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A treasure hunt on a detailed and accurate map is an early lesson in orienteering. In Sweden, where orienteering is the national sport, hundreds of lessons for different skills and abilities become the framework for mandatory curriculum implementation. The national geographic Society has developed a roper Poll that is used every three years to determine international skills and abilities with maps. Sweden is at the top and American students are somewhere near the bottom. It is no coincidence.

Treasure Chest Peaks Island School bw

The object of an orienteering treasure hunt is for the entire group to find the key to the treasure chest. It starts with a fun, musical introduction with instructions about maps and how to ‘read’ a map. A room that comfortably seats everyone is the best way to start. Two classrooms can sit together in a regular sized room, and an all purpose room, a cafeteria or a gym is best for large groups. A large poster sized map is shown to make sure everyone understands the legend and how their school grounds are depicted. There is a lot of energy in the crowd as they get excited to get their maps and get started. Kids move in groups and work together to locate clues that will help them to discover the key. It is not a competition as everyone will find every clue. Maps provide a unique template for everyone to learn and have fun on.

It is not a scavenger hunt! They are not finding clues because they stumble across them or have decoded a verbal clue to take them to a place. They are looking at a map, turning it so it is a birds’-eye-view, and determining where to go next. Each group focuses on their own mission. To ‘watch’ or ‘follow’ another group would deter them from their task and right off, it becomes clear that what other groups are doing won’t help their team. They may even follow a group to a clue at the start, like people do, and feel like they gained something, yet when they look at their map, again, they discover that they aren’t sure where they are on the map. They have a new discussion and the followed group is gone. There is a wonderful analogy to following people without considering what is best for yourself that kids grasp because it is relevant to this game. It useful when they are pre-teens and need a thoughtful discussion about peers, too. All of the typical judgments of that age group: popularity, grades, money, sports, etc, also drop away as the focus of the hunt become their shared goal. Each person is important.

For K-3, the relevance of spatial awareness, observational skills and working together become paramount as they look around the area and find themselves on the map. They become more and more confident on the map as they actually find the clues and feel success. We have the kids pass the map to another group member at each clue so that everyone has a turn to lead. In smaller groups of 2-3, we have them each have a map, yet must stay together.

Once the clues are found; sweaty, happy, little treasure hunters return to the chest to see what to do next. There is a lot of noise as they describe how they found their clues and tell funny little stories. It can be completed outside or inside depending on the schools schedule and the size of the group. Any bit of light competition dissolves as they realize that each team’s information is needed to solve the puzzle and help them find the key. When they find the key, there is a unified squeal of success and they know the treasure is about to be revealed. The school is responsible for the treasure. It does not need to be of high monetary value. We see little bracelets, pencils, fruit snacks, ice cream vouchers for later, tootsie rolls (gluten free), and little sewn pirate bags of goodies from the parents.

As students become more proficient and confident on a map, using maps of the schools both inside and outside, the area and detail is expanded. Difficulty should be increased in small amounts so that all kids stay confident and wanting more. It isn’t true that some of us are navigationally challenged. What is true is that our early introduction to maps was neither easy nor fun enough. The treasure hunt leaves them ready for another map game because it is fun and rewarding as they grow a little bit more confident each time. The use of compass is obvious when they have no features to help navigate. Schoolyard maps teach them how to use all resources around them. In the US, navigation lessons have descended from our military to the scouts to teachers. Using a compass to triangulate or determine degrees for taking a bearing isn’t about the map! So, hold off on that compass and make sure kids love maps. Facilitate treasure hunts, relays, SCRABBLE-O, Time Line-O, Motalas, map making, and a plethora of other map games. Students will never be lost adults but will be leaders, instead!

Can you find it??

antique key 13

How do map and navigation games benefit groups?

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At first glance, an orienteering based Treasure Hunt appears as just another game. Music and fun are part of the introduction and the groups are tasked to find the key to the locked treasure chest. And if they do find that key, they will get treasure! It is a hard challenge to resist at any age or ability. A bit of light competition appears instantly, but it is not a race. An orienteering challenge in the guise of a treasure hunt crosses boundaries of ethnicity, life experience, academic ability, age, gender and personality. Kids help kids. Parents help kids. Kids help parents. New faces are integrated. Everyone wins.

Groups that do not often problem solve together in a fun atmosphere; office mates, students, and parents/kids all provide perfect examples of demographics that benefit from success while working together, learning something new, and being rewarded for their efforts.

An accurate and highly detailed map for the team to navigate with will bring out skills and abilities that highlight perception and spatial awareness. Team members unfamiliar with the campus or area will very quickly be comfortable and aware in a way that a tour cannot create. They are looking for a clue. They have to pay attention.

Questions and trivia that are light and simple provide an opportunity for participants to contribute to solving the final puzzle. Some clues are directed at younger members. Some clues are directed at the parents. The metaphor emerges very quickly that success requires everyone’s ability and everyone has something to contribute.
Running for Treasure

An orienteering treasure hunt also brings a group outside to walk and be physical. Kinesthetic learning happens naturally as they navigate a campus together, talk about the hunt and stay as a group. The weather may not perfectly cooperate and it becomes an adventure.

In the finale, it is quickly apparent that no one team will win, but rather all teams must come together to find the key. They are all winners. Everyone will receive a small reward to acknowledge their participation and the sharing of stories begins. Who found which clue? Who knew the right answer? Where did you get confused and how did you solve it? Who said that funny thing? I didn’t know you knew that song!

We now have a common experience. You can’t beat that!

Winter Team Building in Cambridge, MA

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So you think it is too cold out? How about hand warmers, bright orange hats, and inside clues to keep groups happy?
A major pharmaceutical company participated in an Ultimate Treasure Hunt last week for a fun break and a celebration of a successful 2010.

GPS brought them to locations to find clues. Text messages were sent and automatic responses gave them more hints. Maps and puzzles brought them together for fun and camaraderie.

Come to Harvard Square’s Chocolate Festival January 28, 29 and 30We are creating a public hunt for all!

Why our schools need Map, Orienteering and Navigation Programs

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Can your students use a map?  Can they use ANY map and not just topography maps?  There are mall maps, road maps, building maps, life maps and an infinite number of ways to display relationships of objects to other objects that can be deciphered by the user.  Those are all maps. Games and activities that make maps fun are the best way to introduce navigation.

Orienteering, the use of a map to find flags in the landscape,  enhances decision making, problem solving, spatial awareness, communication, memory, self confidence, love of fitness and a list of other applicable life skills.  And it is not about the compass though many teachers approach me with their case of compasses and ask for lessons in orienteering.

If every school had a map based program that expanded from Kindergarten through graduation and beyond, they would find opportunities to build in any subject material, health, and community.  Sweden, where orienteering has mandatory curriculum lesson plans, knows all about the full integration of Orienteering.  Kindergarten students can make a landscape in their sandbox and draw their interpretation of that on paper. High school students download GIS data to field check the campus and render a computer draft of a map to set up public events on.  And there is everything in between.

Orienteering team building grows relationships and acceptance as the cooperative groups move through activities towards success.  New students learn about campuses while having fun and getting to know each other.  Exams can be studied for as correct choices on a map will get you to the finish.  Kinesiology and body memory enhance the lesson.  Students with unique learning styles and lesser mobility are included.

Why wouldn’t you want Orienteering in your school?