How to Make a Treasure Hunt for Kids: Your Ultimate Guide

Looking for the ultimate boredom-buster for your kids?

Want to wow them with an awesome adventure made just for them?

Turn your home into a wilderness with hidden treasure and your kids as hunting pirates.

In this article I’ll show you how to create the ultimate treasure hunt for your kids.

Treasure hunt basics: create the ultimate treasure hunt for your kids, based on their ages and interests, even as their ages and interests change.

Why Plan a Treasure Hunt?

Ever hear “I’m bored”?

It’s what all parents dread hearing and one of the most daunting problems to solve.

It’s far too easy to let your kids plop down in front of an electronic device and zone out, but we all know it’s better for their health and creativity to fill that down time with fun, stimulating activities.

Surprise them with a treasure hunt.

It will give them something fun to do, and treasure hunts are a great way for you to get more involved with your kids and learn about their interests. We have as much fun planning our treasure hunts together as we do actually completing them.

Treasure hunts are fun, interactive and creative and you can tailor them for kids of various ages.

You can have a treasure hunt right at home, in your yard or just about anywhere. And the different themes and styles to choose from are endless. We have held one at least once a month over the years and we always create different themes to keep them fresh.

For this tutorial, we did a very traditional pirate-themed treasure hunt, straight out of Treasure Island.


Here’s some pirate music to set the mood for our pirate treasure hunt.

Treasure hunts are inexpensive. You don’t have to buy anything at all for a treasure hunt—all you really need are some slips of paper and something to search for.

pirate kits

To go with our pirate theme, I bought these costume accessory kits from the Dollar Tree for $1 each.

If you want to make things a little more fun or play with the theme you choose, go to the dollar store to find your treasures. You can also use old Halloween costumes and other items from around the house for themed treasure hunts.

You Will Need

  • Some prizes for your “treasure”
  • Computer and printer or paper and pencil
  • Costumes (optional for a themed treasure hunt)

Preparation Time

15-20 minutes

Activity Time

15-30 minutes (longer if you add more clues)

Location

Your backyard, house, apartment or local park/playground

Here’s how to plan the ultimate at-home treasure hunt. Let’s get ready to find some treasure!

#1: Pick Your Theme

Your first step is to determine a theme.

A theme is optional. You don’t need one to do a treasure hunt, but it does add a role-playing element that makes the activity a bit more fun, so I recommend that you choose one.

This time we did a pirate treasure hunt.

kids with map

A theme (like pirates) adds an extra element of fun.

Use the interests of your kids to help choose your theme.

For example, one of my sons loves dinosaurs so we did an archaeology-themed treasure hunt that allowed the kids to learn more about dinosaurs while hunting for fossils.

One of my daughters is a big fan of Disney princesses, so her treasure hunt sent her on a mission to guess the princesses from a series of clues. At the end, her big prize was a princess dress-up kit, complete with crown.

A treasure hunt is a great game for a birthday party, too. Just include goodie bags or small prizes at the end for the guests.

Some other ideas are:

  • Archeology/Indiana Jones
  • Ancient Egypt
  • African/jungle
  • Carnival
  • Camping
  • Princesses
  • Fairies
  • Mystery
  • Scavenger hunt (be the first to collect all the items from a list)
  • Point-based treasure hunt
  • Topical events
  • Games and TV shows
  • Storylines
  • Etc.

You can also check My Kids’ Adventures for lots of different treasure hunt themes, such as Minecraft, Geocaching and an outdoor photo treasure hunt.

#2: Plan Your Clues

Next you need to write out some clues for your treasure hunt. The clues will guide your players from one spot to the next, building anticipation for the big treasure they’ll find at the end.

You can search for creative clues online or brainstorm your own clues based on the ages and abilities of the children who will be playing.

list of clues

Tailor your clues to the ages and abilities of your treasure hunters. Make them difficult enough to be a challenge, but not so hard the kids become frustrated.

Use more difficult clues for older kids. They may enjoy the challenge of clues posed as riddles they need to solve, such as “I have a face that doesn’t frown, I have hands that do not wave, I have no mouth, just a familiar sound, I don’t walk—but I move around.”

Keep clues simple if the hunt is for younger children. They’ll enjoy rhyming clues like the ones we played with in our pirate treasure hunt.

If you have very young children, you can use picture clues instead of written clues.

Want to sneak something educational into their fun? Ask the kids to say the clues out loud to help develop their reading skills.

