My son’s brow wrinkled as he read the third clue aloud and thought about it for a few seconds; then his face lit up with sudden realization, and he took off upstairs to find the next one. His sister followed, both of them intermittently giggling as they ran from room to room on the hunt for my son’s birthday present.
The birthday treasure hunt is a family tradition we established last year, when my son turned seven. I’d gotten the idea from a friend of mine, and my wife and I decided that last year my son’s reading was definitely at the point where he could read any clues we left without help. We continued the tradition later in the year for my daughter’s birthday, though she’s younger and needed his help to read the clues. And so the tradition has continued, and will for as long as they enjoy it.
It’s a remarkably simple and essentially free idea: The night before your child’s birthday (or a non-school day near their birthday when you choose to celebrate it), after your kids are in bed, you come up with some good hiding places for clues—five or six for younger kids, probably increasing as they get older. Then comes the only hard part of the process—coming up with a clue leading to each one. The clues should be fun little riddles or puzzles, tailored of course to your child’s ability, sort of like the riddles in The Hobbit. For example, for this birthday, my son’s eighth, one of the clues was:
I ought to fly but sadly can’t.
Six fragile blades spin but don’t lift.
Look inside me for the next clue.
This referred to the LEGO City Coast Guard Helicopter my kids got for Hanukkah, and my son figured that out pretty quickly. The last clue, of course, leads to the place where you’ve hidden the present—my wife and I have been making the last clue deliberately obvious, but we may change that in the future.
I highly recommend this tradition to all parents, everywhere. It’s really easy and free (apart from the time it takes to set up and the cost of paper and ink), and if my kids are any indication your kids will absolutely love it. I honestly think they enjoy the treasure hunt almost as much as opening the present itself!