Fellow Adventurer! Paige invites you to celebrate her 8th birthday with a treasure-seeking, lost map hunting, clue finding adventure!

I was four and a half years old when my parents threw a pirate-themed birthday party for my older sister. It wasn’t just a swashbuckling affair to celebrate a kid turning eight, it was an all out treasure-filled adventure that empowered kids to think critically for themselves.

My dad called for each invitee to RSVP in order to receive their top-secret first set of instructions to find the treasure he had buried somewhere in our neighborhood. When he put together this party he thought he was just creating an event for my sister to celebrate her birthday; but it was so much more than that. He put together a party that was educational, challenging, engaging and fun.

Each of the kids was told that their individual instructions were confidential and could not, no matter what, be shared with anyone. They were instructed to bring a shovel, a backpack and a special item to be stored in the backpack to keep it a secret. Each of these special items, unique to each kid, were crucial to unlocking a new clue. My dad designed the treasure hunt so it was impossible to solve without each guest having their very own unique tool or information which then turned into an individual hero moment.

One of the required special items was a dictionary. So when the treasure hunters were stumped by a clue that said “from the eastern block, it’s just four and a half fathoms to the southeast”, my Dad could prompt, “Oh, if only somebody had a way to figure out what the word fathom means.” Then, suddenly, you knew the light bulb had gone off when one kid shouted “I have a dictionary!” All the other kids gathered round as the dictionary was pulled from the backpack, the word looked up, and the next problem introduced – a fathom equals six and one-half feet. Which led to the need for a tape measure (“I have a tape measure!), a compass (“I have a compass!”), a flashlight, a calculator, and so on. No matter how shy, each kid had their hero moment.

And of course, they all had shovels to dig. Because, you know, pirates.

The kids had to figure out when to use what tools when, engaging in critical problem-solving during a hands-on activity. They participated in math when they calculated out how many feet were in multiple fathoms so that they could travel the correct distance. They actively participated in learning while having fun.

Without knowing it my dad was engaging my sister and her friends in project-based learning and STEM education, using real-world problems to push them to find buried treasure. He was encouraging critical thinking and giving support when they got stuck on a clue (similar to how escape rooms can work for education). He gave them real-world experience at solving problems in a collaborative setting, helping them to think on their feet and use the what they had on-hand to find answers. He got them to engage in their own education without them even realizing it.

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