Monday, March 24, 2014

Easy, Inexpensive and Fun (!!!) Birthday Party Idea for a Tween / Teen - A Photo Treasure Hunt

I can hardly believe it, but my son is going to be teenager this week(!!!). This past weekend, he invited his friends over for his birthday party to remember.

Years ago, when I turned 13, my mom planned a "Polaroid Treasure Hunt" birthday party for me. My friends and I were divided into two teams, each team armed with a Polaroid camera, and we had to find different things around my suburban Chicago neighborhood, taking pictures of each unique find. It was a photo treasure hunt, 1980's style. Of course Polaroid technology is long gone - and when I tried explaining the old-time tech to my son, he couldn't quite believe (or understand) it. For his 2014 13th birthday party, I planned a photo treasure hunt using modern day tech - smartphones.

Here's how it worked:

I divided the kids into two teams. Each team received a list of photo related tasks that needed to be completed and a map of our neighborhood. As they took the photos, they texted them to me (this also meant I could keep good track of the kids as they wandered our city neighborhood).

Some of the tasks included....

Take a picture of an animal (a dog, a cat, a squirrel...)

Take a picture of three team members climbing a tree...

Buy a pack of M and Ms, divide up the colors among your teammates, and take a picture of your hands...

Take a selfie with a stranger (ask politely!)

Other tasks included forming a human pyramid, squeezing your entire team onto a slide at the local park, and taking a short video of a team member doing a cartwheel. 

I arranged the tasks so that each team set off in separate directions. The second to the last task was to meet up at our local corner pizzeria, where everyone was treated to a Monster slice of pizza. I popped in to pay and the kids enjoyed eating pizza on their own like the teenagers that they now are. The winning team was the team that texted all the required photos and made it to the pizza place first (they won a movie-sized KitKat). 

Their final task was to return home by a certain time to enjoy birthday cake. 

I could tell the kids loved the challenge by their big smiles in the photo texts and they way they breathlessly and happily raced into the pizza place, sharing stories about their photo adventures.

I'm a high school teacher and I work with teens on a daily basis. Here's one thing I know for sure about teens: They like to work together, they like challenges, and they love to be active and run around, interacting with each other and the world. That said, they just need a little encouragement. Once they have that, they'll be off and running and having a blast. 

Since we live in an urban neighborhood, I had to encourage a little bit more caution. Here were the rules of our game:
  • No crossing big streets (Western Ave. and Fullerton Ave.)
  • Be careful crossing all streets and alleys!
  • Stay on the sidewalks.
  • Be respectful of our neighbors - no screaming or running on people's lawns. 

Finally we returned for a homemade Oreo ice cream "cake". It was so easy! I layered chocolate wafers on the bottom, filled up the cake with Oreo cookies and cream ice cream, and then topped with mini and regular sized Oreos, writing my son's name with piped chocolate fudge.  

It was a gift to me to see my son having fun with his school pals. I have literally seen these boys and girls grow up from little kindergartners to teens before my eyes. 

Here's to a teenager-hood that's safe (!!!), fun and filled with great friends, lots of learning and growth, and new adventures!


  1. Mobile laser tag is an exciting, new and fun way to experience the thrill of outdoor skirmish. It’s an ideal activity for kids birthday parties or teenagers with lots of energy to burn!

    party for kids birthday

  2. Great idea! Thanks for the details - my daughter will love this!