Spy Mystery/Treasure Hunt!

I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz around classroom escape room activities recently as a way to get kids excited about learning. Although they look amazing, the concept of an “escape room” seemed a little scary for kindergarteners, and it was hard to think of an age-appropriate story that would work. This activity combines many of the same elements, but in a more K-friendly context- a treasure hunt! They started off watching a video that told them that an evil criminal had stolen treasure and hidden it in their school, and if they could solve the clues and find the treasure, they could keep a piece for themselves! They were so motivated and excited, and along the way they did a TON of math and a fair amount of reading, so it was a win-win for everyone!

I will warn you that this activity did take a fair amount of preparation, but hopefully I’ve done a good amount of the work for you, and honestly, it was SO worth it! I only remember a few key experiences from kindergarten, and I’m always looking for things to do with my students that will be exciting enough for them to remember forever, and I really feel like this could be one of those events.

Although I did this activity in a classroom, it would definitely work at home as well, as part of a spy-themed birthday party, spy mystery slumber party, or just a super fun way to entertain your kids on a rainy day!

So without further ado, here are directions for setting up your own

Spy Mystery/Treasure Hunt!

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To start:

Gather your materials.

I used;

and most importantly;

Kindergarten Treasure Hunt Clues (click to download!)

Next;

Prepare your clues!

First, prepare the math clues

All of the clues will be in bags with three digit combination locks. Your kids will have to solve three math problems to get the combination. You have an awesome opportunity to differentiate here. There’s a spot next to each math problem to write a “spy name”, and as you’ll notice, the problems get gradually harder so you can pair the right kid with the right problem! The document is also editable, so feel free to change the problems to match whatever your class is working on!

Then, the rest of the clues

Each locked bag will contain one page of math clues with the answers to open a lock, and another clue that your kids can solve to figure out where the next bag is.

You’ll want to start by identifying the hiding places around your room or school, and making a master list of what bag will be hidden where (there’s a planning sheet on the last page of the clue document). I had about every other clue hidden in the room, and the rest hidden around the school, mostly near our classroom.

I had a variety of types of clues, including;

Rhyming clues

These are the easiest to prepare. Write a rhyming couplet with the last word missing, that describes where the bag is hidden. One of ours was “if you want the next clue in your hand, check our bin of bright green _____” (we have a much-loved sensory bin full of green Crayola play sand!)

Here are some ideas for rhyming clues, which you can of course alter to fit your classroom environment (for example, by changing “lego bin” to “big block bin” if that’s what you have);

Go find the next clue if you dare- it’s underneath the teacher’s ____ (chair)

Clues are easy to find if you just look- the next one’s behind our favorite ___ (book) 

Come join our clue finding club- the next one’s inside a math ___ (tub) 

Finding a clue won’t be so hard- if you just look by a task ___ (card) 

Spies sneak slyly just like foxes- and they find clues by the pencil ___ (boxes) 

Spies move quietly, they don’t make rackets! They look for clues near the hats and ____ (jackets) 

If you want some treasure for yourself, better look on our red book ____ (shelf)

If this game is something you hope to win, better look for clues near the lego ___(bin) 

(If you’re doing this at home, you can also check out my Treasure Hunt with Rhyming Clues! which contains tons of clues for hiding spots around the house!)

Puzzles

This one, also, couldn’t be simpler- print out a photo of where the clue is hidden, laminate it or glue it securely to cardstock, then cut it apart. Your little spies will have to reassemble the pieces to find their clue.

Tiny Letters/Magnifying Glass

Another simple but fun idea! Print your clue in tiny letters (I used 6 point font) and give them a magnifying glass to read it with. Honestly, they could probably read the clue on its own but they’ll want to use the magnifying glass anyway- it’s more fun!

Invisible Ink and Blacklight Flashlight

This one requires some special supplies but is totally worth it for the fun factor! With special invisible ink pens you can write a message that the kids will only be able to read with a black light flashlight. To make it even more challenging, you can cut the words apart and have them rearrange them into a sentence.

Use a picture clue

For one of the clues, I drew a rough sketch of part of our classroom with arrows pointing to where the clue was hidden (I used silver sharpie on black cardstock to make it more exciting). An arrow pointing to the row of math binders on the shelf says “2+3=__” (as you can probably guess, the clue was hidden in binder #5).

For the final clue that showed where the treasure was hidden, I simply printed out a photo and put a star where the treasure is. A map with a path and a red x, pirate style, might be equally fun.

