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  • lizagardnerwalsh

X Marks the Spot

“Who likes to look for treasures?” I ask a room full of three to five-year-old children in a preschool classroom. Not surprisingly, each little arm shoots up. I explain to the children that treasures can be every day objects with unusual traits: a stick with a hole in the middle, a rock with a ring, a piece of sea glass in a rare color. I’ve been invited to this Montessori classroom by a friend whose son has recently become an avid treasure-hunter, and school visits are such a wonderful extension of my books. To start, the children are interrupted from their “work” when one of the students rings a bell. They all gather around the “ellipse” (the woven rug in the center of the classroom), where I introduce myself and read a few passages from my book: Treasure Hunter’s Handbook. We talk about other every day treasures: pottery, volcanic rock, a rusty nail. “Look closely at the world,” I tell the children. “Pay attention.” 📷I point out that treasure-hunters learn important skills when they hunt. They learn to be patient. They learn to be curious. But the best part, I assure them: as you gather your treasures from around your back yard, the woods, the beach, each item will remind you of the day you found it and who you were with. These memories are the real treasures. The joy is really in the hunt.

After sharing stories and real-life treasure hunting experiences with the children (many of them very eager to share; a five-year-old girl has already been panning for gold in Colorado with her family!), we break them into two groups. I take one group into the school’s kitchen for some tourmaline screening. Using a colander, we rinse off some mine tailings to get the dust off, then search for rocks and minerals with a tiny magnifying glasses. The children are each given a small plastic bag to collect their treasures and a small rock-identifying key. In the classroom, we talked about how to identify rocks by their colors. Tourmaline can be pink, green, or black. Garnet is red. Mica is shiny and clear. I remind them to look very carefully to be patient; treasure hunting takes time.

📷For the children in the classroom, I hand out a treasure map (easily made at home by leaving paper in black coffee overnight and burning the edges to give an authentic look). I explain that X marks the spot on the map where their treasures can be buried. I share a few examples to help them understand what kinds of symbols are commonly found on treasure maps: older children can even draw a compass. I ask them to think about what they see in their back yards: trees, sheds, swing sets, maybe even a dog house or tree house – and to draw these identifying pictures on their maps with a dotted line that shows the easiest way to reach the treasure. 📷

Along with the book as your guide, I also have Treasure Hunter’s Kits available on my site. Kits include most of the materials I use in school visits, including: treasure maps, magnifying glass, tourmaline-filled min tailings, treasure hunter’s notebook and twig pencil, to name a few. But I’ve given you enough to work off here. Get outside with your students or children and start exploring! Let them show you the wonder of every day things. Let them collect and display their findings proudly in their rooms. Remember, you’ll be fostering both patience and curiosity with these activities, so don’t worry if things get a little messy or cluttered at times. It’s the time you spend together exploring that they’ll remember most.

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