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Treasure Hunts for Preteens and Middle Schoolers

Planning any type of activity or event for this age group (the 10-12 year old) can sometimes be tricky, depending on the actual kids coming. You can't always determine the activities based solely on age for this group of children. During the ages of 10-12, the human brain, among other parts of the body, goes through a huge transformation. The brain actually CHANGES and so does how it processes, especially in the area of problem solving. This directly relates to you and your treasure hunt. The early bloomers and the late bloomers are going to find themselves on far reaching sides of a great chasm of problem solving skills and trying to create a treasure hunt that will challenge the older kids while not losing the younger is where the challenge truly lays. PLEASE NOTE: As we go forward, we are not talking about intelligence. Just because I child's brain isn't in full development during that 'lovely' time of change doesn't mean that they aren't smart. It just means that their brains are still developing…and will be developing for quite a while.

Because there is potentially a wide range of brain development among the participants involved, it's a good idea to incorporate a variety of aspects to your treasure hunt. Have a few aspects of fun puzzle solving but also include some activities that are purely there for physical fun. Having a little of both will ensure that there will be something fun for everyone.

When it comes to the formation of teams (if you are planning on dividing the treasure hunt participants into teams), this is when you'll really need to know your group. Do the children all know each other? Do HALF know each other and the other not? These are good things to know. When everyone knows each other you can let them choose their own teams - they will enjoy the process. However, this age has the highest potentiality of being clickish, so be careful if only half the kids know each other. You don't want anyone to feel left out or 'last picked.' In this second scenario, you might consider choosing who's on which team yourself to spread things around a bit so that all guests get to know each other.


Possibly the greatest obstacle with this aged group in planning a treasure hunt is dealing with the Middle School and Junior High attitude. We all know what this is: "Everyone and everything is stupid but me. I have something bad to say about everybody and if I can think of something smart to say, I'll say it." I respect every teacher who works with this age group. The rest of this article is going to be dealing with this particular aspect of this age group.

First and foremost, do not take anything personally. We know that you've probably spent a lot of time planning the party and/or treasure hunt activity. Many this age just won't jump up and down with excitement no matter what you give to them. Feel good about what you plan and run with it. The following are some specific ideas that can help make the activity more 'up their alley':

* DON'T call it a treasure hunt. Even if you've planned for them to skydive from an airplane as part of the treasure hunt, the mere words can bring a connotation of 'little kid.' Call it something else like an adventure or simply state the goal (if you are using a storyline.) If you've really done a lot of work with your storyline or planned a Quest (more on Questing HERE) you might want to call it a 'simulation.' It sounds grown up and has worked for us in the past when facilitating adventures for this age group.

* Add some stress to the treasure hunt - even some 'grown up' stress. They'll eat it up. Have them go into a dark room, give them something time sensitive WITHIN the treasure hunt, or stealing something from someone while they are sleeping, etc. Give them an opportunity to be SCARED. Trust us on this…this single aspect will be what they talk about when they are done!

* Start the hunt off with a bang. Perhaps someone gets kidnapped or there's a loud noise. Perhaps a freaky phone call/message on the answering machine that everyone hears. Get them off kilter from the beginning and they'll be curious to see what you have in store.

* Keep them moving. A good mixture of activities to do ALONG the way of the treasure hunt will keep them engaged and they just might forget that they were trying to act cool.

* Give them an option to die. Now, go with us on this one. This can work especially well if you've incorporated a storyline or theme. The general idea is this: to provide an additional obstacle to keep them looking over their shoulder throughout the hunt. A great way to do this is to have someone (siblings, volunteers) chasing them or surprising them throughout the hunt. For a vampire hunt we've facilitated for many corporate groups we had actors dressed as vampires who were literally chasing the participants while they were trying to complete the adventure hunt. If the team was touched by a vampire, they 'died' and were removed from the hunt. The goal for these added characters was NOT to disqualify teams but rather to get everyone looking over their shoulder…just what we wanted for our vampire adventure. It's also something that is perfect for this age!

As a final note, keep in mind that this is perhaps the most out of the box thinking group you'll ever plan for, as well. Their minds are developing quickly and they haven't fully learned through experience what's conventional and what's not. They are free thinking every moment of every day. They may come up with a solution that you didn't think of. Roll with it and encourage them for their original thinking. As an anecdote to prove this point, we recall an event we facilitated for a large group of Junior High students. The adventure had a pirate theme and one portion of the Quest adventure involved speaking to one of our actresses (a high society woman in the colony) who had the clue they needed within the pages of the book she was reading (she was using it as a bookmark.) One particular team was trying everything to sneak the bookmark out from the book without her looking, but the actress wasn't going for it. I had watched for a little while but finally had to move on to check another portion of the adventure. Five minutes later, the actress ran over to me (something that they were instructed to NEVER do - to leave their location) in a panic. She was one of my seasoned employees so I knew it had to have been bad. She frantically told me that the kids let her know that there was a huge emergency and that I PERSONALLY needed her help. While she was in mid-sentence asking what I needed, she stopped herself and realized what had happened. The kids were going to get her away from the book any way that they could. Sure enough, when she returned to her location, the book was there…but the bookmark was not!