Birthday Treasure Hunt

It became a tradition in our family to create birthday treasure hunts for kids. This started back in my childhood when my parents probably wanted to make sure that my brother and I remember to brush out teeth, make beds and dress up among the excitement of opening our presents. So, for each of our birthdays, parents left us a chain of notes that led the kid from his bed to the bathroom, where the greeting poem would be hidden somewhere under the toothbrush holder and a note to search further in his closet. After dressing up and scavenging for the first present in the closet birthday kid would be led to the kitchen for further greetings, presents, riddles and assignments.

These days I am recreating these treasure hunts with my kids and occasionally their friends at the birthday party, adding pirate or mystery flavour and more intellectual challenges (including math). Kids love it, remember these treasure hunts for years and always request it ahead of their birthdays.

I decided to share here one of the recent treasure hunts as it is easily adaptable to any kids' age and any household. To create your own treasure hunt you need a few (I used 6) treasure boxes filled with various presents or candy or goody bags and a chain of notes to search for one such treasure after another.

The first note that I handed my kids said:

Along with this note was a folded piece of paper sealed with a candle wax. On it: After a few minutes of running around the house kids figured out that the note refers to the painting we have that features women picking nuts and the old wooden deer statue on a shelf across from it. The first treasure box was hidden behind the deer. In it among the prizes was a second note leading to the next treasure: Note that the little wavy "x" is a multiplication sign. We have two coded multiplication sentences. Kids needed a bit of guidance, but after some hints quickly realized that: X=3, O=7, Z=9, S=6 Picking up letters 3,6,7 and 9 from the KWGOTARQAV gave them GARA. From this they figured out that it must be "garage" and found the second treasure there. Together with the treasure in the box was another note: Third treasure was hid in the warmer drawer of the STOVE that could be unscrambled from "ETOSV." In it was the next note: After running around the rooms for a while kids discovered the fourth box hidden in my son's closet. In it with the bouncy balls and candy was the next note: Almost there! The fifth box hidden in the bookshelf behind the world atlas contained the final note: I played hangman with the kids and they quickly figured out that the words are: UNDER PRINTER. This is where the last and the best treasure box has been waiting. Exhausted and satisfied after 15-20 minutes of searching around and bending their minds, kids proceeded to start opening the candy and all agreed that this was fun.

I am sure you can use these ideas and come with various versions of such adventure that will be more creative, fun or complex. Please share them! This is quite time consuming but it is joy to make, even more so to participate and it leaves the long lasting childhood memories. Plus it strengthens the association between math, word puzzles and fun.


  1. I love scavenger hunts. I am a 3rd, 4th and 5th grade math tutor, and my colleague and I lead a before-school math program for the 4th and 5th graders called morning math. For the last couple years (and in summer school math camp), I create a scavenger hunt in which the clues are written on tangram pieces. On the back of each clue is a part of a message so that when the pieces are put together correctly, the final message can be read. It's basically a big puzzle. The kids love it!

  2. Very interesting idea. Thank you for sharing, Donna.


  4. Very interesting blog. Alot of blogs I see these days don't really provide anything that I'm interested in, but I'm most definately interested in this one. Just thought that I would post and let you know.
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