For his seventh birthday party, Pim wanted to organise a treasure hunt. I love treasure hunts at this age, because children are just learning to read and write and they love practising their new skills. But we wanted to take the concept of a treasure hunt a bit further and make it a bit more adventurous. So here is what we came up with…
Each of the invitees received a letter from the ‘Club of the White Lion’, along with a card with a few letters on it. The letter was addressed to the children personally, and explained the history of the Club, which had been around for centuries and had always consisted of a group of talented children, who each owned a necklace with a special secret badge. Sadly, the club had been dismantled in the ’50s of the last century, and had for the last time been seen in action in the neighbourhood we live in. The last member of the club had thankfully been able to hide the badges in a secret location, sixty years ago, and had now written this letter to a group of selected children, with the assignment to fulfil a range of missions which would lead them to discover the hiding place of the special badges. And to re-instate the Club of the White Lion! The receivers of the letters were summoned to gather at our address at the time and date of the birthday party, and bring the special letter card with them which would help them solve the first mission.
The concept of the letter was derived from the house we bought next door (and which is currently being renovated; we will hopeful move in this summer) — it was built in the ’50s, and had two white lion statues at the garden gate. We figured we could use the house as the place where the badges were hidden 60 years ago! The letter itself was written in adult language, to make it extra serious, and to involve the parents as well. We even developed a logo for the club! (Our babysitter Maria is a talented illustrator, she made a great lion drawing.)
And this is what happened the day of the party:
– While the kids were busy eating cake and handing out their presents, our neighbour (he’s in his 70s) dropped off little bags we had made for the children and a letter. We briefly explained the concept of the party beforehand and he was so into it! He had put on his long coat, a hat and his sunglasses. He said he had something for the children out of the name of the Club of the White Lion, which he of course remembered from his youth ; ), and handed over the letter and the bags. The children were so impressed! Pim didn’t even recognise our neighbour!
– In the bags, we put some items to help the children solve the assignments: A keyring with a key and a steel washer. A laminated card with secret coding. A little notebook and a pencil. Two strong magnets. A small candle. (We had sewn the bags the evening before and used fabric pens to write the name of the children on the bags).
– The letter which the neighbour brought asked the children to line up the cards they had received with their ‘invite’. The cards together spelled the name of a book they had to allocate in our bookcase. Inside the book, we had created a secret space by cutting away part of the pages.
– Inside the book, there were letters in code for each of the children. They could use the laminated code cards in their bags to figure out the next mission.
– The next assignment for the children was to find the treasure chest upstairs (my dad once made this treasure chest for Pim). We had put 11 padlocks around the locks of the treasure chest — each of the kids had to try the key they had found in their bags on each of the locks, until they had opened all the locks and the treasure chest would reveal the next letter.
– This time there were two letters, splitting the group in two subgroups. One group had to go to the flower stand around the corner and ask for the South African Lion’s Tail Flower. The other group had to go to our local hotel and ask if they were hosting a special guest, mr. Vanderlion. Each group received an envelope at their location after asking their mystery questions (and a lollipop of course). In these envelopes, there were scratch cards for each of the kids. They could use the washer on their keyring to scratch the card, and each card would reveal a word, together forming a sentence, urging them to go to a specific statue in our local park where they would find the next assignment.
– In the park we let them kick a ball around, gave them a drink and a candy, and meanwhile, suddenly the next letter of the Club of the White Lion was revealed. The group was split in two again, and each group had to go to a specific address (of friends) where they would be handed a special package.
– Each package revealed one of the two lion statues that once lined the gate to our new house. The accompanying letter asked the children to return the lions to their old spot, where they had been guarding the special badges for 60 years, and to enter the house to look for the next envelope.
– The next envelope contained a handful of white papers written on with invisible ink! The children had to carefully hold the paper above a flame (with adult supervision of course), which would reveal the next tip.
– We had hidden the next envelope behind the plaster of the house, and they had to use a hammer to demolish the plaster and to reveal this next envelope. (At this point, even Sara was convinced the whole story was true!)
– Now, the children had to find a key which was hidden underneath the floor…. In the hallway, there’s a hatch which gives way to the crawlspace underneath the house… (and where the gas meters etc are). The children could see a key through the latch, but couldn’t reach it! They had to combine all of the magnets in their bags to form a magnetic stick and use it to grab the key!
– And now, finally, the last step… Upstairs, there was the old safe, 60 years old… And inside, there were badges for all of the children. They had succeeded!
For days if not weeks, the children have been talking about this treasure hunt. I think this had been one of the most exciting things they had done in their lives! They wore their badges at school, and the parent said they talked so much about it at home… (Of course they heard snippets of the party — They had to demolish a wall? The had to unlock a gazzilion locks? They found lions? Etc. Funny!)
As usually the case with the parties we organise, this entire party was put together the day beforehand. We just came up with the concept the evening before that and wrote the letters/invites to the children so Pim could hand them out to his friends the next day (one day before the party).
Here’s a quick how-to for some of the activities (a big thank you to my sweet friend Erika from Mikodesign for her many ideas!)
– I created the secret code cards by laminating a code alphabet I printed from the internet (you can laminate in most copy/print places)
– For the scratch cards, we painted a few layers of black paint mixed with a bit of dishwashing liquid over laminated word cards.
– The ‘invisible ink pages’ were made by writing on them with lemon juice. The text will magically show up once the paper is put above a flame!
We had so much fun putting this party together! And by all the feedback we received later, the kids had a great time as well. I think Pim will remember this day for the rest of his life!