How to Set Up an Escape Room for Younger Students

How to Set Up an Escape Room for Younger Students

I did my first escape room this year with my family and had such a fun time that I immediately knew I had to do one in the classroom! It was so engaging (couldn’t believe an hour had gone by!), showcased each of our unique skills (we all contributed), and got us working together as a team.

Escape rooms are becoming the “new craze” in education because of their many benefits and they are not just for the older grades! Younger students can benefit from them too! In this post I’m sharing how I set up a fun escape room for kindergarten students. The ideas can be adapted for any early elementary classroom.

Why Use an Escape Room in the Classroom?

  • They are engaging and fun for students.
  • They promote working together as a team.
  • Students use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to solve riddles and puzzles.
  • They are challenging and get students to think.
  • They are hands-on.
  • Students use their imaginations.
  • Students work together to solve a problem.
  • Students can showcase their unique skills.

Keep it Simple

You do not have to use special props such as real locks or boxes or “go all out” decorating the room. It’s all about presentation. If you are excited when presenting it to your students, they will be excited and “buy in”. Young students are great at using their imaginations. Having printable paper locks for them to “unlock” or pictures of locks is just fine. Of course if you happen to already have props available that fit your theme, by all means use them. But, it is not necessary to go out and buy anything special.

Present Students with a Fun Scenario or Problem

The first thing you need when setting up your escape room is an engaging problem for students to solve or a scenario for either your students or a favorite character to escape. This sets the stage for the activity and gets them “hooked” and ready to go “all in”.

The story or scenario should be something that inspires your students to want to get involved. It can be based on a favorite book, a fun place, or your students’ interests.

For example, the weeks before Christmas my young students are sooooo distracted by the excitement of Santa coming that it’s all they talk about! So I designed a Christmas escape room involving Santa and saving Christmas because I knew they would love it.

It helps if you have some type of visual to “set the stage”. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, just some type of picture to get their attention and then their imaginations can do the rest. This is what I used for our Christmas escape room.

Escape room story card

Oh no! A naughty elf has locked Santa’s reindeer in the barn! Without his reindeer to pull the sleigh, Santa can’t deliver the toys!

Escape room story card

Santa has called his elf Detective, Buster, for help. Buster has found some clues around the North Pole but needs your help to solve them in time to save Christmas. Let’s work together to help Santa and his reindeer!

An escape room I’ve used during the winter months is loosely based on a few favorite books.

Freezy the Snowman loves playing in the snow with his friends. When his friends decide to go skiing, he feels sad and left out so he is persuaded by his animal friends to go in the ski shop to get a pair of skis.

Oh no! Someone locked Freezy in the warm ski shop! Can the students get Freezy out in time before he completely melts?

winter themed escape room for kindergarten - first grade

Time Limit or No Time Limit?

You can add an extra challenge to the escape room by setting a time limit for the students to complete the escape. If using a time limit, I suggest posting the time remaining somewhere the students can clearly see it and announcing the time remaining every once in a while. Be sure that the time limit you choose gives students a good chance at success.

Personally, for the first few escape rooms I did with my young kindergarten students I did not use a time limit because my objectives for the escape room were to review skills, problem solve, and work as a team, not focus on beating the clock. However, it does add an extra challenge for after they become more familiar with doing them.

Base the Clues on Skills You are Learning or Reviewing

No need to hunt for or design elaborate clues. Simply use activities, puzzles, or mazes for the skills that you are currently learning or skills that you wish to review.

It is a great idea to incorporate a wide variety of skills into your escape room so that all students can showcase their abilities. The clues should be challenging but not too difficult as to be frustrating for students.

To make it a little more fun and suspenseful for students, you can place each clue inside an envelope. The envelope hides the clue from sight and students get excited about opening or “unlocking” each one. Any type of envelope you have on hand will work. Personally, I like using the large 9″ x 12″ or 10″ x 13″ ones. You can also hide the clues around the room for students to find.

Here are some examples of how I incorporated a variety of skills into an escape room.

I showed students this card and asked leading questions to get them to come to the conclusion that the clue for each lock is the beginning sound of the lock’s picture (clue R is for the reindeer lock, clue S if for the stocking lock, etc.).

Buster has found 5 clues around the North Pole and there are five locks on the reindeer barn door. Hmmm what do you think this means? (student answer: there is a clue for each lock) He also discovered Christmas pictures on each lock. Hmmm each clue is a letter. Do you think there is a connection? (student answer: the clues for each lock are the beginning sound of the picture.)

escape room challenge activity

I also did a similar one for math skills (addition and subtraction to 5).

math skills escape room

In order to solve the clues, students had to use skills that we were currently working on and skills that we had already learned (great review!). They also had to combine literacy and math.

Students then had to use problem-solving skills to figure out how to use their answers as the combinations to the locks. They also had to correctly match the clues and locks.

I added an extra challenge at the end of our escape rooms. Students had to use inference skills and deductive reasoning to narrow down a list of suspects until only one was left. I read clues such as, “Santa saw the elf who’s name rhymes with holly making teddy bears most of the night in the toy shop on the other side of the North Pole.” Students had to deduce that Jolly the elf could not have been the one that locked up the reindeer and cross her off the suspect list. We continued until they figured out the culprit.

Christmas escape room for kindergarten first grade

Whole Class or Small Groups?

Students should work together as a team to complete the escape room.

If this is your first time doing an escape room, you may want to do it as a whole class in order to show students how escape rooms work.  You present the story and problem to the class. If you have hidden the clues around the room, you can give students hints as to where they are located. Once they think they know the location, choose a student to retrieve each one. Work together to solve the clues.

After you do a couple of escape rooms as a class, if you feel your students can complete the clues independently and know they can work together well in groups, then you may want to complete the escape room using small groups. Start out as a whole group while you present them with the story or problem. Then, you can split them up into small groups.

You can choose to provide each group with their clues OR hide them around the room and have each group find their clues. You can assign specific areas of the room to each group and hide their clues in their assigned space OR label the clues with certain letters or numbers and each group must find specific clues around the room.

When groups have solved the clues, you can decide if you wish for them to come to you to see if they are correct or raise their hands and you come to them. You can also have printable answer keys and allow them to check their own answers.

setting up an escape room in the classroom

Ending the Escape Room

It is nice to have some sort of picture or visual to end the escape room once all of the clues have been solved. It does not have to be elaborate, just a visual that shows the problem has been solved. For example, I show my students this picture at the end of the Christmas escape that shows them the reindeer are now free thanks to their efforts of unlocking the locks on the door and everyone at the North Pole thanks them.

escape room certificate

This is the picture I show at the end of our winter escape room that shows Freezy is out of the ski shop and has only melted slightly thanks to the students’ help in getting him out in time.

Ending an escape room with younger students

Another option is to give students a certificate or reward for a job well done. This is not necessary, oftentimes just the satisfaction that they did it and escaped is reward enough.

If you do not have the time to set up your own escape room but wish to try one with your students, my Christmas Escape Room and Winter Escape Room have everything you need – just print and go!

You can download the Christmas Escape Room here.

Christmas Escape Room Kindergarten First Grade

You can download the Winter Escape Room here.

winter escape room kindergarten - first grade

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How to Set Up an Escape Room for Young Students

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