Think treasure hunts are just for entertainment? Think again!
I have received great satisfaction in founding a small business that creates unique shared experiences for all ages. I personally love trying novel entertainment experiences, whether they are escape rooms, theme parks, virtual reality games, or even sky diving. Shared experiences shape who we are, expand our imagination of what is possible, and ultimately forge stronger connections.
I never thought Tropical Treasure Hunt would include a service that could help children develop their social and emotional skills, with the potential to create a brighter future for themselves. At the beginning of this year, I read peer-reviewed research on an intriguing category of youth development programs called Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs. SEL is “defined as the process of acquiring core competencies to recognize and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, appreciate the perspectives of others, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle interpersonal situations constructively” (Elias, Zins, Weissberg et al., 1997).
Both the Federal Government and the USVI Government are looking for services that can help improve student wellness due to the adverse effects of being socially isolated from other children during the Covid-19 pandemic. This need inspired me to dive deeper into my research on SEL programs and their effects. A study titled “The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions” indicates that SEL programs positively impact many aspects of a child’s life. Children who participated in SEL programs were shown to have higher GPAs, to be less likely to be bullied or be a bully, to have a reduced chance of developing depression or other mood disorders, and to have an increased ability to learn. All these and other critical outcomes can be positively impacted by effective SEL programs that are either administered in the classroom or outside the physical boundaries of their school.
Every study and their findings made something clear to me: Without us realizing it, Tropical Treasure Hunt is an expert at providing a captivating SEL program for youth. The memories of clients with families kept emerging in my head. Parents with two or three children telling me that their children had never worked together as effectively as they had while they were trying to solve the clues and locate the buried treasure. When I read best practices of effective SEL programs such as sequential and explicit cognitive challenges, as well as active learning, I knew our model was ideal to provide an effective SEL experience. Our treasure hunts require families to collect pieces of a treasure map, each of which has different variations of critical thinking exercises such as spatial reasoning, verbal reasoning, math, memory brain teasers, etc. The half-day treasure hunts designed for students take these existing clues and adapts them for greater focus on SEL skills. The crucial component of these hunts is that students work together to successfully complete team challenges. These challenges include games that focus on communication and working as a group to achieve a collective mission. Students also have the opportunity to manage frustrations with not winning an activity, while still receiving a small prize at the end of the day.
This summer, we had the ultimate opportunity to put our model to the test with large volumes of students working together during a Tropical Treasure Hunt. We had the students do similar competitions that adults take on in our successful corporate team building events, such as our Blindfolded Maze, foam-tipped arrow Archery Tag, challenges in the Pirates Treasure Museum, and even our Create-A-Castle sandcastles building contest. All games were tweaked to be developmentally appropriate for the various age groups.
After a busy summer I am happy to report that we had children from the Girl Scouts, The Boys and Girls Club of St. Thomas/St. John, and VI Department of Parks and Rec try their first Tropical Treasure Hunt. They loved it! The children and staff both walked away with memories to last a lifetime. As Ms. Jaqueline Brown, Regional Director of Virgin Islands Boys and Girls Club of St. Thomas/St. John, said “The Boys & Girls Club of St. Thomas/St. John, Inc. summer experience with the [Tropical Treasure Hunt] has been nothing short of amazing. It has been the perfect fit for our youths on both islands…The staff were very professional, respectful and helpful and gave guidance to the different adventures.”
We are finalizing contracts with both private and public schools to offer our services to hundreds of children over the coming school year. If these contracts go through, we will have the incredible opportunity to make an indelible positive impact on the youth of both the US Virgin Islands and St. Petersburg, FL. Our service has the potential to assist with sharpening the social and emotional tools to help kids grow into higher-functioning and healthier adults. It gives the team and me an even stronger sense of purpose and belief in our “Edu-Tainment” service. Knowing that this business started off with an idea to create a shared experience with someone I cared about in the form of a treasure hunt, to then forming a powerful developmental tool for the youth with a team of talented people, well, the satisfaction I feel is beyond words.
Do you have children at a school or after school program that could benefit from our SEL program? Please let us know and we can provide your school with our SEL packet.