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Geocaching With Kids -- Local to International Treasure Hunting
A Fun, Educational Treasure Hunt for Children and Adults
Before our recent trip to Italy, my husband and I went geogaching near our home in Arizona. We were looking for a "trackable" or "travel bug," which is a small item that can be tracked wherever it goes via a unique code stamped or printed on it. We were especially hoping to find one owned by a child, and happily we did -- a travel bug attached to this cute little sock monkey pictured here. Now this trackable would be traveling with us across the Atlantic Ocean.
For those who aren't familiar with this popular hobby, geocaching is basically a worldwide treasure hunt, with containers of variable sizes, most with small exchangeable items -- take something, leave something -- and log books inside, which you look for using a set of map coordinates and clues. There are also "earth caches," where you find and photograph a specific location and often have to answer questions which you post back on the geocaching website. The main site for this global activity is Geocaching.com.
Started in 2000, this treasure-hunting game quickly grew in popularity, now being played by more than 5 million people of all ages searching for more than 2 million hidden caches all over the world. And the numbers of caches and cachers continue to grow all the time. While great fun for adults, It's also a hobby I highly recommend for kids, and I'll tell you why I'm so enthusiastic about it below.
The Traveling Monkey Goes to Italy
A Child's Trackable from Ontario, Canada
On the geocaching site, we learned of this little monkey's goal as written by one of its young owner's parents:
"This is our Little K's favourite animal. We have so many little monkeys laying around we decided to set one off into the big wide world to see where it will travel. Just like our little K, this little sock monkey loves to get its picture taken. Let's see where this monkey will travel."
Attached to the little toy is a trackable tag with a monkey face on one side and its unique code on the other. Using that code, we were able to log that we picked it up and where we took it. In this photo, our small travel companion is at the beach in Amalfi, Italy, where we spent the first week of our trip.
Posting Pictures for the Young Geocacher to See
And recording where we dipped her travel bug
When you're moving a travel bug, you should ultimately place it in another cache. But, along the way, you can also do what's called "dipping," which, as it sounds, means taking it to other caches but not actually leaving it there. Then you log those "dips" on the website, so they can be tracked.
Sometimes, caches are too small for a travel bug to fit, especially the toys they might be attached to, like our friend the pink-and-white striped monkey. Many -- if not most -- of the caches in countries outside of the U.S. (as far as we've seen in person or on the geocaching site) are nano caches or not much bigger, and most of the travel bugs we've found are too large for those containers. So, dipping is a great option for moving them and gaining them miles and locations until we find a cache somewhere that will accommodate them.
While in our company, the traveling monkey was dipped at caches in Amalfi, Verona, and Venice, Italy. We logged those dips each time and took photos at those and other locations along our journey, which we posted on the young owner's travel bug page.
The Benefits of Geocaching with Kids
A healthy, fun learning experience ... and more
Whether you have kids of your own, are an aunt, uncle, grandparent, perhaps a volunteer Big Brother (like my husband) or Big Sister, or otherwise spend quality time with children, geocaching is a wonderful activity you can share with them, opening up many different possibilities for adventure, learning, and good times.
And even if you don't geocache with kids, you might find travel bugs or geocoins owned by children, and you can post messages and photos as you move their trackables to make their caching experience even more fun and educational too.
These are some reasons why geocaching with kids is such a rewarding experience.....
- FUN! What could be more fun for a kid than treasure hunting? (Which is why so many adults get hooked, too.) A big part of the adventure is finding the site of the cache, then searching for it in nooks and crannies -- those nano-caches can be challenging! -- and, if it's in a public place, trying to be sneaky and act nonchalant so the muggles (non-cachers ... and, yes, the word comes from Harry Potter, where it means a non-magical person) don't know what you're doing and don't accidentally find the cache. Yep ... fun stuff alright.
**See Geocaching.com's Glossary of Terms to learn more of the lingo.
- A great way for adults (ie. parents, relatives, etc.) to spend quality time with kids. You know, a chance to bond while doing something fun for both the young and the older treasure-hunter.
- An opportunity for kids to learn how to navigate with a GPS and a map (and you can even try this with a compass, which is definitely more challenging).
- A chance to get out and hike, so it can be great exercise. Not all geocaches require much walking at all, but others can require anywhere from a short walk or trail hike to miles of hiking of a range of difficulties. (Each geocache will have information about difficulty and terrain on the website.)
- A chance to explore new places -- places you may never have gone otherwise.
- An opportunity to teach kids about geography, history, other cultures ... you name it -- anything about any number of places, near and far.
- An opportunity to teach kids about being prepared in the backcountry (although many geocaches are located in towns and cities or otherwise not in the backcountry at all).
- A chance to teach kids about taking notes and keeping track of things, including the caches they find and those they hide.
- A great way to inspire kids to get outdoors and away from the TV or computer.
Children Can Track Their Finds and Their Trackables
What a great way to teach kids about the geography and different countries, communities, and cultures around the world by learning about the places they find caches and where their travel bugs go as they move from place to place.
Geocaching opens the door to teaching about the landscape, history, geology, customs, and other aspects of a near infinite number of locations.
You can put up a world map in their room, along with a country map, and pin locations. You can color code them if you want, with one color for finds and another for their trackables. You'll probably also want a local or state map, to mark or pin your finds close to home.
Of course, geocaching isn't just in the U.S., so pick up a map of your country for pinning, marking, or putting stickers on your child's finds and trackables.
