Yo-ho, yo-ho, the pirate life for us!  Arrrrrr yer wee pirate lads and lasses climbin’ the walls until yer ready to walk the plank?  It might be time for an adventure…An adventure deep into the wilds (of your playground, backyard or local park) following a map that just might lead to something grand where X marks the spot.  So gather up the little mateys and go on a treasure hunt!

Set the Scene

The first thing you need to do is set the scene.  If you’re a born storyteller, you can make up a wild tale to spin at bedtime.  Something about how you’ve been waiting for them to finally be old enough to hear this tale – true tale – of how you came to be the owner of a secret pirate map that you suspect might lead to treasure. Then let your imagination lead you!  Perhaps you were exploring on an old pirate ship and found this old map tucked away in a hidden nook on the ship.

Or if your kiddos are young, you can go crazy with a tale of having been taken captive and held hostage by a brand of brigands and narrowly escaped with your life, and you happened to tuck this map in your boots as you got away.  Or, if you’re no Meryl Streep, the story can be simple and just as effective.  Perhaps you might bring out an old book, any old book that looks dusty and musty and as if it might hold a few secrets, and let them discover the map for themselves…

Making a Map

Next, you’ll need to produce a map!  It’s pretty easy to make one that looks fairly authentic.  You can either draw one (with specific clues about where you’ll be hunting) or print one out that you find online.  Then to age it, follow these steps:

  1. Tear the edges off in a ragged shape.
  2. Crumple the paper up and smooth it out.
  3. Steep a couple of black tea bags in a cup of hot water.  Pour this over the map in a baking dish and let it sit for about 15 minutes, or until the color you like is reached.  Pour off the tea.
  4. You can let it dry naturally, or add a layer of “age” to it by drying it out in a low (200 degree) oven.  Watch to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Not feeling crafty?  Inexpensive maps are readily available online.

Where ‘X’ Marks the Spot

Where does this treasure hunt take place?  The short answer is anywhere!  It can be your backyard, or a park, woods, lake, beach or anything else outdoors that you choose.  You can tailor or draw your map to fit the location, but unless your kids are older and more sophisticated, it won’t really be necessary.  Kids are so much better at suspending belief and playing pretend than we are, they’re usually willing to play along.  Some imaginative kids will even start embellishing the story for you! (Or digging out a compass and spyglass to help hunt…)

Don’t Forget the Treasure

Of course, you’ve got to have a treasure!  Again, this can be as elaborate or as simple as you like.  The Oriental Trading Company, a drug store, discount store or craft stores are all great places to get treasure and pirate goodies.   Mix in a bag of “gold” (aka pennies) and some “gems” (rhinestones from a fabric store), and you’re good to go!

Don’t forget something to hide the treasure in.  It could be a treasure chest, if you happen to have one lying around, but a wooden box, cloth bag or old tin works just as well.  Rub it up with dirt, hide it in a backpack (or bury it in the backyard) and away you go!  Don’t forget the shovels for digging!

The Hunt Is On

You can guide the adventure, or let little mateys lead the way… they’ll follow even a made up map and find their own markers (if the map shows two trees, kids will spot two trees, or a bigrock, etc).  If you happen to drop a “doubloon” or “gem” for kids to find and realize they’re on the right path, their excitement level will only increase.. As soon as excitement wanes or tired feet set in, it’s time to scout ahead and dig a shallow hole and hide the treasure.  Mark the spot with an ‘X’ and shout to the kids that the treasure must be near.

Voila!  Captain Mommy and First Mate Daddy have created another fabulous family adventure.

Share with us below your tips for a great treasure hunt!

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— Meghan Rose

All images courtesy of Meghan Rose.