Kid's Birthday Party Ideas:
Hunting for Memorable Experiences
It started with a childhood memory: My inventive father sinking a treasure chest in our garden pond in rural Bavaria. It was a truly communal affair. The excitement of my 12th birthday party guests; the onlooking neighbors filled with confusion over my father stepping into our pond equipped with rope and big rocks on a cold November day; and the joyous celebration when we retrieved the bounty with stiff, cold hands. My birthday guests and I still talk about this experience, as adults. But what makes experiences more memorable than others?
“Nothing focuses the mind like surprise” (Psychology Today, 2015). New experiences can trigger positive emotions that act “like a highlighter pen that emphasizes certain aspects of experiences to make them more memorable”. In fact, a research team at John Hopkins University found that our brain releases a hormone during emotional arousal associated with novel experiences that “primes” our nerve cells to remember events by increasing their chemical sensitivity at sites where nerves rewire to form new memory circuits. Highly memorable experiences are therefore literally hardwired in our brain.
For my daughter’s 10th birthday, I was committed to pass on the family and Hopper legacy of novel experiences. So, I decided to team up with my inner kiddo to design a treasure hunt from scratch.
Step 1: Craft a Compelling Story
Every treasure hunt needs a good story! Get inspired by your surroundings. Learn something new about your everyday environment. Explore your favorite family hangouts: the park, the river, your backyard. Identify meaningful family artifacts and objects: an old book, a necklace, a letter. Then, dig deeper. Chat with your family “elders” about your artifacts or contact your local historian (thank you again to Boulder’s Art Source International for helping with 19th century paper and 100-year old, unsent postcards)! Or, invent your own story and let your creative juices flow.
Step 2: Hunting for Memorable Experiences
My daughter and her birthday guests are giddy with excitement. Equipped with bags, magnifying glasses and their first clue they huddle around a historic letter that establishes the story of Nellie Miles and Rex Green, two pioneer kids and best friends, who lost their favorite trinkets. The birthday gang is asked to help find Nellie’s and Rex’s treasures that are lost and hidden across the local park. During the next hour, I watch the birthday gang team up to climb rocks, cliffs, and trees. they conquer word puzzles, invisible ink riddles, and nature challenges. And they problem solve, together, to pull a clue from the bottom of the nearby river and finally, victoriously retrieve the treasure chest!
Step 3: Test Your Story
Before you send the kids out to explore and gather clues, have clarity on your treasure hunt asks:
- Are you finding objects?
- Solving puzzles?
- Facing timed challenges?
- Distribution of one person tasks vs. team tasks?*
- And how do all these tasks inform your cohesive treasure hunt story?
- Finally, make sure you “test” your treasure hunt. Ask a friend or family member to participate in a dry run, time yourself, and troubleshoot.
*Working together to problem solve can lead to a more positive experience for all. The trick is to find ways to keep everyone engaged – are your tasks evenly distributed to offer enough/different roles? Do you have options for introverted/extroverted kids to participate? Do you have enough materials for all kids?
Providing our children with the opportunity to explore through novel experiences, and allowing parents to reconnect with creative, innovative design thinking, is at the core of our vision for The Hopper. So, we encourage you to never grow up, check in with your inner kiddo for creative inspirations, and indulge in some unforgettable family experiences!
DIY Treasure Hunt Checklist
- $50 for materials
- $50 for trinkets/giveaways (I themed my giveaways based on pioneer/vintage treasure hunt story and provided retro notebooks, pencils, erasers, small ornaments to encourage more future storytelling).
Time Commitment – Planning Your Treasure Hunt
- 2hrs preparing clues
- 90 min – treasure hunt dry run and troubleshooting
- Total: 3-4 hours