to read, you can use all the secret codes you find on another page here, which adds to the kids' feeling of being real detectives.
participants in this birthday game are all applicants to enter
the detective school here, so now they have to solve various
tasks to become real detectives.
If they handle the different tasks here in this detective treasure hunt well, they will graduate as detectives, get a diploma and a reward. But they will have to be very attentive and clever to pass the detective exam."
You can make the treasure hunt indoors or outdoors, but as this game is best for children aged 7 and more, I will advice this made as an outdoor treasure hunt if possible.
You can equip the children with badges, with a drawing of a magnifying glass, and maybe a pair of funny eyeglasses. You can use the badge I have made above. Glue them to cardboard and glue a safety pin to it.
You should also give the team some paper and a pencil.
You have dressed up yourself with glasses, a hat, and if possible a trench-coat, to make you look like a super-detective yourself. Your name is Super-detective Hansson (or something else detective-like)
1. You hand over the first message, written in code. You can make the message more difficult the older the kids are, but here is an example of what you could use:
NWOD TI ETIRW DNA LAUSUNU GNIHTYNA ROF KOOL OS GNIHTYREVE ECITON SEVITCETED - EULC TXEN EHT DNIF DNA EERT KAO GIB EHT OT NWOD YLTEIUQ YREV OG
(which is actually "Go very quietly down to the big oak tree and find the next clue - Detectives notice everything so look for anything unusual and write it down" written backwards). If you think this is a bit too easy, you can make it more difficult by writing it as one long word, or split the sentence in strange ways. If it is too difficult you can help them break the code, or just give them the message not coded.
2. This post is a "dead" post, meaning there are no people waiting here. On the way to this post you have planted things that are strange - a red high healed shoe, a doll in a tree,
apples hanging from a cherry tree, a bucket upside down, a bow on a flower - what you can think of. The number of strange things will of course depend on the route they have to go, but there should be 5-10 things that don't belong.
When the kids reach the post, it is a bag hanging from a tree or at the bottom of a bush. The message here is not coded, but tells the kids they shall bring the list of strange things they have seen to the next post at the (gate or where the next post is), together with the result of the task they get here.
This task is to see if they are good enough at recognizing the shadows of thieves, because that might be the only thing they will see in the night: Here is a picture with thieves and shadows.
The team already has the direction to this post, and it is a
"live" post. An adult or a bigger brother or sister
is dressed up as another detective or a police officer.
Here the team shall deliver the papers with thief/shadows and their record of the "strange" things, and they get a point for each task, a piece of cardboard with written numbers, to bring to the end of the treasure hunt, the exam. (It doesn't really matter how many points they get, this is just for the reality of the game).
The detective here tells them they have done well, and that they can go on with the detective education if they can solve this task. He or she gives them a bun, and then just sits and wait.
You shall have baked a bun or a croissant with a coded message inside, wrapped in tin foil or a piece of cookie sheet. It shall be so big that they can't swallow it if they start eating the bun.
When they have found the message, it is a coded password. Now the detective hands them the code reader, and when they have solved the task reading the password, he tells them where to go next, and to remember the password.
This post is a "dead" post.
There is a bag with the task and a direction to the next post.
The task is a test to see how attentive the detective aspirants are.
Download the picture below and print it.
On the drawing below there are 10 things that are different from the upper drawing. The team shall find them, draw a circle around them, and then bring the paper with them, when they are going to the next post.
5. This is again a "dead" post (but of course
you can make it a "live" one if there are enough helpers.
"Live" posts are always more fun.) The post has a task and a
direction to the last post.
Can the team follow the thief's escape route?
Download the maze and print it.
The team shall find a way to lead the detective to the thief.
When they have done that, they take the paper with them to the last post.
6. This is a "live" post and the last one. Of
course you can add more posts, but as solving the tasks
mentioned here will take quite some time, I think this will be
enough for a birthday party.
This post can be you again, the teams coming back, or another super-detective out in the field.
The detective receive the different papers and gives the team the final score (this will of course be excellent!) and now the kids in the team all receive a diploma with their name on it, and a reward consisting of a candy bag, popcorn or what you decide is best.
Help, the future has been changed!
I made this treasure hunt many years ago. I asked for a photo of each of the birthday guests, and with Photoshop I made them all into persons who could have been in Starwars or Startrek. I printed a page with each of their "new" faces and with an appropriate name like: Mary Moonraider, or Simon the Startrooper. They just loved it!
The story was that the timeline had been changed, and this was a new future, full of dangers. And the treasure hunt was aimed of changing the world back to the way it was before.
Help the aliens to go back to their planet
I found an old peace of metal, maybe from a bumper, and with red nail polish I painted something that looked like a foreign language, kind of runic (see below on this page).
A spaceship had crashed, and we had to help the aliens come back to their planet. This involved a night races, strange lights, live posts, the head of a pig - I think the kids were around 10 years old, and they liked it scary.
Pirate Treasure Hunt
Use the treasure maps on the page Pirate party ideas for kids
Birthday Scavenger Hunt
Fairy treasure hunt
One of my granddaughters is very much into fairies, so my daughter and I made a treasure hunt with a fairy theme.
We made a code breaker with the alphabet and the fairy alphabet, and all the messages were written in the fairy language. To our big surprise all the kids could, after translating only two messages, read the fairy language without having to translate anymore.
|Example of Freemason code message, can you read it?|
|Morse alphabet, to use for coded messages|
|Fairy alphabet translator, for 4 teams|
Make this code breaker, where you can glide the low strip. If you know a message is written with a=h, then you can read the message. This code has actually been used in the war.
|Strips for the code breaker|
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