If you have a budding Sherlock on your hands, building a birthday party escape room is a terrific idea. It’s easy to create your own DIY escape room with a few party items and printed clues, and the party guests will go home with a huge sense of achievement and prizes to show their family and friends. To get started on your escape room birthday party, you’ll need:
- A theme
- A storyline
- An objective
- A time limit
- 3-4 puzzles
- A way to celebrate at the end
Ready to create your escape room party? Let’s get started!
A kids’ birthday escape room always needs to have a theme. This makes the escape more exciting and draws the children into the story. Furthermore, most birthday party escape room themes are either based on a party theme (using cupcakes, popcorn, and balloon-based clues) or another theme that many children like, such as dinosaurs, pirates, fairies, under-the-sea, and even unicorns. Using common items or party kits, it’s easy to match the decorations and invitations for the child’s birthday party to the theme of the escape, and many of these themed items can also be used as puzzles and clues.
Next, the escape room will need a storyline based on the theme. For birthday parties, you’ll want a storyline that’s exciting but not scary and motivates the children to solve puzzles and win the game. For example:
- Dinosaurs—You are in Jurassic World and the dinosaurs have gone crazy. Open the door to the laboratory and fetch the antidote before it’s too late.
- Pirates—You and your pirate crew have found a treasure chest filled with coins and jewels. Unlock the chest and escape with the booty before you’re caught by the sea police.
- Fairies—You stumble upon a magic forest filled with flowers, toadstools, and strawberries when you hear an enchanting song coming from a tree. Unlock the secret door in the tree to find out what’s on the other side.
You can use children’s stories and even movies to help you create the storyline for your birthday party escape room. It doesn’t have to be overly complex. As long as the children know what their objective is, they’ll be motivated to finish the game.
Unlock the Door
The most classic objective for an escape room party is to find the key to unlock a door. For older children, you can have them find the actual key for the door (or a copy of the key). For younger kids, you could have them find a key made of clay or pipe cleaners that they have to put in a paper bag or plastic container designated as the “lock box.”
If the game starts at the front door, the objective will be to open the back door and visa-versa. On the other side of the door, you can fill the space with decorations and prizes or a special table with the birthday cake. The surprise that awaits once the door is unlocked is what makes birthday party escape rooms so much fun!
Open the Box
An alternative objective could be a locked box in the center of the room that the children need to open. This could be decorated as a treasure chest, vault, birthday present, or another kind of box that fits the storyline. Inside, you could hide a special gift for the birthday kid (if they are completing the game alone) or goodie bags for the party guests for a birthday party escape room.
If you have a theme, match the goodie bags and their contents to the theme. For example, pirate-themed bags filled with gold-coin chocolates, dinosaur bags with dinosaur gummies and toy dinosaurs, or fairy show bags with wings, wands, sparkly skirts, and other dress-up items for kids.
Every escape room needs a time limit. The time limit motivates the party guests to problem-solve and allows you to move on to other games or formalities such as the cutting of the birthday cake. For a birthday party escape room, the time limit could be anywhere between 60 and 90 minutes. This gives the kids enough time to solve the puzzles without feeling stressed or rushed.
While novice escapers might need the entire time allotment, experienced escapers might work through the game in as little as 15 minutes, which makes it especially important to pitch the difficulty of the puzzles to the age and experience level of the players. In some cases, you might need to give the party guests a few extra minutes (or an extra hint) to help them finish the game.
Clues, Puzzles, and Activities
Birthday escape room games usually have 2-3 keys and 3-4 puzzles for children to solve that take them to different places in the room. The first clue should be nearest to the starting door but can still be a little bit hidden so that the guests have to search the room to discover the clue. Whichever kinds of clues and puzzles you use, make sure the places the clues are hidden are safe and that they’re not too obvious so as to give the game away at the start.
Puzzle Ideas—Easy to Hard
Digital escape room puzzle ideas are usually simple enough that you can print them out and hide them in the room. A clue could be as simple as a picture cut into four pieces or as complex as a message written in invisible ink. Generally, the clue itself will be presented as a puzzle to draw out the fun of the game. This list of ideas should be enough to get your creative juices flowing:
Clues for Younger Kids
- A picture of the location of the next clue cut into a 2-4 piece puzzle
- A color-by-number picture of the next location
- A picture presented as a dot-to-dot
- Picture-based codes
Clues for Older Kids
- Tiny messages that can only be read with a magnifying glass
- Messages written backward that can only be read in the mirror
- Messages written in secret codes (numbers to letters, pictures to words, reverse alphabet)
- Messages presented as letters or words that need to be put in order
- Mazes that draw letters or a picture of the next clue’s location
- Word searches (word scrambles) that reveal the location with the letters left over at the end
The clues—whether pictures, letters, or words—could be hidden inside:
- Balloons (which the children pop)
- Cupcakes (which the children pull apart)
- Gift boxes (separated from the real presents)
- A bucket of popcorn
- A container of slime
- A container in the fridge or freezer
They could also be hidden:
- Under the sofa
- Under a cushion on the sofa
- On the back of balloons
- On the back of a door
- On the back of the party hats
- On the back of a banner that’s all tangled up
These same locations are also great for hiding the 2-3 keys which can open (or figuratively open) a box or container with a picture of a lock. Ideally, each clue will reveal where the next key is hidden and a further clue provided with each key.
