One activity I use with my kids to help build observation skills, map reading, and get them into the forest is The Treasure Hunt. I use a combination of reality and fantasy to get them excited. We have a Dora The Explorer book, where pirate piggies steal a treasure chest full of costumes from Dora and she has to use “Map,” who talks and sings, to find them. My younger daughter is just 2 and loves acting out Dora. It encourages her to speak Spanish, so I play along. I sing the silly songs from the TV show and try to say the Spanish phrases, which she always corrects me on.
So, the first time I did a treasure hunt with them, I told them, “The pirate piggies have stolen your treasure chest and have hidden it in the forest! Map will show you the way!”
They unrolled the map that showed only a few key landmarks – the barn, a bridge, and a pig statue to represent the “pirate piggies” and an “X” to mark with the treasure chest is. I included a few words to help my 5-year-old practice her reading skills. After discussing the map a little, out they flew, leaving the fight-inducing playroom for the calming woods.
To make it a little bit of a challenge, I put the treasure chest in a partially hidden location, under some leaves. As they gain confidence in this game, I’ll add more and more landmarks and detail to the map as well as hide the treasure better and better.
This game has so many benefits and is just plain fun! For me, playing with my kids makes me feel more connected to them, happier with my role as a full-time mother, so often filled with chores, and keeps me feeling that spark for life.
And, just stepping foot out the door usually will encourage my kids to play in the outdoors for a long time. My main goals with getting them into the woods at the preschool age are to encourage them to love nature and science, push their boundaries, and be able to overcome fear, discomfort, or a challenge, but there are all sorts of other benefits of wilderness– they almost never fight outside, they play imaginative games almost non-stop, and the fitness and agility skills gained by playing among boulders, logs, trees, swamps, and creeks are similar to paying $100 a month for gymnastics training, without any commitments or driving.
If they are ready to come back, I usually try to convince them to stay a little longer by playing with them, but I try not to push it too hard because I want to keep it fun for them.
This activity can be done in a backyard for preschoolers. After age 5, a park with some forest cover is best to make the activity more powerful and feel more real to them.
What You Need for This Activity:
A Small Treasure Chest (You can make one with your kids out of a shoebox.)
A Hand-Drawn Map Showing Key Landmarks
Plastic Necklaces, Chocolate Money, Real Money or Little Toys