What kid doesn’t love a good treasure hunt?! Introducing geocaching to your children is an adventurous way to explore, learn, develop navigation skills, and create fun family memories.
Geocaching is a fun treasure hunt using handheld GPS units or the Geocaching app to locate hidden geocaches or caches. There are over 3 million registered caches hidden in about 190 countries around the world. The caches might be large or very small. Some are hidden in very creative places you pass every day and others are far off the beaten path.
There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy geocaching. Some people play to see how many geocaches they can find. Others try to find geocaches in all 50 states or in every country they visit. You can even use it to explore new destinations or discover new areas of your own town.
What You Will Need:
- Handheld GPS or GPS enabled smartphone. Handheld GPS units can be very expensive but there are many affordable models on the market that are easy for children to use.
- Free account on Geocaching.com or the Geocaching app for smartphones.
- Small trinket to trade. The geocaching tradition is if you take something from the cache you must leave something of equal or greater value behind. This is particularly fun for children!
- Trekking pole or hiking stick will be nice to clear any spider webs or help pull the cache out of its hiding place.
- Flashlight or headlamp will come in handy for the caches hidden in dark places or down hidey-holes.
- Pen or pencil so you can sign the geocache logbook to prove you were there!
How to play:
The geocaching app and site allow you to navigate to the cache using a map, compass, driving directions, or GPS devise. You can find hints for different caches, recent activity, even message other geocachers.
Be sure and check the difficulty and terrain ratings on the website before heading out, especially with small children. A “1 star” is the easiest difficulty level, meaning the cache is easy to locate and the terrain is not challenging.
Caches are hidden in many different places—under rocks, in old logs, up in trees. As you search, be sure to return things to how you found them (including the cache).
Reseal the cache and return it to the same hiding spot. Don’t find a “better” hiding spot or leave markers for the next person… that takes away the fun or might negate any hints that are on the website.
Don’t forget to follow the Leave No Trace rules so you protect and care for the environment as you enjoy geocaching.
Types of Geocaches
- Traditional geocaches are containers hidden at specific GPS coordinates. They vary in size but all caches have some kind of logbook for you to sign. Larger ones may have items to trade or “trackables”.
- EarthCaches are geocaches at special geological locations. The geocache takes you to the place so you can learn about a unique geological feature. If you are logging each geocache you find, you will likely have to answer a few questions about the EarthCache site to demonstrate what you learned and observed. You can learn more about Earthcache sites at http://www.earthcache.org/
- Mystery or Puzzle Caches usually involve a puzzle that you will need to solve to figure out the coordinates of the geocache.
- Multi-Caches are geocaches with clues taking you to multiple locations. The container is hidden at the final destination.
- Cache In Trash Out is a unique environmental initiative to clean up and care for natural areas while geocaching. They are events that gather local geocachers to clean up litter, remove invasive species, plant trees, or maintain hiking trails. It’s a fun way to combine geocaching with caring for our planet.
- An Event Cache is a gathering of geocachers. You find the event or gathering using the published coordinates to the location. So instead of looking for a box or item or earthcache you are searching for an event! After the gathering is over, the event is archived as “completed”.
Benefits of Geocaching with Kids
There are many perks and benefits of geocaching with kids!
- Learn to read maps: Geocaching teaches children how to use GPS, read a compass, follow directions, and even read a map. These are great skills to develop that have lifelong benefits.
- Problem Solving: Many caches involve clues and puzzles to solve. Whether you are figuring out the coordinates of the cache or locating it once you get there, children will develop problem solving and creative thinking skills.
- Science and History: Some geocaches include a little local or regional history. Earthcaches are designed to help people learn about geological features. Many caches have clues that include information about the local environment. Geocaching is a creative way for children to learn a little history, geology, botany, and so much more! It may also give them an opportunity to apply what they are learning in the classroom to the great outdoors.
- Safety and Observation: Geocaching is a great way to learn basic outdoor safety skills. Road and urban traffic safety applies when geocaching in urban areas. Wilderness and water safety skills apply when geocaching takes you into the backcountry. Geocaching gives children opportunities to practice safety skills and learn to be observant of their surroundings.
Tips for Successfully Geocaching with Kids
- Choose Appropriate Skill Level Caches: Choose to find caches that seem to best fit your child’s age and ability (a 1 start is the easiest level). Even very small children will enjoy geocaching if you make it age-appropriate. From learning to count to reading latitude and longitude, geocaching is amazingly adaptable if you are willing to be patient and make it age and skill appropriate.
- Make them part of the team: All kids want to be included in the adventure. Give each child a specific task that they are capable of completing. If you are enthusiastic about the adventure, your children will be excited to participate and contribute.
- Bring snacks: Nothing kills the enthusiasm on an adventure like being hungry. Pack a few snacks and some water for the trip. You can even have your child carry their snack and water. (After all, what’s a treasure hunt without a sandwich or cookie!)
- Prepare and bring treasures: Children love to find little treasures in the cache! Most larger caches include small trinkets, but it’s helpful to bring a few extra treasures into your bag just in case you find a cache that doesn’t include age-appropriate items and you need to make some better treasure options “appear” in the cache. Be sure to teach your children to “trade even or trade up” when they geocache—if they take a treasure to leave something of equal or greater “value”.
- Protect your GPS: Whether you are using a handheld GPS unit or your smartphone, invest in a good quality waterproof case and a wrist strap. That way your child will be able to be “in charge” and you won’t worry about the GPS unit or phone going for a swim in the creek. If you are especially concerned about losing or dropping the GPS unit or phone, consider clipping it to a backpack or pants loop with a carabineer clip and appropriate length of cord.
Now you’re ready to head out on a modern day treasure hunt with your children! Don’t forget to enjoy the journey and make great memories along the way.
Do you have any tips or tricks to geocaching? Share them in the comments!