Here’s an example of some treasure hunt clues. We used 10 simple clues aimed at 5- to 7-year-olds:

  • Clue #1: If you’re in a hungry mood, go here first and find some food. (I put Clue #2 in the pantry.)
  • Clue #2: Now you’re on your second clue, these go on before your shoes. (I put Clue #3 in their sock basket.)
  • Clue #3: If you want your teeth to shine, pick this up and spend some time. (I put Clue #4 under their toothbrushes.)
  • Clue #4: If you want to learn and grow, turn the page, get in the know. (I put Clue #5 in a book on their bookcase.)
  • Clue #5: Add some color to your days! Pick these up; you’re on your way. (I put Clue #6 in their art drawer with crayons and paint.)
  • Clue #6: Take a walk and step outside, this is where you go to ride. (I put Clue #7 in the tire rim of our van.)
  • Clue #7: Time to chill, time to think; please go here for a cool, cool drink. (I put Clue #8 in the fridge on a shelf they could reach easily.)
  • Clue #8: Keep it clean and keep it dry. Can you guess? Come on, just try. (I put Clue #9 on top of our washer in the laundry room.)
  • Clue #9: You’re almost at the very end, but this is where your guests come in. (I taped Clue #10 to the front door.)
  • Clue #10: The final clue. The final prize. Look into this to see your eyes. (I put the treasure box in the master bathroom in front of our large mirror. They actually went to every other mirror in the house first, so it was fun watching them get so close but have to keep looking.)

Another fun option is to tailor your clues to your theme. I did not do that for the pirate treasure hunt, but I did create a realistic-looking pirate treasure map that the kids loved.

map collage

Create a map on the computer. Crumple for an aged look.

Ours was just a prop—it didn’t show the course of our treasure hunt—but it was lots of good fun.

#3: Plan Your Treasure

Go somewhere private and prepare a surprise treasure for your players to find at the end of their quest.

I used a chest from my bedroom as a “treasure chest” and filled it with toys and trinkets from a dollar store. For less than $15, the kids were thrilled to find light-up rings, necklaces, glow sticks and small toys. You can also include candy, chocolate coins (if the weather is not too hot) and pencils.

treasure box

Use any type of box for your treasure chest. Fill with inexpensive goodies and treats.

You can use any type of box or chest that you already have. You can also use plastic bins and decorate them for your theme. You could even use a cardboard box and construction paper to decorate. If you design your own box, I suggest that you let the kids help decorate it but then fill the box when they are not looking so the treasure will be a surprise.

Alternatively, you can skip the box idea altogether and use goody bags for individual “treasures.”

#4: Hide the Kids and Place Your Clues

Once the treasure is ready, it’s time to place your clues, but make sure the kids can’t see.

If your kids are in school, place the clues just before they get home for an after-school hunt.

For younger kids, if you have someone who can take the kids for a walk or even leave for a short drive, you can place all of your clues without any prying eyes sneaking a peek (you know how curious kids can be).

washer

Place some clues that are easy to find and some that are more hidden and challenging.

Always keep the age of the kids in mind when placing your clues. I try to make some of the locations more challenging so the hunt takes longer, but not so hard they cannot figure it out on their own.

inside fridge

Hide clues inside places to make them more difficult to find.

You should also try to plant clues far apart and in places that are not too similar to ensure they don’t accidentally find the wrong clue (for example, I hid one in the pantry and one in the fridge without realizing this might have messed us up.)

#5: Send Them on the Hunt

When the clues are in place, it’s time to gather the children, get them in their costumes (if necessary) and explain the rules and boundaries.

Treasure hunts work best with five or fewer kids. Split a large group into smaller teams for treasure hunting to minimize chaos.

Tip: If you have a large group, plan your treasure hunt outdoors where there’s plenty of space for them to run between locations and stand around reading the clue.

To keep the game fair and fun (and prevent the faster child or better reader from running ahead of the pack and getting every clue first), help younger kids read the clues out loud. Instruct older kids to take turns reading the clues aloud and to brainstorm together as a group before going on to look for the next location.

Encourage kids to work together and help their teammates so everyone will have fun. Treasure hunts are a good way to practice cooperating and working as a team.

finding clues

Encourage kids to work together to find the clues.

As your treasure hunters move from one clue to the next, go along to cheer and encourage them and to help if they get stuck. But be sure to allow them to think for themselves as much as possible and play the game at their own pace.

finding another clue

Success! They found a clue. Resist the urge to help them too much.

If they need help with a clue, give them small hints until they figure it out. You can also play “Hot and Cold” if your kids are struggling to find a clue. Tell them “warmer, warmer, hot” as they get closer or “cooler, cold” as they get farther away.

Resist the urge to point to the clues, solve the riddles or tell the children where to go—no matter how obvious the answers may seem to you. Part of the fun of a treasure hunt is the challenge of figuring it out themselves.

pirate hunt collage

Dress-up, problem-solving, boredom-busting and prizes make for a fun day!

