Updated: Jul 21, 2020
When my son was between zero and three years old it was so easy to get him outdoors. He was like a little puppy, who wanted to go anywhere and discover anything. But soon after his 4th birthday he suddenly became less flexible towards my agenda. Getting him enthusiastic to go out to the forest or a park became a struggle. But, luckily not for long! Storytelling is one of my favourite things to do and so I decided to use this skill in helping me engage with my son. First, I would just come up with different reasons to go out, like to go and watch police cars or maybe we can spot a giant in the forest. But eventually these ideas no longer worked. So, I invented a story and an experience that never lost its power. I’d tell him pirates have hidden a treasure for him in the forest and he needed to pack his bag and go find it!
After nearly a year and a half, we are still not bored of the treasure hunt and take pleasure in our cycles to the forest. In the beginning, I was really creative. We would always make a treasure map that showed our house and some of the recognisable buildings along the way, like the prison and the railway. This really helped get the kids out the door in the beginning and gave me lots of opportunities to be creative. For instance, if we only had a half hour the treasure was much closer and on days we had more time we would go further away. I like to mix things up. For instance, some adventures we would take one path and the next another. Sometimes we had to walk silently and listen for birds or other sounds, while another time we had to look for specific things. These were all on the treasure map and I could adjust it in a way my children needed. Often on our hunts, we encounter surprises, such as a beautiful bird who just lands in front of us. I use this opportunity to add to the story and I tell the kids that it’s been sent by the pirates to help us. So we follow and listen to its chirping. Another time it’s a frog that we see and follow . . . from a respectful distance of course.
The treasure itself is another experiment. For me it’s a healthy snack like a mandarine and a little sweet treat like a lollipop. I must say that if I could change one thing from the start, I would have started off with just a fruit snack. However my kids got used to the little sweet and I am ok with that. :)
The payoff from our treasure hunts is that my kids are used to going out and being in the forest or parks. The treasure hunt is no longer the only draw for going out. They have learnt that being in the forest is fun and has a calming effect on them, as well as on me. We have also experienced so many special and unstructured family moments, something I am a very big fan of.
Here are some easy steps to create a treasure hunt so your kids are excited to go outdoors with you!
1. Take an old container (cookie or a bag) and draw a pirate skull on it.
2. Inside you can hide whatever your kids like, this could be an apple, mandarin, a little candy whatever, I usually mix it with a little candy and a mandarin or apple.
3. Tell your children the pirates did it again, they hid a treasure and we have to find it! You can draw a treasure map that will mark the streets from your house to the park or forest to make it a full pirate experience. If your kids don’t like pirates, come up with another character that could hide a treasure such as faires or elves.
4. Go on the treasure hunt!
5. Tell them the first mission is to be silent for a short walk. This could be a path of 500m (depending on the age of your kids) and will stimulate them to just be and listen.
6. The second mission is to silently listen to the sounds of the birds. Maybe the birds can help find the treasure?
7. And then comes the fun part. Tell your kids that the pirates have communicated with you and that the treasure is somewhere nearby! Let them go for the hunt. In the meantime, you will have a couple of seconds to sneakily hide the treasure.
8. Once your kids have found the treasure, we always say thank you. This is the cutest moment because we do this by touching a tree or the bush where we have found the treasure. To me it’s sort of symbolic to say thank you to nature who has brought us so much joy and also peace.
9. When we get home we usually burn the treasure map in our fireplace to end the experience because the pirates don't like all these maps laying around!
10. And repeat! Go on the treasure hunt once or twice a week, and see your children becoming calmer, more fun and excited, all at the same time.
Hope this was inspiring! Enjoy the magic of nature Pirate!