I recently attended a birthday party that was pirate themed and it got me thinking about treasure maps.

Teaching bearings and scale drawings to Year 7, 8 and 9 students, I often spend a couple of lessons getting them to create a treasure map as well as instructions for a fellow classmate on how to find the treasure using bearings and measurements. It’s always great fun and it’s wonderful to see the amazing creativity coupled with some advanced maths skills.

Today I want to show you how you and your kids can create a treasure map experience in your own backyard. This is a great way to teach a variety of skills including following instructions, measuring lengths, using directions and spatial awareness.

All you need is a backyard (it can also be done inside or at the park), a piece of paper, a pen, a big X on a piece of paper and a simple treasure (a note, a chocolate, a small toy).

For children aged 4-6

Choose a starting point in your backyard and note this down on the piece of paper.

Set out some instructions using “big steps” (your child’s big step should approximate one of your normal steps) and directions like “straight ahead”, “quarter turn right/left” and “half turn”.

Here’s an example:

Start at the lemon tree and face the house.

Walk 5 big steps straight ahead.

Turn to the left a quarter turn and walk 3 big steps.

Turn a quarter turn to the right and walk 6 big steps.

Do a half turn and walk 15 big steps.

X marks the spot of the treasure.


This activity will familiarise your child with measuring out distances using the informal measurement of big steps and also helps them learn directional language. Plus they’ll be motivated to play by the temptation of a treasure at the end!

For children aged 7 to 10

For children in this age range we recommend that you create a treasure hunt similar to that given above but instead of using steps you might want them to use a ruler or measuring tape. Quarter and half turns are still appropriate for this age group.

Here’s an example:

Start at the lemon tree and face the house.

Walk 80cm straight ahead.

Turn to the left a quarter turn and walk 1.4m.

Turn a quarter turn to the right and walk 3.4m.

Do a half turn and walk 12m.

X marks the spot of the treasure.


Your child will gain real experience measuring distances and gain an appreciation for how long 1 metre is and how to measure a distance that is longer than the measuring tape.

After your child has found your treasure, ask them to create a set of instructions for you to find some treasure (they can choose what treasure to give you). This will get their get creativity flowing as well as some strong problem solving skills. It’s one thing to be able to follow a set of instructions, but if they can create a good set of instructions for you to follow, then they are showing mastery of these measurement skills.

For older children

Practical experience with a compass and bearings is so important to children’s success with high school mathematics. I had a Year 10 student ask me on Twitter recently how to read a simple bearing. This should be a skill mastered well before Year 10.

Older kids still enjoy treasure hunts and they might even discover a passion for orienteering at the same time. You can use a real compass or just download a compass App on your phone. Create a set of instructions as illustrated above, but instead of quarter and half turns, give them bearings like S20W or 120.


Photo credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources / Foter / CC BY-ND

Once again, having them create a treasure map for you as well is a great way to engage and develop their mastery with these concepts.

Give this activity a try, take some photos and send us your feedback. We’d love to hear your experiences 🙂

Photo credit: peasap / Foter / CC BY