3 Simple Activities for Your Budding Detective


Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar? Not me! Couldn’t be. Then who? That’s what your fearless elementary school sleuth has got to find out. If you’ve got a budding detective in your family, he’ll love these simple activities.


1. Dust for Fingerprints

You will need:

  • Vegetable oil (1-2 teaspoons should be enough)
  • Cocoa powder (a couple teaspoons)
  • Packing tape
  • Paintbrush

The vile villain purloined the cookies and absconded with them to parts unknown! But how did he get in in the first place? If our fearless detective is looking for the culprit’s point of entry, he’s going to need to know how to dust for fingerprints (and the culprit’s going to have to help him out a little bit by having particularly oily fingers).

First the culprit (that’s you Mom or Dad) should leave some fingerprints in a likely location (like a doorknob or windowsill). To do this, rub some vegetable oil on your fingertips and press your finger onto the surface your intrepid detective is going to dust. (Choose a spot that can get a little dirty, it’s about to be covered in cocoa powder.)

Have your pint-sized detective “dust” the area by dipping his paintbrush in cocoa powder and brushing it over the chosen surface. The powder will cling to the oil, revealing a “fingerprint.”

With the precision of a well-trained sleuth, the detective should then use a piece of packing tape to cover the print and then lift it from the surface. He can then stick the tape (with the print on it)  into his notebook and label it Exhibit A (or something).


2. Reveal Invisible Ink

You will need:

  • A white crayon
  • Watercolor paints
  • Paintbrush

Our determined detective has received a letter from his fiendish foe. But, curses! It’s just a blank sheet of paper. Our hero would never give up so quickly. That’d be a rookie mistake. And he’s no rookie. This letter must be written in invisible ink!

First, the fiendish foe (that’s you, remember) must write the message. Use a white crayon on white paper to write your note.

To reveal the hidden message, the detective should get out his watercolor paints (all good detectives carry watercolor paints) and paint over the whole paper with a dark color.

The wax in the crayon will resist the water in the paint and the message will be revealed. You can’t fool us that easily, fiendish foe!

3. Analyze a Footprint

You will need:

  • A variety of shoes
  • A dark crayon
  • Paper

The cookie thief thinks he got away scot-free, but he’s no match for our capable crime-buster. The master villain made one vital misstep. He left a footprint behind! Match the footprint to the shoe and the case is as good as closed.

First, our detective needs a footprint to examine. Head to the backyard (or the park) and make one in the mud. You can use the shoes you’re wearing, or (if you feel like framing someone else) just press whichever shoe you want into the mud to make an impression.


The detective should photograph the footprint and bring it home with him. He can print it out and tape it in his notebook if he’s feeling particularly authentic.

Next, our meticulous hero should collect a variety of shoes from around the house and make “impressions” of the treads of each shoe. To do this, hold a piece of thin white paper (printer paper should work) against the sole of the shoe with one hand, and rub a dark-colored crayon over it with the other. An impression of the sole of the shoe should appear.

The detective should then use these images to compare to his photograph of the footprint and determine which shoe made the mark.


You may never find the real cookie thief (although all signs do seem to point to you, Mom and Dad) but your detective-obsessed elementary schooler will have some fun trying. And it’ll keep him busy for a while, which is always a plus on these long summer days. Happy hunting!



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