When we think of entertaining, we usually think of bringing together our grown-up friends for a night of memories and fun. However, when we become parents, suddenly we realize there’s a different kind of entertaining – kids parties. And nothing prepares you for the task of planning a kids party.

Seriously, parents, let’s have a rant moment here. Themes are a minefield with kids! One kid loves Thomas and gets teased for wanting a Thomas party ‘at their age’. Pokemon? Cool one second, not cool the next (and then cool again three seconds later). Fortnite? Well, if they want to fit in, they simply MUST play, right?

And then there’s the fact that each year you have to come up with new and fresh ideas each year. *sigh*.

I did my first murder mystery party when I was about 11. I will never forget it – my big sister got a box mystery for her birthday party with her friends, and one of her friends suddenly couldn’t make it at the last minute, so it was either let her nerdy little sister be at her birthday party and take on a character, or the party would be ruined. She was NOT happy, but she agreed. I will never forget, sitting around that table and opening my information, the one thought that went through my head… is everyone else’s envelope so INTERESTING or was it just me? And so, at 11, I was pulled into the magic that is stepping out of your normal, every day life, slipping into a mischievous, perhaps clandestine character, and solving a puzzle with friends.

So, when our clients started asking for murder mystery parties that could be appropriate for a younger crowd, I decided to create a line for them, with their own unique format, instead of just suggesting “clean” murder mystery parties (of which we have MANY, of course!). I hoped that, in taking on a character, learning their story and their “hide” information (their secret clues) and solving a puzzle, just as I had when I was 11 with my big sister and her friends, that it would help create a love of deductive reasoning for other kids… the thrill of piecing together clues and coming to a conclusion – especially the RIGHT conclusion.

All you other mystery lovers get it.

How is the kids’ format different than the adults’ version?

With our adult mysteries, the investigation portion is an interactive experience. Basically, once the investigation begins, the sleuths and suspects design their own investigation, deciding who to question when, and, after using the starter questions and getting comfortable, coming to their own conclusion of who the killer or thief could be based on who had the motive, means and opportunity to commit the crime.

Our kids and teens lines are similar – we still focus on Motive, Means and Opportunity – the three key pieces to deductive reasoning to solve a mystery. But, in the kids lines, we actually break down each of these different factions into sections, and explore each, and what they mean, with a unique introduction (audio mp3 file or transcript, to be read by you or someone else at the party) to get everyone familiar with which aspect of the investigation to focus on next.

More often than not, by the time the younger sleuths reach the final of the three sections of the mystery, they have already naturally started asking questions from the other sections and piecing them together. But, as kids develop at different rates and have different strengths, they may come to this on their own quite quickly, or finally understand it toward the end.

Different rates of development

Another varying rate of development is their reading ability. A second difference in the kids mystery party packages verses the adult packages is that the Share and Hide information (ie: the “clues”) are separated out from the instructions. Each guest will receive ahead of time the full instructions in one file and their clues in a separate file. The reason for this is so that an adult can go through the instructions with them ahead of time, if needed. We provide ample instructions in both our kids and adults lines to hit on the three ways people consume information: glancing, skimming and in-depth studying. So, this way, with the instructions separated, the kids can focus on their information in a separate document, and get help with the instructions if needed.

For this same reason – the varying rate of development in reading ability, we also keep scripts out of our mysteries. For the kids mysteries, this is especially important! Imagine a group of kids at various reading abilities trying to muddle through lines they have to read to the group. We have seen it happen first-hand; some kids are strong readers, and those who aren’t are under pressure! The fact that each kid can take his or her information and put it into their own words means that they playing field is levelled for each child, regardless of reading ability! Their reading ability has nothing to do with their deductive reasoning capabilities whatsoever!

The Importance of Deductive Reasoning

Why do we focus so much on deductive reasoning? Or rather, just what the heck is deductive reasoning? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, deductive reason the skill of coming to a conclusion by ruling all other possibilities out. This function of our brain is VITAL in life, and is generally first experienced in high school, but is very rarely even acknowledged in the school curriculum. This is another reason why we also don’t just ‘lead them through it’ as some other formats do – they are actually learning and/or practicing a vital life skill! Guess what – the kids  will be having fun so they won’t know they are actually learning, we promise!

The Sleuth Flip-Book

Shot In The Dark Mysteries‘ kids mystery party kits include another very special feature – the Sleuth Flip-Book. This is a tool to help the kids organize their investigation by checking off when they find motive, means or opportunity for any of the characters. It’s designed to be held in smaller hands like an accordion-type book, and is printed single-sided and then folded. Each participant receives a Sleuth Flipbook, whether they are playing a suspect or not. You can view the Sleuth Flipbook or watch a video on how to fold the Sleuth Flipbook below!

Check out a sample file of the Sleuth Flipbook

But are they just for kids? Like – are the grown-ups going to be bored if they want to participate?

We encourage the adults at the kids party to participate! There’s nothing childish about the concept – find the person who had the motive, means and opportunity by forming the proper questions and following the clues as they unfold in your investigation. Don’t be surprised if the kids find the culprit and you don’t!