Treasure hunts and scavenger hunts are such a fun way to keep kids excited, entertained and engaged with the outdoors. Hosting the party outside in your garden gets children interacting with the environment at an early age – and adding silly physical challenges, pop-trivia and code-filled clues is an amazing ways to help children learn from each other!
That being said, holding the attention of a gaggle of children isn’t always the easiest task. So, we’ve split party-planning into nine simple steps – and offered some fun garden treasure hunt ideas to help you get started. Don’t forget to check out our kids party ideas for more outside fun!
Step 1: Choose a fun theme and commit to it
To the uninitiated, choosing a theme for a kids’ treasure hunt can feel like more effort than it’s worth. In reality, it makes decision-making much, much easier. When you’re planning garden activities for kids, decorations, clues and food, use the theme as inspiration.
When you’re specifically aiming for a garden treasure hunt, there are lots of exciting (and family-friendly) themes that you can draw from. A classic pirate theme lends itself beautifully to buried treasure, but so will anything that involves hunting for elusive finds. Safaris, dinosaur-digs and detective-work are all good starting points. If you’re unsure, flip it on its head and ask your kid to pick the theme – then it’s up to you to find a way to turn it into a hunt!
Step 2: Create a story
Don’t worry – your story doesn’t have to be complicated at all, just enough to give your happy scavengers a reason to be seeking treasure.
Maybe they’re “looking for potion ingredients” that will “rescue someone”, or “important items left by fairies” that will result in them uncovering a “magic” gift. The stakes don’t have to be too high, but having an ultimate prize is a good way to direct your seekers towards a goal.
Most shows and films have at least one important item that can be used to motivate your treasure hunt party. A friend of mine threw a gorgeous Moana party where kids were looking for the “heart of Te Fiti” (which had been quickly made from air-dry clay).
Bonus points if that prize is something everyone can share. You could make a cardboard treasure chest filled with chocolate coins and toy jewellery, or lead kids to an end-of-party activity, like watching a film, dancing to music, or revealing a cake. If in doubt, start from the prize and work backwards.
Step 3: Define the hunting zone
Keeping little scavengers within a defined area is important for their safety – you need to be able to keep an eye on them. Plus, it reassures you that party goers aren’t tearing apart the most valuable areas of your home and garden.
Add a clearly defined barrier, like bunting, bright ribbon or temporary fencing to keep your treasure hunt in the right place. It should go without saying, but check that whatever you use is super visible from the eye-level of your guests. You seriously don’t want excited kids catching themselves on camouflaged string.
Step 4: Use what your garden gives you
If you’re planning quite an elaborate treasure hunt, keep costs down by using materials that are already in your garden. For example, getting partygoers to collect pebbles, special-shaped leaves, or flowers that you’re not particularly attached to (like daisies or dandelions).
Anything natural (and therefore, free) is a great idea. Get kids to draw cloud shapes, collect pine cones or carefully count insect varieties. You could also get them to collect several objects that are all one colour, size or texture – add your own inexpensive items if you need to balance them out, but make the most of garden materials.
Step 5: Prepare your clues and tasks
The biggest challenge will be creating clues and activities that keep a bunch of energetic children happy. The key is offering challenges for every type of child.
Brave kids could put their hands inside a bag and guess the object they’re feeling. Creative children might prefer to draw, or build a tower with lollipop sticks. You could create a simple obstacle course, or race to keep energetic little ones busy, while quieter children have a go at logic puzzles. Trivia quizzes – perhaps based on the party theme – are perfect for know-it-alls (I’m not judging, I still am this kid).
The internet is jam-packed with ideas for riddles and rhymes that lead a small group of explorers to particular objects hidden in your garden. Print them out for treasure-seekers to find along the way.
Step 6: Craft your props, decorations and costumes
The goal is to transform your party areas into a set for the theme you’ve chosen. Fortunately, most kids have an excellent imagination, so you really can do a lot without breaking the bank.
Use spray-painted newspaper and cardboard delivery boxes to cover everyday surfaces and turn them into a boat, cabin, or whatever else could be considered a “base” in your theme. Outside, you can use chalk on patios, and hang sheets over fences, if it’s necessary.
Strips of coloured tissue paper can create a lush jungle hanging from a tree, or you could create a horror-free detective scene by using yellow “caution” tape.
Encouraging fancy-dress is a great way to get guests excited, but it can definitely stress some parents out. Reassure them by planning to give each partygoer an inexpensive piece of costume when they arrive. A floral lei, for a beach theme, a mini magnifying glass for detectives, or a simple eye-mask for a superhero theme.
Step 7: Plan party food
Running around and chasing clues will make kids hungry. It’s not a bad idea for at least one clue to lead them to a hydration station or snack bar.
Your theme can help you out here, too. “Tropical” scavenger hunts can be sustained with fresh fruit on skewers, mini cakes and tea-party treats are great for a wonderland theme, while Frozen parties… well, all of your answers are right here.
Step 8: Think about teams in advance
Once you’ve got the RSVPs, you should spare a few minutes to think about treasure-hunting teams. Mix older kids and younger kids, and keep in mind which personalities might clash or become overwhelmed. Balanced teams will make clue-solving and activity-completing much fairer.
Step 9: Nobody leaves empty-handed
I know how some people feel about “participation prizes”, but it’s a party, not a competition. If you’ve had a handful of little ones solving puzzles and completing tricky tasks, recognise their efforts with prize bags. You could even make these the final item on the treasure hunt!
If you would prefer not to do prize bags, you could award badges for things each child excelled at – whether that’s quick puzzle solving, leadership, co-operation or enthusiasm.
…and that’s it! Follow these nine simple steps to successfully plan an outdoor treasure hunt party that’s fun and rewarding. Just be careful not to make it too exciting – or you’ll be looking for fresh garden treasure hunt ideas every year!