Geocaching is one of my favorite activities! Exploring, adventure, fresh air! What more could you ask and you get it all with this modern day treasure hunting activity!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with geocaching, at it’s most basic, it’s grabbing some coordinates online from geocaching.com, then using a GPS to find a little container (cache) that was hidden by another geocacher.
Here the girls are searching around a tree in the area a cache is supposed to be hidden. It could be any place. On the ground under sticks and leaves, hanging up in the branches, stuck in a hole or maybe some other creative location the person who hid it found.
Sometimes these containers are small like a little film canister or pill box. Often even smaller! They can be made to look like something that would normally be found in the surroundings like a rock, part of the tree bark or even made to look like old chewing gum stuck to the bottom of a park bench (kids love that kind of creativity!). The small ones usually only have room for a log book to make a note that you were there.
Many of the caches are a lot bigger. They can be an ammo can, lock in lock plastic container, or even homemade boxes. We’ve found trick boxes that have spring loaded “snakes” that pop out at you if you open the wrong part. We even found a big paint can that had several smaller containers inside it.
We finally found this one, and you’ll notice it is an old peanut butter jar. Sometimes it will have a label on it marking it as an official geocache, like this one does. These are nice stickers because it allows a non-geocacher (muggle, borrowed from Harry Potter, to refer to the non-geocaching population) to find out about geocaching, know that it’s there for a purpose and hopefully leave it alone and maybe start geocaching too!
The picture above is the first cache Charlie found on her own. She went straight too it and found it without any help (other than us getting her in the general area with the GPS.) This is one of the bigger, lock in lock containers. You can see it has a bunch of little goodies for the kids, big and small, to look through and take. The rule is, if you take something, you leave something for the next person to find. We usually leave army men and rubber duck themed items.
We’ve found a lot of things in these containers, from playing cards, old harmonicas to key chains and kids meal toys. One of my favorites is the person in our area who paints rocks and leaves them for others to find. Sort of like his geocaching calling card.
Sometimes you’ll find something like this little ladybug that has a geocaching tag attached to it. This is s tracking tag (I blurred out the code on it, so you have to find it yourself if you want to log it!). When you find a tracker, it’s never meant to keep. What you do is take it home, put the code in on the geocaching website to see what it’s mission is. Log that you found it, then drop it in another cache that moves it forward on the mission.
Missions for geocaching trackers can be anything from moving it as far East as possible to visiting every state capital. Maybe a mission of a tracker would be to visit every continent (yes, there are caches on every continent, including Antarctica!)
Finally, the information I promised you.
The educational benefits of geocaching.
This is an easy one! Geocaching incorporates so may things for kids to learn about. Here are just a few:
Nature Walks: Get the kids out and have them observe their surroundings as you travel from cache to cache. What animals do they see? What about insects? Can they identify the different aspects of the local habitat? What about tree or plant identification? We explored the lake habitat while we were visiting the lake, pictured above.
Map Reading/GPS: My husband is most excited about this. He always tells me, because he’s in the military and was a boy scout, that he can find caches better through his map reading than through the GPS. I’ve challenged him! Sometime, when the girls are a bit older, we’re going to give him a scale map of the area and a compass, and I’ll have the GPS, we’ll split into teams and see who can get to it faster. This would be a great comparison activity as well as teaching the science behind GPS, satellites, coordinates and more!
Problem Solving: Many caches require geocachers to solve basic problems to identify the coordinates or even figure out how to access the cache once they find it. This requires a bit of creativity and some problem solving skills.
Environment: There is a great philosophy among geocachers and that’s the idea of cache in/trash out. What this means, is its a great idea to take a bag with you when you go geocaching so you can pick up trash and clean up the area you are exploring.
Earth Caches: These are specific caches that take you to really cool geologic formations. It’s a great opportunity to teach kids about the Earth. Remember my visit to Schramm Park a couple posts ago where we went hunting for fossils? That was an Earth cache!
Have you ever gone geocaching? What was your favorite part?