Note: If you place a clue inside something sticky or slimy (such as oobleck!), you’ll need to wrap it inside a plastic bag to prevent the clue from getting soggy.
In addition to mental puzzles, you can also add elements of physical challenge. Laser-beam obstacle courses can easily be created with streamers, or you could create a life-sized maze using cardboard partitions with the key as the goal. The options for activities really are endless! Just make sure they suit the age of the guests and don’t take you out of your budget for the party.
Celebrate the Escape!
Once the children have solved the final clue and opened the door (or unlocked the box), it’s time to celebrate the escape! You could do this by handing out prizes (hidden inside the box or on the other side of the door), giving the children certificates of completion, or taking souvenir photos with photo props like black sunglasses, a magnifying glass, pirate hats, or the fairy wings they found in the show bags. They’ll be keen to show their families their prizes once they get back home.
Example Birthday Party Escape Room
Now that you have an idea of how to build a birthday party escape room, let’s put it all together. This example is based on an under-the-sea theme with four clues and three keys:
“Shipwrecked” Escape Room
While scuba diving off the coast of Barbados, the birthday kid and their friends have stumbled upon a legendary shipwreck that few believed was real. As the legend goes, there’s a chest full of gold medallions inside that is guarded by the remains of Captain Longbeard. Protecting the shipwreck is the infamous orange octopus known as Tentaculus. In exactly 60 minutes, Tentaculus will awake from his nap and pursue any divers that are still to be seen.
To break into the shipwreck and open the chest before Tentaculus wakes up.
Clues and Keys
First Clue and First Key
The party guests begin in the backyard, where the location of the first key is presented as scrambled letters taped onto the play equipment. When the children unscramble the letters, they should get the phrase “pot plant,” indicating that the first key is hidden inside a pot plant at the back door.
The children make their way to the back door where they find the first key wedged into the soil of one of the pots and open the back door which has been decorated as the door to the shipwreck. They make their way inside to find the hallway and living room decorated as the interior of the legendary wreck.
Along the walls of the hallway, they see portals with numbers placed strategically around them. When they write down all of the numbers on a notepad provided near the door (in order), they suspect it might be the combination to a lock and start searching the living room for a combination lock to open.
Third Clue and Second Key
Eventually, they find a clear plastic Tupperware box under a cushion on the sofa that’s tied up with a bicycle lock. They enter the combination and—surprise!—it opens. Inside the Tupperware box (filled with green slime), they find a piece of paper inside a plastic bag with a riddle on it that will lead them to the next key. The riddle reads:
“A maiden’s head so deathly still
Cold and quiet, yet not ill
Her long tresses(hair) float toward the sky
Hair that burns when it is dry
Food to man and creatures lair
Name both “her” and “her hair.”
The party guests continue searching around the room until they fall upon a corner set up with rocks (“her”) and seaweed (“her hair”). Between the rocks, they find the second key, which allows them to open the grey-painted cardboard vault located in another corner of the room.
The Final Clue and Key
Once inside the vault, the players find the locked treasure chest in the hands of a very bony Captain Longbeard. On top of the treasure chest is a sign that reads:
“Put the puzzle pieces together to access Captain Longbeard’s treasure.”
Searching around the vault, the children find nine puzzle pieces, which when put together, reveal that the final key is hidden inside Captain Longbeard’s eyepatch. They open the patch to find the key and unlock the chest to discover six small sacks of gold chocolate coins on top of a rainbow of colorful glass gems and stones. Finally, the treasure is theirs!
Loved the Escape?
If your kids loved their birthday party escape room or have already become escape room pros, you could take your birthday party ideas up a notch with a professional escape room birthday party. Los Angeles escape rooms, including Quest Room, host multiple adventure-themed escape rooms that are suitable for older children and teens and are a lot of fun for the parents as well. Da Vinci’s Challenge, Warlocked, and Red Giant are three of the most highly recommended escape rooms for a party because they come with an intermediate level of challenge and high-quality historical sets.
Above all, an escape room birthday party should be about having fun and sending the kids home with a sense of achievement. If they end up needing that extra hint, be available and prepared to help. They’ll be grateful for being able to find that special birthday gift (or goodie bags, as the case may be) and will still have a great time working their way through the room.