When your treasure hunters solve the final clue, reach their destination and find their treasure, be there to cheer, clap and celebrate with them.

And then you can start to plan the next treasure hunt!

Some Final Thoughts

You can get as creative as you want with a treasure hunt. You can hold one outdoors, indoors (great on a rainy day), indoor/outdoor, around your neighborhood or at a park. And the possibilities for themes are endless, for endless fun.

Hint: I save all of the clues and ideas for our treasure hunts in a binder. Sometimes we go back to repeat the ones they liked best.

Treasure hunts are the ultimate kids’ adventures because they’re fun and exciting, they’re something that you and your kids create and play together and they can be personalized to the tastes and age levels of everyone playing.

I can’t wait to hear about your treasure hunts. Have fun!

What do you think? Have you ever had a treasure hunt with your kids? If you have a themed treasure hunt, share your ideas and pictures with us in the comments!

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About the Author, Lisa Mason

Lisa Mason is mom to five, ages 1 to 14. When she’s not running after kids, she’s running her business Social Media Satisfied. She also writes about parenting at parentingfive.com. Other posts by »


  • http://www.mykidsadventures.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    Looks like your little pirates had a lot of fun, Lisa. Thanks for all the tips and ideas. I love the suggestion to keep the clues in a binder to use again.

  • http://socialmediasatisfied.com/ Lisa Mason

    Thank you Jennifer! It was a blast and we can’t wait to do it again.

  • http://xeeme.com/mithuhassan Mithu Hassan

    Thanks a lot for the nice tips !! I

  • http://socialmediasatisfied.com/ Lisa Mason

    Thanks Mithu! Have you ever had a treasure hunt?

  • Ldyjarhead

    Would love to do something like this with my granddaughter when she’s a bit older. Great post!

  • http://socialmediasatisfied.com/ Lisa Mason

    Thanks for reading. By the time she’s walking, she’ll make a great little treasure hunter.

  • EmilyQuestions

    We had treasure hunts for our birthdays when I was little – but this makes a special event out of an ordinary day. What great fun, Lisa, thanks for making this easy to do!

  • http://socialmediasatisfied.com/ Lisa Mason

    Treasure hunts for birthdays sound fun! I may have to consider a new b-day tradition around here. Thanks for reading. :)

  • http://www.timothybrand.com/ Timothy Brand

    Using the “Hot and Cold” method is a good idea, I never would have thought of that. Thanks for the good read :)

  • K.C.

    What great ideas! I wish mine were still young enough that I could use this but I’ll share for my daughter to use in the future with my granddaughter.

  • Donna Thacker

    What a great idea for a birthday theme! I will have to pass this on to my DIL. My grandson loves Pirates!

  • Jody M

    Such a creative idea!!! Will keep these tips in mind for the future!

  • http://socialmediasatisfied.com/ Lisa Mason

    Thanks. The kids helped me come up with that one.

  • http://socialmediasatisfied.com/ Lisa Mason

    Thank you K.C. I think it will be so much fun to be able to do this with grandkids one day. As the grandmas, we can plan events for when they come to visit. And we can give them sweets and send them back home. 😉 hehe

  • http://socialmediasatisfied.com/ Lisa Mason

    Thank you Donna! Mine even had the little guy who is only 1 running around in an eye patch going “arrg!” And of course, he wanted to share the treasure at the end.

  • http://socialmediasatisfied.com/ Lisa Mason

    Thanks for reading Jody. Never a dull day with kids around, that’s for sure.

  • Nancy Lichtenstein

    What a fun idea! I could see this making a great birthday party.

  • http://socialmediasatisfied.com/ Lisa Mason

    Thanks Nancy!

  • http://kristenhead.blogspot.com/ Kristen Dyrr

    This is such a cute idea, and you’ve really laid it out completely. What fun!

  • http://socialmediasatisfied.com/ Lisa Mason

    Thanks Kristen. Have you ever participated in a treasure hunt as a kid or with kids?

  • http://kristenhead.blogspot.com/ Kristen Dyrr

    Yes, as a kid I was part of one or two. I just remember it being so much fun, and wanting to do it every week. One in particular was around our little community, where we safe going door-to-door. So much fun!

  • http://socialmediasatisfied.com/ Lisa Mason

    That’s really cool. One thing I have never done yet that I want to take all my kids to do is GEOCaching. Looks so much fun!

  • http://relationship-consciousness.webs.com/ Claude Lagang

    Indeed cute Idea :)

  • http://socialmediasatisfied.com/ Lisa Mason

    Thanks Claude. It’s a lot of fun for us and the kids. :)

  • http://kristenhead.blogspot.com/ Kristen Dyrr

    Same here! I’ve never done the GEOCaching, but always wanted to. :)

  • http://www.mykidsadventures.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    Hey Lisa & Kristen,
    Check out our Geocaching 101 article: http://www.mykidsadventures.com/geocaching-with-kids/
    It covers all the basics that will help you go geocaching for the first time. Have fun!

