Daily Tip: Geocaching gets gadget-addicted kids outdoors

williamnavigatingModern parents face a challenge that’s unique to their generation: kids with constant access to video games. The bulky Atari and Intellivision [1. By the way, if you had an Intellivision in 1979, you were BAD. ASS.] consoles of my childhood required a television and a living room. But that’s changed.

Today, they’ve been replaced by portable computers the size of a magazine or a deck of cards. Not only are these devices smaller, they’re easier to use. A 7-year-old uses an iPad as effortlessly as we played with Barbie dolls and baseball cards. For the kids, they’re great fun.

For the parents, they’re fierce competition. What’s a concerned caregiver to do?

Geocache.

Geocaching is a global treasure hunt game that that combines the outdoors, some orienteering skills and GPS tracking into a fun, family-friendly past time. People have planted small caches, often Tupperware boxes filled with goodies, at various locations all over the world. Others seek them out by using the supplied clues and the GPS coordinates. Some caches simply contain a logbook to sign and date. Others contain swappable items to take home, clues to another hidden cache or a “travel bug” that can be moved from cache to cache.

It’s a lot of fun and satisfies mom’s and dad’s desire to get the kids up and moving outside, and the kid’s desire to fiddle with a gadget. Here’s an overview of geocaching and tips on how you can enjoy this fun, active game with your children.

What is Geocaching?

The game was started in May, 2000. A GPS enthusiast named Dave Ulmer in Beavercreek, Oregon wanted to test the accuracy of the Global Positioning System, and hid a bucket full of trinkets in the woods. He shared its coordinates online, and within a few days people began to find it. Within a week, people were excited by the idea and began hiding their own stashes and sharing the coordinates. Thus, geocaching was born.

Briefly, geocaching is a game of hide-and-seek. One group of participants creates and hides a cache, recording its GPS coordinates and any hints s/he might want to share. Another group uses GPS-enabled devices to find it. Those hiding the cache are often cryptic with their hints, as a big part of the fun is hunting around.

How to Get Started?

foundit

The definitive source of information is Geocaching.com. There you’ll find all sorts of useful information, but really all you need for a first-time experience is a GPS receiver and directions to a cache. This page will produce a list of caches around you. Print it out, grab your receiver (and the kids) and get going. Of course, my kids like to use my iPhone.

Geocaching with an iPhone

Geocaching.com is the best online resource, and it has also produced the best iPhone app for geocaching (also available for Android and Windows Phone 7). The app will note your location and suggest caches in the area. They can be sorted by distance to your location, difficulty (some are harder to find than others) and size (from micro to shoebox size).

Once you’ve picked one, have the kids navigate. Hand over the phone and let then lead the way as the app’s map guides them in real time to the target. It’s a bit like playing “X marks the spot” with the Marauder’s Map. It’s a thrill to see yourself get closer and closer, to match the real-world surroundings with the objects on the map, to use a compass to confirm your path and to finally come upon the hiding spot. Many caches are lightly hidden with leaves or brush, so there’s a mad dash to be the first one to see it. Finally, someone calls out, “I’ve found it!” and we all gather around.

signed

Now it’s time to sit on the grass and open the cache. Some have little trinkets that can be taken home. They all have a logbook to sign. Flip through the pages and you’ll find signatures from out of town or even out of the country. Remember to replace things neatly so that the next group can have fun with it, too.

My kids love the anticipation and being able to “man” the iPhone. And I love getting them outside. Many cachers place their boxes in especially scenic areas. In fact, that’s a big part of the game: being led to a beautiful or out-of-the-way spot that shouldn’t be missed. Some people even leave stories explaining why they chose a special spot.

Tips

The weather is warming up here in the northern hemisphere, so it’s time to try your hand at geocaching. Follow these tips to ensure success on your first time out.

  1. Bring a pen Sometimes the pens in a cache gets lost or stolen. Bring one of your own so that you can definitely sign the logbook. Your cache may be wet, so an all-weather option like the Fisher Space Pen is best.
  2. Do research before hand Guarantee success by doing some research at Geocaching.com before you leave. Find something in your area and read the online logs from recent visitors to ensure that the cache is still there, easy to find, doesn’t require arduous hiking and contains what the description says it does.
  3. Charge your iPhone GPS apps devour batteries like a fat kid at a pasta bar. Better yet, use a battery case like the Mophie Juice Pack for extra oomph.
  4. Pack for a hike Bring water, sunscreen, snacks, layers, etc. Whatever you’d bring for a day hike.
  5. Take pictures It’s great fun to look back on the caches you’ve found, as well as the gorgeous scenery.
  6. If you see it, keep quiet Kids LOVE to be the one to find the cache. Don’t beat them to the punch.
  7. Emphasize the fun and beauty of where you are Part of our goal here is to wean kids off of the electronic teat. Point out critters you see. Emphasize the view. Have a snack on a fallen log. Collect curiosities to bring home.
  8. Create a treasure chest at home My kids keep their “treasures” as the call them in special containers at home. This further emphasizes the fun of geocaching.

Letterboxing – an alternative

Letterboxing is geocaching with a twist. The fun here is collecting stamps, and it’s aimed directly at kids. Each “letterbox” you find (the equivalent of a cache), contains a logbook, a rubber stamp and an ink pad. Each box has a unique stamp.

Those seeking a letterbox also bring a stamp of their own, one they use at each outing, plus their own notebook. Once a box is found, you use its stamp to mark your notebook, and then make your stamp in the box’s logbook, as well as your name and date. Many people custom-make stamps that have meaning to the area, region or state in which the box was found. After a summer of letterboxing, kids have a notebook full of all sorts of interesting stamps.

So there you have it, a great activity that includes exercise, family time, the outdoors and gadgets. Don’t forget to go out while you’re traveling, too. It’s fun to find caches in other states and countries! Now get geocaching and have fun.

This post is part is one of 31 tech tips I published in March, 2013You’ll find the rest here.