I remember a conversation with my mom when we were approved and waiting to adopt our first kiddo, “what am I going to do if I end up with a very athletic and adventurous boy?”. Sure, enough our first child is mister adventure! Fortunately, so is my husband.
For almost five years, these two have been on all sorts of indoor and outdoor endeavors. About a year ago, my husband put some structure and gamification on their adventuring by introducing our son to “geocaching”. In case, you’re like me, and had never heard of it:
What is Geocaching?
There are millions of clever containers called geocaches hidden in nearly every country on Earth. Join the millions of players using the Geocaching® app and GPS-enabled devices to find them. – Geocaching Facebook
Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches”, at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world. – Wikipedia
They call themselves “the world’s largest treasure hunt.” Essentially the app gives you an idea of where a cache may be and you (and your family) have an excuse to explore nature around you. You have the option of documenting your finds via photos and videos, or you can go low-tech and just use the app to discover the physical treasures and then move along.
As you get more involved in the process of geocaching you can also start contributing treasures into the caches or even create your own. They do recommend that you plan to discover 20 geocaches before contributing so that you get a feel for the types of content the community expects to see.
What do you find in a geocache?
The short answer – no telling! Each geocache is different, and what you find inside is determined by the previous discoverers. The Geocaching organization does sell officially branded items, but for the most part, we’ve just found extremely random goodies! The general rule is “take something, leave something” of equal or greater value. So, you can go back to a previous cache at a later date and the contents may be very different. There are also “trackables”, they have a tracking number that Geocachers log and can be moved to different caches.
Fun for the Kids
The age of your children will determine how involved they can be with the process of Geocaching. Our kiddos are young, so my husband navigates the phone and then tells our 4-year-old (almost 5) which area or what type of clues we might be looking for. If you have older children they can help navigate and document. If you’re homeschooling, this would be a good excuse to learn latitude and longitude in real life. And of course, there are a lot of opportunities for documenting.
There is one thing worth noting… not every tip leads to a successful discovery
There is one thing worth noting, to set expectations for all involved, not every tip leads to a successful discovery. Sometimes a geocache may get moved, either by a person or nature, sometimes they are ruined, and for others, the clues aren’t clear. One time they found a tin that was completely waterlogged, and it was quite a bit further down than the previous person had mentioned. Chances are, rain and wind physically moved it and the container wasn’t waterproof so all the contents were wet.
The most difficult geocache we’ve discovered
Speaking of water, we live near a lake, so most of our local caches are in trails off the edge of the lake or in nearby wooded areas. So far, the most strenuous cache discovery was a box hidden on a small island on the lake. The app showed there was a tip for a geocache just off the shore of the lake. On a random weekday, my husband picked up the older kiddo from school and they set off to explore with the kayak (and lifejackets, of course). The wind and distance made their trek a lot more difficult than expected. Turns out there’s not an easy way to see how far away that little island was from the shore. It’s been several months, and that’s still their favorite discovery.
Tasks for the littles
Most of the time, my husband and son go geocaching alone. But on some occasions, I and our 2-year-old will join. Because she’s so young, she’s not really aware of what we are doing, but she can certainly help look around for clues. She’s a little parrot, so typically our 4-year-old will yell “hey, I think I found something”, and she’ll say the same, from wherever she’s standing.
We also have them both help contribute to our bag of treasures to hide on the next outing. We’ve gathered quite a few trinkets from around the house and keep them in a small bag to carry with us on treasure hunting days.
Overall, it’s a fun excuse to get outside, explore an area you may not otherwise see, and have a good time without spending money! I know some people who include geocaching on their agenda any time they go on vacation. We haven’t traveled much since we discovered geocaching, but I know as our children get older this will continue to be an activity the whole family can enjoy.
Some Geocaching Tips for Beginners
Here are some general pointers to get you started geocaching with your kids:
- Plan ahead: Learn the lingo and acronyms for the app. Check the Activity for a cache before you go exploring. If there are several DFN (did not find) notes for that spot, it has probably been lost or relocated. Relocating is allowed, but it’s best to contact the owner.
- Charge your battery: This might seem obvious, but constantly running GPS quickly drains your battery life. A few weeks ago we were out exploring, we found a QR code on a sign that lead us down a trail, and then voila dead phone! There were some photo clues we were following before the phone died, but unfortunately, we didn’t find the specific pole we were looking for.
- Be helpful: This is a community project, so feel free to contribute tips and clues of your own once you discover a cache.
- Remember to have fun: It may take some reminding, but the goal of geocaching is to have fun! Finding a treasure is a nice perk, but it’s not the ultimate goal. Caches come in all shapes and sizes, as well as varying difficulties so it may take some practice for littles to spend some time exploring without feeling defeated.