Hunting for treasure is a universally compelling play theme for kids. And, when we take the treasure hunt outside, kids have a chance to see their outdoor space with fresh eyes and discover all of the special hidden spots nature provides. In this activity, inspired by the book How to Find Gold by Viviane Schwartz, kids create a treasure map and hide treasure for friends to find.
Spark play with a story: Read or watch and listen to a read-aloud of How to Find Gold by Viviane Schwartz. Wonder together if you could make your own treasure hunt. What kind of treasure might you find?
Make a treasure map: Offer your child a piece of paper and some markers and head outside to your outdoor play space. To make the treasure map look old, use a piece of a brown paper bag. Kids can also tear strips of paper off of the edges and crumple it up to make the map look weathered. Walk around the space together and wonder which landmarks could be added to the map to help someone find treasure. Is there a big tree in your space? A rock? An area with mud?
Collect treasures to hide: Ask your child what treasures they might hide for others to discover. Do they have a collection of special rocks, nature treasures or even a special toy that someone would be thrilled to discover? Add an extra bit of adventure to play by wondering what kind of story you can create together for the treasure hunt. Kids can pretend the nature treasures are special gems and gold hidden by pirates. Or maybe each of the hidden objects is a special ingredient and once found, they can all be combined to create a magical potion.
Hide your treasure: Invite your child to hide the treasure somewhere in your outdoor space. Suggest that the treasures can all be placed together in one spot or could be sprinkled around the outdoor space. Treasure can be hidden under rocks, in grass, underneath trees, bushes and other objects in the play area. Kids can decorate a cardboard box to transform it into a treasure box. Once kids have hidden the treasure, invite them to mark the secret hidden spot or spots with an “X” on their map.
Treasure hunt! Hand the treasure map to friends or family members and invite them to seek out the treasure. Add in costumes or paper towel binoculars to make the hunt feel extra special. Use the treasure hunt as a spark for imaginative play. Once discovered, how could you use this treasure? What special powers does this treasure have? What adventures await those who discover it? Or, if the hunt itself was a big thrill, kids can hide the treasure in different places and add more “X’s” to their map.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Hunting for treasure is a super way to support kids’ focus skills and spark creative and imaginary play. When kids create maps of their outdoor space, they see their space with fresh eyes and notice all that there is to discover. Map making also supports spatial awareness.
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Sample the additional activities and resources families get each week to keep kids learning outside at home.
Curiosity means the ability and habit to apply a sense of wonder and a desire to learn more. Curious people try new things, ask questions, search for answers, relish new information, and make connections, all while actively experiencing and making sense of the world. To us, curiosity is a child’s ticket to engaging fully in learning and, ultimately, in life.
Why does it matter?
As a parent, this skill is, perhaps, the easiest to grasp and has the clearest connection to a young children’s learning. We all want my children to wonder, explore and drive their own learning and, better yet, to experience the world fully. Most teachers would agree that the curious children so often seem more attentive, involved and naturally get the most out of time in school. Even the research suggests that being curious is a driver of higher performance throughout one's life, as much if not more than IQ or test scores.
Focus & Self Control
What is Focus and Self Control?
We think of self control as a child’s ability to focus on something in such a way that maximizes learning. In order to do that, they first need to direct their attention and focus on a single thing. They also need to discern which information around them is most important and deserving of their attention. Thirdly, they need something called “inhibition.” Think of inhibition as the ability to control impulses, block out distractions and continue attending to the same thing. Focus, discerning and inhibition all require rather fancy brain work and are thought to be part of the “executive functions” or the set of cognitive processes involving the prefrontal cortex that help us manage ourselves and the environment to achieve a goal.
Why does it matter?
Our world is full of distractions, more today than ever. Kids who are in any learning situation need the ability to control their impulses, block out noise and attend to the person, objects, events, or discussions that are central to learning. As classroom teachers, we saw that kids who did this ruled the classroom. As outdoor educators and parents, we know the same holds true outside of school.
But don’t take our word for it; the research is impressive. It turns out that these executive function skills are closely tied to success in the classroom, higher level education and life beyond school. Experts like Adele Diamond of the University of British Columbia have shown that, “If you look at what predicts how well children will do later in school, more and more evidence is showing that executive functions—working memory and inhibition—actually predict success better than IQ tests.” Although these skills are difficult for young children and don’t crystallize until adulthood, the more kids practice them, the better at them kids become.
What is Imagination?
Imagination is defined in many ways, but one we like is, "the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality." This is no small task to little kids, and yet young childhood is a time in which imagination is developed more than any other. How does imagination develop in childhood? Through an increasingly sophisticated life of make believe.
We all likely have a sense of what we mean by make believe or good old "pretend play." How do experts define it, though? To some, there are different types of make believe that vary in sophistication and make pretend play different than other types of play. For example, kids may use objects to represent something else (e.g. a block becomes a cell phone). Or, they may start to give an object certain properties (e.g. a doll is asleep or a tree is on fire!). Still yet, they may themselves take on the properties of someone or something else.
From there, pretend play evolves into acting out scenarios or stories, those getting increasingly intricate as imagination develops. As kids' pretend play grows more sophisticated, these stories come to involve not only the creative use of objects, but multiple perspectives (e.g. good and bad guys in the same story), and/or the playful manipulation of ideas and emotions (e.g. I am sad, but then become happy after I save the village from certain doom).
Why does it matter?
An ever growing body of research substantiates the many benefits of pretend play including the enhanced development of: language and communication skills; self-control and empathy; flexible and abstract thinking; and creativity. These are the skills that will help kids balance emotions, form healthy relationships, work effectively on teams, stay focused in school, be successful at various jobs and solve the problems of an increasingly complicated world. An individual's creativity in particular, both requires and is limited by her imagination.
What do we mean by Navigation skills?
By navigation skills, we mean the ability to ascertain one’s own place or position in space as well as plan and follow a route. For kids, it’s a matter of understanding where you are, where you’ve come from and where you need to go. Kids who can navigate can find their way to and from school or across a park, neighborhood or other familiar area. They develop strategies like establishing familiar objects or landmarks and taking time to note which paths they’ve traveled, and they can both follow known paths and chart new paths with confidence.
Why does it matter?
There are lots of reasons why teaching them to find their own way benefits kids, not least of which is safety. We all fear the moment that our child wanders too far and gets lost. So, it's important to train your child to be mindful of where he is and, hopefully, to find his way if and when lost.
That, however, is not the primary reason to teach navigation. When kids learn to navigate the real world, they develop a sense of how to move through space. This is an increasingly important capacity that they'll call on throughout their life—examples include working within systems, writing computer code, or traveling the world competently to learn about new people and places. As they navigate, kids also practice ways to tag and remember information about the environment, increasing both the strength and flexibility of their memory. The ability to move around competently also leads to more opportunities to develop key skills like leadership, self esteem and self reliance.