Geocaching with Kids

I started geocaching with our kids about a year and a half ago. I'd heard families talking about it way back before smart phones, and I had only the vaguest idea about what it really was. Although it felt a little awkward going on our first hunt (in a cemetery!), it was tons of fun and we were hooked. We’ve also hunted for geocaches at our local zoo, the botanical gardens, and a number of parks around town. With all the screens our kids are in front of in this day and age, getting outdoors is definitely a priority--and turning it into a treasure hunt makes any outing exciting (especially with hard-to-please tweens, ahem, not naming any names here). Here are my favorite tips to help you and your kids start geocaching.

Wait, what exactly is geocaching?

I like to think of it as a cross between a scavenger hunt and hide and seek. You have clues about the location of the cache, and once you get within a certain proximity, you have to use your ninja skills to seek it out.

Geocachers leave hidden boxes with GPS coordinates and clues to help you find them. You can download the free geocache app to help locate geocache boxes in your area. Here’s a short video to give you a better idea of what it’s all about:

There are basically two main types of caches: logbook caches, or trinket caches. They’re both exactly what they sound like, one you simply find and write your name and date in, and the other usually has a miscellany of prizes to choose from (you always want to bring along something to give back).

Now on to the tips!

1. Charge your phone beforehand
After you’ve downloaded the app, you want to make sure you have enough battery life while you track down your cache. It wouldn't be any fun for your phone to die when you're inches from finding your cache (luckily that's never happened to us).

2. Start with an easy cache
Open up the app and log in, and it will automatically load the caches in your area. When you click on the cache icon it will give you a description as well as the difficulty level and size. I highly recommend starting off with a super-easy cache (1-1.5 difficulty); there’s nothing more discouraging for kids than spending 30 minutes searching and not finding it!

3. ALWAYS Bring Something to Write With
One of the funnest parts about geocaching (besides finding the cache) is writing your name down in the logbook to show the rest of the world you were there. Every cache we’ve found has had a logbook in it, and we’ve luckily always had a pen or pencil--although we did have to go scrambling in the car for one once.

4. Bring enough trinkets to trade for each of your kids
It’s also fun to trade trinkets when you find a larger cache. But the rule is you only take if you have something to trade. Usually I have tons of wacky stuff hanging out in my mom purse and this isn’t a problem. But we’ve definitely had to scramble through the car, too. If you’re planning to go geocaching, it’s a good opportunity for your kids to weed out a few knick knacks from their own stash (I know they’ll likely be bringing home another one, but hey, free fun, right?).

5. Try and try again
There are still times when even the easy-to-find caches still end up being impossible to locate (and they do occasionally go missing). The best bet is to check out the recent activity before you start searching (that way if the last 10 people said they couldn’t find it, you know you should probably skip that one). If you do find that you’ve spent a long time searching to know avail, you can click on ‘View Hint’ at the bottom of the description or even look back through the activity to see if anyone left photos to help you get a better idea of where it’s hiding.

Geocaching is a great family lesson in perseverance--there have been many times when we were about to give up and then miraculously found it.

6. Celebrate!
Do a happy dance and pass around high-fives when you find your first cache together. Celebrate the teamwork it took to find it (and forget the arguing over who got to hold the phone). Take some pictures of your find and log it on your app account.

And if you didn’t find it, there’s always next time. It’s good for kids to learn healthy ways to deal with disappointment, and not finding a cache is a pretty neutral way to learn that all-important life lesson.

So the next time you’re at the park or zoo, spice things up a little and check for nearby geocaches--or plan an afternoon treasure-hunting trip! Have you ever been geocaching? What’s the craziest place you’ve found one?

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