Four Pirate Treasure Hunts for Little Learners

Making Treasure Hunts a Valuable Learning Experience

Kids playing pirates
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When my son was about four years old, he decided he wanted to be a pirate. Everything he said began with "Arrrgh, Mommy." He wore an eyepatch every waking moment and we made newspaper pirate hats nearly every morning. I participated in more mock sword-fights and pirate treasure hunts than I'd like to admit.

I decided since I was setting up treasure hunts for my little pirate on an almost daily basis anyway, I was going to have to get creative about it. If he was going to hunt for treasure, he was going to have to learn and practice some new skills along the way.

Of course, knowing I'd be thrown into the brig for such mutiny, I didn't let Little Peg-a-Leg in on my plan, I simply varied the booty we were looking for each day.

Treasure Hunt #1: The Alphabet Treasure Hunt

Looking for the alphabet is a fun treasure hunt because you aren't just looking for letters, you're looking for gold coins with the letters written on them.

Buy a few packages of plastic "gold" coins at your local dollar store and use a permanent marker to make two sets of coins. On one, write the alphabet in uppercase letters, and on the second write the alphabet in lowercase letters.

There are a few ways to go about this treasure hunt.

  1. Give your child a "treasure map" with the alphabet written on it (a piece of paper on which you print the alphabet) and hide either all the coins with uppercase letters or all the coins with lowercase letters around the house. As he finds them, he should cross off the letters on his map.
  2. Give your child all the uppercase (or lowercase) coins and hide the corresponding ones. Have him find the matches.
  3. Say a word. If your child can identify the letter it begins with, he earns the correct coin.
  4. Give your child an uppercase coin. If he can name a word that starts with that letter, he earns the lowercase coin.

Treasure Hunt #2: Read the Clues, Matey (Sight Words and Rhymes)

Once your child is a little bit older and can read basic sight words, you can set up a more involved treasure hunt with clues. Again, this can be done a couple of ways.

  1. Give your new reader a slip of paper with an age-appropriate sight word on it, such as "chair." She will go to where the word directs her, find the next word and so forth, until she finds the treasure.
  2. Provide your child with a slip of paper with a simple word on it, telling him that the next clue can be found in a place that rhymes with the first word. (For example, your clue might say "chairs" and the next clue is on the stairs.)
  3. Give your more advanced reader written sentences or riddles describing where to go next. Only provide help if she's really stuck.

Treasure Hunt #3: Arggh, Follow the Sound of My Voice (Directional Words)

Some children aren't ready to read yet or don't have the attention span to find all of the coins. That's okay. For those children, it's a good opportunity to practice directional words (also known as positional words).

Set up a verbal treasure hunt, placing the coins in places that require you to give directional clues. Some words to consider include: above; below; on top of; behind, under; next to; between; to the left and to the right.

Treasure Hunt #4: Follow Yer Map

This type of pirate treasure hunt is more complicated than the others. You and your child first need to decide where you will be hunting for treasure. If you will be staying in your house, the first move is to sit down and make a map of your home together. If you will be going outdoors, you'll need to make a map of the neighborhood.

Once you have your map made, it's a good idea to laminate it or make extra copies. That way you can draw the intended route to treasure directly on the map and let your child find his way to where "X" marks the spot!