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From Paper to Pasture: Innovating Outdoor Escape Room Experiences for 100+ Homeschool Families

In an inspiring blend of creativity and education, October Smith took our “Professor Swen’s Lab” printable escape room game and turned it into an unforgettable real-world adventure at Long Acres Ranch.

Facing challenges head-on and weaving educational elements into the fun. October’s story is a beacon for anyone eager to create unique, engaging experiences. Her innovative approach not only brought the game to life but also highlighted the educational potential of escape rooms.

We’re incredibly thankful to October for sharing her insights and experiences. Join us as we delve into how she transformed “Professor Swen’s Lab” into a tangible adventure, captivating learners and adventurers alike.

1. what inspired you to bring the escape room magic to your educational ranch?

Long Acres Ranch is almost 800 acres located on the Brazos River in Richmond, Texas. It is private property owned by a local foundation whose mission is to encourage people to get outside and enjoy nature. The ranch caters to education and non-profit organizations. One of the monthly activities is to host homeschool families for some hands-on science. There is a different theme each month and 8 stations with activities that center around that theme.

There are a few structures on the property that are utilized for the activities, one of which is an old washroom built in the 1940’s that has been converted into an “escape room.” The washroom is actually two rooms, so two games are run at the same time. In order to maintain the magic, the escape room opportunities happen once in the spring and once in the fall.

2. your set up and decorations were amazing. any fun stories or challenges you faced while getting it together?

The biggest challenge was not having the original artwork (in layers). Professor Swens Lab is one pdf. I needed vector images to scale for some of the things created. I had to put them in photoshop and increase the pixels and image size to try and get better quality and even then, I had to pivot with a few ideas I had because I could not make it work like I had envisioned.

3. What was your favorite part of the escape room setup and why?

I love to be creative and think outside the box! I created everything in order of the game play. I REALLY struggled in the beginning, but that was all part of the creative process and learning experience. I am not sure, I can think of one part in particular that stands out as a favorite because it is all fun (and sometimes frustrating) coming up with the ideas to make it all work.

Challenge 1, despite being the simplest set up, took the longest as I worked through how to make this come to life off of the paper. We utilized the tables we have outside of the washroom and printed large city maps on vinyl. The buildings and professor Swen’s car was made out of wood and I used mod podge to seal the images on it. I did not like the final design (the wood ended up being a little off on the size so the image did not match up perfectly) and had some other ideas, but I ran out of time and patience. Despite my struggles with it, it was still a very fun part and really gave me direction for working on the other 2 challenges.

Working through the first challenge made me realize a few things I would need for this to be used by masses…like creating a “detective notebook” that the participants could walk around with which contained the challenges and any extra stuff they might need to know.

4. How did you develop the unique ideas for your escape room, particularly focusing on durable materials and innovative creations?

The Solutions pdf was a big part of the development. I used that to look at each puzzle and how it was to be solved. I made notes for each part on making it a hands-on, 3d model. Plus, I had to think about it being handled by many! We rarely use paper, unless we can laminate it to reuse, so everything had to be made out of plastic or wood. To start, each group would need a detective notebook. This would walk them through each challenge. I retyped the information and then laminated the notebooks and spiral bound them.

Challenge 1 – I created a vinyl poster of the city map (piecing all 4 pages together as one image). The cars and building were made out of wood and the images were mod-podded onto them. Also on the table was Professor Swen’s “Science Journal” which was made out of wood and had laminated pages. The house number gave them the lock code to open the door to the room that housed the other 2 challenges. The participants had to remember the detective notebook and science journal for the next part.

Challenge 2 – We used some Christmas decorations and hung snowflakes from the ceiling. One of the snowflakes was acrylic cut out in the shape of the origami snowflake provided with the game. They used the snowflake to read the journal page with information about the chemicals. The periodic table was printed on vinyl and hung on the wall. The chemicals were [hardened] colored epoxy in test tubes and labeled. The solution to this puzzle was a lock on a small cabinet that housed a box with a lock. My team and I tried thinking of a good 3-d model for a snow machine, but we fell short. Instead we just used 2 small square boxes.

Challenge 3 – The inventors were all retyped and put into a book format with a leather cover. The puzzle
was hard—and I am still trying different things to try and make this better. *What we did—was to
laminate the page with computer monitors and we cut out little “battery packs” out of vinyl.

5. how many people participated, and how would you describe their overall experience?

We had approximately 89 adults and 219 children (under 18) come to the ranch those 3 days for homeschool science. The majority of them did visit the escape room, but not all of them. Since the materials were ready for them and they did not have to put them together, we also reduced the time of the overall activity to 25 minutes.

In the end, our staff leading that station helped each group solve the puzzles so they all won. I would say their overall experience was a positive one because of that! I will also add that our staff member used the app to facilitate the game. Even though she had the solutions packet, she found it easier to keep up with them on the app. She also liked the music!

One thing we did notice was that the age range of 9-12 was probably too young. I would say this is more of a 12-15 range. Even with parents helping, the younger kids struggled. (The ones who have done an escape room were able to successfully complete it in the allotted time.)

6. could you share your approach to keeping multiple groups engaged and ensuring smooth gameplay throughout the experience?

Lol! This is tough! We have a “Breakout EDU” game that we play regularly with our public schools that come out. We made the game up and it is not nearly as detailed as the purchased escape rooms. Through that experience, we have figured out how to make things flow smoothly.

We keep extra locks on hand and ready to go. We always have an extra set of materials for game play in case something happens to a piece. For example, we decided to hang snowflakes in the room with only one on a clip within reach to take down. This was the origami snowflake that we cut out of acrylic using a laser cutter. During set up, one of the staff dropped it and it cracked. We realized that piece needed to be made out of wood.

7. what advice would you give to someone looking to organize a “professor swen’s lab” party?

You don’t have to go through the lengths we did with this! I have done a different game and had the participants cut out as they
went along. I was just the MC for them.


No, we did not for several reasons. We send out a generic reminder about the day, and this is just one activity included in it. As for the posters, everything is outside and we do not have many places to hang them. I suppose we could hang them on the room itself. I will have to think about that for next time!

9. are there any new themes or ideas you’re particularly excited to explore in future escape room experiences at your ranch?

Um…YES! We have a 3 year curriculum that focuses on a different “ology” each month. (We focus on science out here at the ranch.) As mentioned, we try and do 2 escape rooms each school year- one in the fall and one in the spring. We can usually come up with the story, but have a hard time pulling it all together into a game.

“Professor Swen’s Lab” actually had nothing to do with our topic (Enzymes) but the fact it had a periodic table in it, caught my attention. Our next escape room is planned for April, which our theme is the solar system (planets, moons, asteroids), but I have not started working on that one so it might not happen…this is just the “extra fun” part of my job as the manager and what I do in my spare time.

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