  • http://socialmediasatisfied.com/ Lisa Mason

    Yay! That’s perfect. :) Thanks

  • Kazoobu Kids

    Totally Awesome! I plan on doing a Fairy based Treasure Hunt for my daughter so this really helped. Also going to be using the real life fairy on Kazoobu Kids to create a personalized video message to make it even more of a magical experience!

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  • http://socialmediasatisfied.com/ Lisa Mason

    That sounds like a great idea. One of my daughters also loves fairies. :)

  • mo

    That was cool- my son is going to be the happiest little kid on the planet!

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  • melora

    just came across this and wanted to share my ideas. My three year old loves to treasure hunt, but can’t read the clues by herself. So I do picture clues……sometimes I sketch on the paper slips, sometimes I snap photos of things around the house and use the photo clues along with words. this way preschoolers can get in on the fun too.

  • jannath

    thnk you sooo much for ur ideas on treasure hunt…. i enjoyed reading them :) must have had soo much fun… i work in kids club n it really helped me to get more ideas about it
    thank you very much Lisa :)

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  • Glen

    The last hunt I did with the kids I had purchased a $15 board game. I taped the clues to the game pieces. At the end of the hunt was the board itself in the box and they had a new game to play when done the hunt. What a hoot!!

  • Bruna Suzin

    Hi! I’m an English Teacher and October 12th is the Children’s day here in Brazil. I wanted to do something funny in this week class and you helped me a lot. Thank you!

  • Ana Polacek

    For 10 -11 year olds, I put each clue in an envelope and the kids also had to do something like answer a math, Spanish, history question or do 10 jumping jacks, group hug , eat a bag of popcorn etc. to open the envelope and move on to the next location

  • mmjbotero

    Could you be so kind to expand on your treasure hunt? Is this indoors? I am planning to have one in the woods with 12 and 13 year old kids and I would like to use your ideas. Thank you, Margarita

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    Awesome! Treasure hunts are great because you can do them again and again. I hope he has lots of fun! –Jennifer (editor)

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    What a great idea to include the little ones! Thanks for sharing.–Jennifer (editor)

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    Glad you got some good ideas. Hope they help you plan lots of fun treasure hunts for your kids club!–Jennifer (editor)

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    What a cool idea, Glen! How great that one fun activity leads to another. Thanks for sharing it.–Jennifer (editor)

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    You’re welcome, Bruna. Hope your class had a lot of fun on their treasure hunt!–Jennifer (editor)

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    What a great idea to make each clue interactive! Thanks for sharing–Jennifer (editor)

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    Sounds like fun, Margarita! Yes, treasure hunts can be done indoors or outdoors–just write your clues to fit the environment. It helps to use a similar envelope for each clue, so they’ll know it’s the clue when they find it. There are some specific tips for taking these games outdoors in our scavenger hunt article: http://www.mykidsadventures.com/scavenger-hunt-ideas/
    Have fun!–Jennifer (editor)

  • Jannath

    ATM we dont have kids… As our resort was under renovation so now finally ist completed so expecting kids by december … Looking forward to try these with the kids :) thnx again

  • Sangita Shankar

    Hi Lisa…I had a treasure hunt for my daughter’s 8th birthday last year !!. I hid 8 different gifts, all small small things…My idea was to have the hunt together. I hung a card from our ceiling with birthday wishes for her birthday and along with that the first clue to find the first gift….and on the 1st gift i had given her clue to find the 2nd gift…and so on. She had a blast and has asked for a treasure hunt for her 9th birthday this year ! :).. Love your suggestions on theme hunts. Thank you.

  • Katerina Sarigelou

    Thank you so much for all your tips and suggestions! We’re having an outdoor party for my 6 year – old boy in two weeks and they will come in handy for sure!!!

  • Jessica Gardner

    We actually do this, very similar anyway, ever year for Christmas Eve. I started it when my twin girls were little but they’ve loved it so much that they asked me to never stop. They worked together on about 15 clues to begin with; now we are up to about 40 clues each! Mom has to start work on this thing early, like right after Halloween. This year, my step-sons are going to be here for the first time and we are going to team them up (3 15 year olds and a 9 year old) and have them work together – each boy with one of the twin girls so they can figure out how this all works. I do rebus puzzles, math problems, word scrambles, maps, photos, everything I can think of so that they can do this every year. It all leads up to their Christmas Eve gift and it’s become a tradition that I’m fairly sure they will carry on with their kids!

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