The winter months can be hard for young students (and teachers) when outdoor recess is limited and the holidays are over. This is why I like to add something different and exciting to our lessons.
I started creating escape rooms for kindergarten after doing a few with my family and having such a great time and they have been a huge hit! Students were begging for more so I decided to do a winter-themed escape room to help liven up our January lessons and help alleviate the post-holiday blues and winter doldrums.
In this post I’m sharing how I set up a winter escape room for kindergarten. The ideas in the post can be adapted for any elementary classroom.
The Benefits of Using an Escape Room
- 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 winter theme, by all means use them. But, it is not necessary to go out and buy anything special.
Get Students “Hooked” with a Fun Scenario/Problem
The first thing you need when setting up your winter 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, my winter escape room 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.
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. I simply created pictures in PowerPoint using clip art that I had. Here is Freezy happily playing with his friends and then his friends off by themselves skiing and Freezy feeling sad that he can not ski with them.
Oh no! Someone locked Freezy in the warm ski shop! Can the students get Freezy out in time before he completely melts?
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 the winter 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 sum of the addition problems.
Freezy’s friends have found 5 clues around the ski slope and there are five locks on the ski shop door. Hmmm what do you think this means? (student answer: there is a clue for each lock) They also discovered numbers on each lock. (Point to each lock number and say it) Hmmm each clue seems to be some type of math problem. Do you think there is a connection? (student answer: the clues for each lock are the answers to the math problems.)
In order to solve the clues and find the combinations for the locks, students had to use skills that we were currently working on and skills that we had already learned (great review!).
Problem-Solving & Deductive Reasoning Skills
I feel it is best to let students figure out on their own how to solve the clues and then how to use their answers as the correct combinations for the locks. It is a fun way to improve their problem-solving skills.
Students had 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 also added an extra challenge at the end of our escape room. 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:
1.A few of Freezy’s friends saw the fox scamper past them while they were skiing. He was headed up the mountain to his den. ●
2.The badger and the hedgehog were both found in a freshly dug burrow that probably took them a long time to dig.
Students had to deduce that neither the fox, badger, or hedgehog could have been the one that locked up Freezy Snowman and cross them off the suspect list. We continued until they figured out the culprit. They loved it!
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.
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 my winter one I created a picture that showed Freezy out of the ski shop and only melted slightly thanks to the students’ help in getting him out in time.
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.