Make a text overlay

This one might be my favorite idea! When we opened the clue bag, I first pulled out a page full of random sight words and let the kids puzzle over it for a while. Then I gave them a sheet of cardstock with strategic holes. When you put it over the first page, only the words that formed the clue were visible!

(To make one, cut random rectangular holes that match the words you want in your clue, place the overlay cardstock on top of a piece of plain paper and write the words of the clue in order, then remove the overlay cardstock and fill the rest of the page with a jumble of random words.)

Incorporate other learning!

These clues are a chance to be creative and integrate different skills your kids are working on! For example, my class has been studying place value, so one of the clues was a picture of a bank of empty lockers in the hallway, and on the back, a place value fill-in-the-blank gave them the locker number where the next clue was hidden.

Other clue ideas;

Some ideas that I didn’t use, but that might work for you are;

1. Lemon Juice Invisible Ink

2. Color Changing Invisible Ink (no heat required!)

3. Crayon Resist Invisible Ink

Find even more ideas here!

Once your clues are all ready, you can

Prepare for your treasure hunt!

First, plan the introduction

I used the app “Chatterpix” to animate a photograph of a detective that I found online (sorry, I don’t have the rights to share it!). Chatterpix lets you draw a line on the mouth of any picture, then talk. It then animates the picture so it looks like the picture is talking. The effect is definitely a little cheesy but was more than good enough for this purpose! I had my husband do the talking so it’d be a deep man’s voice. You could also be creative with the theme of your hunt and use a picture of a book character, superhero, etc. Alternately, you could just shoot a video of someone in costume.

The script I gave him said “Greetings, Future Spies. You have been chosen for an important mission. An evil criminal has stolen a stash of treasure and hidden it somewhere in your school. Rumor has it that anyone who can follow the clues and find the treasure will be able to keep a piece for themselves. He only left one clue- ‘Look in the kitchen, but make sure you know what room you’re in.’ Can you solve the mystery?”

(The first clue was hidden in our play kitchen, and our room number opened the first lock)

Assemble the Bags

I numbered all of my bags and locks with duct tape to make things easier here. Refer to your master list. Remember that the clues should be in the bag numbered one lower than what they refer to- for example, the clues for finding and opening bag #4 should be hidden in bag #3 and etc! The planning sheet included in the free printable will definitely make things easier here, and prevent mistakes!

You’ll have to key the locks to the correct combinations for each clue- the locks will come with instructions for how to do that! I tied knots in the pouches’ carrying handles so that the padlocks would hold them shut- otherwise they would have had enough wiggle room to get the clues out without unlocking them!

Carefully load the clues into each pouch and lock them by looping the padlock through the carrying handle and the zipper.

Of course, you’ll also need some treasure for the end! I had a silver tin full of party-favor type prizes that I let them pick from, but the actual treasure is up to you!

On the day of…

I highly suggest planning your spy mystery for a time of day after your students will be out of the room so you can properly set up and really surprise them! Mine was right after lunch and recess on a day I didn’t have duty, so I had a good amount of time to get the room ready. To set the mood I;

  • Closed the blinds to make it as dark and gloomy as possible
  • Set up a small table lamp from home next to my smartboard
  • Pulled up the video
  • Hid all of the clues!
  • Found a clipboard and pen for us to use while solving clues together on the rug
  • And posted “Rules of Spy Headquarters” on the door!

The Rules of Spy Headquarters

  1. Spies work together as a team but they also let their teammates have a chance to solve problems before they jump in and help
  2. Spies are always super quiet when they leave Spy Headquarters
  3. Spies take their time to figure out clues- they never just guess
  4. Spies have integrity!

Once the kids came in, we were off and solving the mystery!

We solved all of the clues together, sitting in a circle on the rug. For clues in the room, I had just the three students named on the math sheet go and look to prevent any stampedes. If the clues were elsewhere in the building, the whole class went with the three leading the way- but we snuck around on tiptoe like spies! (Honestly, it was awesome and the quietest this class had EVER been in the hallway!) The three students also got to be the first to try solving the clues and opening the lock, but since it was a whole group activity, if they had a hard time, the others could join in.

This was one of the best days of my teaching career, and hopefully, something my students will always remember! It was such an amazing feeling to have the whole class working together towards a common goal. Yes, it was a ton of work to set up, but it was so amazingly worth it! This is an activity that I plan on repeating at LEAST once a year- and the best part is that it’ll be a little easier to put together each time!

Will you be planning a spy mystery treasure hunt sometime soon? Leave a comment and let me know!

For another way to make simple learning activities crazy exciting for your kids, make sure to check out 5 Ways Black Lights Make Learning Awesome!

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