Another suggestion: If you want to draw lines between pinned trackable locations -- maybe different colors for different trackables -- go with a laminated map like this one here, which you can stick right to the wall and peel off and move without leaving behind any sticky residue.
Have two geocaching kids? They can keep track of their trackables and see whose goes the farthest and where they go.
Checking in with the Traveling Monkey Trackable
Moving on from One Cache to Another
Our little pink and white travel companion with his trackable tag is pictured here in Venice, near the site of a small nano cache we found at a bridge over the Grand Canal.
The little monkey is now back in Arizona, where we'll place it in a new cache it's never been in before and where it will someday (probably sooner than later) be picked up by another geocacher and brought to who-knows-where.
Not including the miles we'll add when we log this travel bug back into Arizona when we place it in a geocache, this trackable monkey has traveled 16,954 miles!
(UPDATE: Make that 22,811 miles after we placed the monkey-bug in a local cache. We've added it to our "watch list" so we can see where it goes from here.)
And on another continent....
We Find Another Child's Trackable in a Peruvian Cache - Brother and sister had a race....
And the Race Continued Back to the U.S.
This trackable belongs to a girl from the Czech Republic, who's having a travel bug race with her brother, to see which would travel the furthest. The sister's trackable had already traveled from Europe to South America in two moves, and then we found it in Cuzco, Peru.
"The team fishie-cz is a family team which consists of the geoparents and two geochildren. This micro geocoin belongs to one of the children - the girl whose name is Evi. This geocoin started its journey in the Czech Republic, in the town Chrudim, and it has the following mission:
-- to collect more kilometres than the micro geocoin of Evi's brother Filip - TB4P597
-- to make at least one "journey of a lifetime" to a place outside Europe and then come back home."
A Hole in the Wall
Waiting for muggles to pass
We followed our GPS compass up, up, up, sucking wind at more than 11,000 feet in elevation, from downtown Cuzco up steep streets and hundreds of steps into a park in the hills. It was a wonderful, challenging walk with fascinating places and great scenery all along the way.
Finally, our GPS beeped. "Arriving at destination." We looked around to see if we were alone, and waited, sitting down on the steps while a local man with his burro passed by. Then Jeremy started hunting around for the tiny cache while I kept a lookout for more muggles and searched with my eyes from a distance -- "Jer, check that rock over there. No, no, the OTHER rock."
Then Jeremy finally moved the right rock -- I had told him it looked loose three times! -- and revealed a little hiding place in the wall. He reached in with a couple of fingers, which was all he could fit, and pulled out the tiny cache. Inside was a rolled up log and just enough space for the travel bug.
He scribbled our geocaching nicknames (Indiana Kingsbury and Ramkitten) and the date, dropped in a little piece of swag of our own, and slipped the travel bug into his camera case. Then he replaced the cache and the rock in the hole, just in time before another muggle came along.
That was close!
And on went the travel bug from the Czech Republic to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with us before stowing away in our luggage and traveling 4,248.35 miles (as the crow flies) back to our home in the U.S., where we deposited it in a local cache.
As of today, the race is still on, with Evi's trackable having traveled 11,100.4 miles and her brother's, 8446.5 miles. His is currently in Indonesia.
Geocaching Supplies for Kids ... and Grown-Up Kids Too
This is a GPS specially made for kids. It's easy to use and comes pre-loaded with 250,000 popular caches. These are only caches in the United States, though, so it won't work in other countries. But if you are in the U.S., you're sure to find plenty of caches near where you live or where you travel.
A "Grown Up" GPS
Children can certainly learn to use a GPS not specifically made for junior geocachers.This Garmin has lots of different features and can be used for much more than geocaching, but, at the same time, with a little help from an adult, a child can learn how to put in the coordinates for a geocache, mark the starting point (to navigate back to it) and do a "go to" to find the treasure---the cache.
There are other versions of this model, if you prefer a color screen and additional features, but this is an affordable and quality place to start.
In the interest of taking a toy, leaving a toy (or other doo-dad), you can come up with your own collection of items or buy some "swag." These good luck tokens and geocoins are not trackables, just a little something to leave behind as part of the game when you find a cache.
A Beginner Cacher's Kit
This little bundle makes a great gift for a new 'cacher, young or not-so-young, with a weatherproof log book, trackables, and other goodies to get you started treasure-hunting and hiding treasure.
A Tricky Cache Pack the Kids Will Love
Kids love finding caches, but they can also enjoy hiding and maintaining them as well. This is a great way to teach them to be responsible for something. If someone leaves a message on the geocaching site, which can be sent as an email to a parent or to the child, that the cache requires maintenance or has gone missing, the young cache owner can maintain or replace it or choose a new location to hide a cache.
This kit includes a number of sneaky cache containers, like a fake rock, a bolt, a utility plate, even a fake sprinkler head. These can be used each as a separate cache or combine them for a multi-point cache, with the first giving the clue to the next and so forth.
Read All About It ... Then Go Caching!
This is a good overview to read with the kids before heading out to look for your first geocache, so both parents and children will know the "how to" and the rules of this worldwide game.
There are a number of books available on how to geocache, including this inexpensive e-book, which you and your kids can read on a Kindle, computer, Smartphone and other devices, with information on tools for navigating, other gear you'll need, types of caches, finding and placing caches, and more ... everything you need to know to get out there and start building your list of finds.
© 2013 Deb Kingsbury