Creating Treasure Maps At Camp

By Lony Ruhmann

I once made a treasure map full of movie images because I wanted to become involved and work with film festivals. The following year, I obtained prominent positions with two festivals. Another time, I placed a picture of a beautiful fireplace on my treasure map, and now I have one. On a more recent map, I placed pictures of some of my favorite creative people--Alfred Hitchcock, Walt Disney and Andy Kaufman. At the time I did not know what I wanted to manifest with these pictures, but a couple of years later, I became a writer.


One of the most powerful tools to assist one in creating a better life is a treasure map. The finished product is a piece of cardboard filled with pictures and perhaps words and phrases. Don’t be misled by the simple arts-and-crafts nature of this project--putting together a map can be a profound act of creation and proof that we can control our own destiny.

The Spirit Of The Treasure Map
The subconscious works best with images (as opposed to words). With a treasure map, the subconscious is provided with a palate of beautiful images and told to go to work.

A map can have one specific focus or can cover several themes. Maps created by adults generally focus on career, relationships and love, material abundance, fitness and health, beauty, success, inner peace or God. You might see images of trim bodies, couples in love and beautiful sports cars. What do children put on their treasure maps--celebrities or famous athletes, Xboxes or expensive electronics? I was curious.

Starting Out
Start by collecting magazines, particularly ones with appealing images. Ask parents and staff to contribute magazines; thrift stores are an especially good source. You’ll also need sizable pieces of cardboard (16- x 12- x 12-inch flat boxes), Scotch tape and scissors. Cut them in half vertically, and you have two distinct boards with a bend in the middle so they stand up.

Give It A Try
Have the kids begin by going through the magazines and cutting out all the images that attract them. Also, they can cut out words and phrases that are of interest. If they can’t find the words they want, they can cut out letters of the alphabet that will spell the desired words.

The children can place the pictures and words on the map wherever they feel they are right. They do not have to understand why they decided to use a particular picture. I have used several pictures that were mysterious to me, but my gut told me to use them. An intuitive approach truly works best here. What’s neat is that through time, the purpose of these pictures will be revealed.

The pictures and images do not have to be perfectly cut out. This is a creative process, not a precision test. Pictures and words may overlap each other.

Once the treasure map is complete, advise the children to place it where they will see it every day. A bedroom is an ideal place. Later, they may want to alter the map, eliminating any image, word or phrase that no longer holds power for them. Conversely, they may add new images or words. The treasure map is like a living organism--adding new cells and expelling dead ones--and takes on a life of its own.

Watching Children Create Treasure Maps
I volunteer at Camp Med, a licensed summer camp and after-school program sponsored by the city of South Pasadena, Calif. This summer a treasure map event for the campers (ages 5-12) was held. It was interesting to see the kids in action.

They dug right in, clipping pictures with gusto. There was an atmosphere of fun, but also of peace and cooperation. For an arts-and-crafts activity, the boys were highly engaged, with some even trading pictures as if they were baseball cards. There were specific images that were popular. The boys liked cars. The girls went for animals. One girl’s treasure map had pictures only of dogs. Pictures of tasty foods were also common.

One surprising element was how many pictures of beauty, such as art objects, upscale furniture and ancient artifacts, the children chose. I asked one boy why he used a particular image and he said, “Because it is cool.” One of the counselors remarked that it seemed like the children’s subconscious was actively at play.

Another curious element was that, in many cases, there was a unifying graphic style. Some kids used small pictures, some sophisticated pictures, while others chose harmonizing color schemes. Some treasure maps told a story. One was like a pirate treasure map that led to “the golden palace and the super car” (a Mercedes). One imaginative girl created a board game. With so much freedom, the traditional format and guidelines of creating a treasure map no longer applied.

Compared to how adults might proceed, the children were much less restricted. The normal adult concerns of money, success, health, fitness and relationships were not abundantly present, at least in linear terms, for the children. There was also a symbolic nature to many of the images. Repeatedly, I thought, “I wonder why they chose that or how will that image later reveal itself in their lives?” All my questions, in the end, led to a sense of awe. It was a fascinating event.

Lony Ruhmann is a career counselor from South Pasadena, Calif., with an MBA from the University of Michigan. He also works as a ticket manager for the Olympics. He can be reached at