Exercise…It’s tough, right? Especially getting your kid to do it. We’ve tried everything to get our son to move his body. He has resisted it at every turn, even when we signed him up for an activity that takes place in a pool after learning that pools are his happy place. Sure, it was water polo, one of the toughest sports known to mankind, so maybe that’s on us. Those grueling practices didn’t quite move the needle on his desire to participate in physical activity. It threw us into a tailspin as we tried to think of something he might actually want to do.
One glorious day, a friend of mine and I got into a heated debate about an app called Pokémon GO. Do you remember this game? The app featured heavily in the news for a while because kids were walking into the middle of the street, oblivious to everything around them as they tracked a digital Pokémon.
My argument was that if these kids couldn’t find an activity to do outside without a screen, then we’re all screwed, and Apple has finally taken over the universe. My friend saw it differently. He viewed Pokémon GO as a great way to get his kid to go for long walks. During these walks, he and his daughter would actually engage in conversations over numerous topics usually stemming from the Pokémon they would be trying to find and where it might be hiding.
Coming from an old-school, go-outside-and-ride-your-bike-until-it’s-dark background, I told him he was just a pawn in the iPhone-peddling game. Then he dropped this gem, “Well, what about geocaching for kids?! Do you think that’s evil?” My excellent rebuttal consisted of one word: “Hunh?”
As I learned, geocaching is the cool modern version of treasure hunting. That’s right. “Hey son, do you want to throw a ball around outside? No? OK then, would you like to go on a treasure hunt?” What kid (or adult, for that matter) wouldn’t jump at this suggestion?
What is geocaching?
It’s an outdoor treasure-hunting game that involves looking for caches (hidden stashes) of objects. Okay, fine, the “treasures” you find won’t make you rich or save the Goondocks from being torn down, but I, for one, only need a treasure that will save my child from sitting hunched over his iPad for 12 hours a day. To me, that’s enough of a treasure.
What you will find with your child are boxes of different shapes and sizes that usually contain a logbook for you to sign. Sometimes, it may be a trinket for your child to take, possibly requiring another one left in exchange. Each box is different, though. At times, you will find trackables, which are tokens that have different goals, like “being brought to all 50 states in the US” or “making it to a remote island in Scotland.”
If you happen to be going to one of these places, take the trackable with you and deposit it in a geocache in that location. They are often attached to a cute little figure called a hitchhiker, a-Flat Stanley-esque traveler who wants to “see the world.”
Here’s an excellent explainer video:
Some boxes might be right out in the open and some very well hidden. Others, once found, might also contain a puzzle you and your kid need to solve in order to open it. How cool is that? Still, in terms of geocaching for kids, that’s not the important part.
You know that old saying, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey”? Whoever said that was talking about geocaching. Probably. Your kid will actually enjoy walking, hiking, or biking to each spot, and you won’t hear many complaints. Well, you’ll hear fewer complaints than you normally would on, say, a plain old hike. I know I did.
How geocaching works
There are millions of geocaches all over the world. That’s right, millions. You probably have many in your hometown, and you don’t even know it yet. You may have almost stepped on one while you were out for a hike. Once you start geocaching, you won’t be able to stop yourself from looking around and trying to spot one. So, let’s get started.
- First, download the app from the app store on your device. It’s free, and what you get with the basic plan is good enough to get you started. There’s a premium level for $30 a year, but only explore that option when you know it’s something your kids are hooked on. Go to geocaching.com and click around. You’ll be amazed at all the different ways you can geocache.
- Once you have the app, create a username for yourself and your child and sign up.
- You can then click on the map and begin. On the map, you’ll see lots of pins where geocaches have been hidden in your area.
- Pick one and go. Each box’s page has a description with specific details along with some hints that will help you look for it. You’ll also learn other useful facts, like maybe the theme of the box or whether bikes are allowed in the area. The page also ranks the difficulty of finding the box, the ease of traversing the terrain, and the size of the box.
- Once you find the box, do whatever you need to open it, sign the logbook, and mark it as “found” on your app. It will get logged into your account, and you’ll be ready to head to the next location.
Why your kids will love it
Destination geocaching is a great option for exposing your children to places you may have never taken them to otherwise. If you’re going on a trip anyway, geocaching with your kids is an amazing way to explore your vacation destination; you’re likely to find so many cool things off the beaten path.
Enthusiasm often works from the top down, so the best way to do some geocaching with kids is to bring the excitement. Don’t say, “Hey, let’s go look for a bunch of boxes,” Instead, try something like, “There are treasures buried right here in our town, and it’s up to us to find them!” Your kids will jump at the chance, even the ones who don’t jump very often (like my son).
Geocaching supplies for kids
Once the kids are on board, gather supplies for geocaching.
- First and foremost, decide how you are getting to the boxes. If you have more than a few in your area, I suggest bikes. You can cover more ground and get the kids to stay out hunting for much longer than you would on foot.
- Of course, you’ll need a GPS. The best GPS for geocaching kids is the one already on your smartphone. No need to spend any extra money on it. You should already have the app on your phone by now, so you’ll be good to go.
Then you can start discussing some supplies that might take your kid’s hunting game to the next level. All children love buying stuff, right? Well, make this part of the fun. Come up with your own geocaching kit for your kids.
- Start with letting them each pick a backpack or another bag from home. If you want to outfit their bikes in a cool way, maybe order one of the bike bags.
- Gather a “kit” of supplies: Compass, binoculars, magnifying glass, bug spray, sunscreen, and, of course, some healthy snacks. Make it feel as much of an adventure as you possibly can, and they will get into it. Trust me.
- The website also has some other geocaching gifts for kids, including supplies that you can use to make your own box. I’ll get to that in a bit.
Set some goals for your family, for example, “We have to find 2 geocahes every weekend.” You can split up into teams (if 2 adults are involved) and see who finds a treasure first. If there are only a couple in your area, I suggest investing in a bike rack and letting geocaching decide which cities and towns in your area you’d like to visit.
Why you will love it
Geocaching isn’t just for kids. Adults all over the world are obsessively looking for boxes with or without their offspring. So, if you get down with family geocaching, you and your significant other will be just as exhilarated as the kids. Plus, you’ll revel in the excitement the activity brings to your children.
Geocaching is a community. These boxes are hidden by your neighbors. What an amazing way to get to know the people in your neighborhood. Once you and yours become avid geocachers, you’ll probably want to hide a geocache of your own after you get some inspiration from boxes you’ve found.
That’s right, you can come up with your own box, theme, and difficulty level. There are a few guidelines about how to create and hide your own box here, but for the most part, the contents are up to you. Once you hide the box, just sit back and watch out for those who come looking for it. Pretty cool, if you ask me.
I love anything that gets my kid out of the house, moving his body and using his brain. If I have to use technology to make this happen, so be it. I see the merits now. It does the trick. Once you get in on this GPS-style hunting, you can also create your own games for your kids, like a GPS scavenger hunt or a GPS-infused game of Capture the Flag. The possibilities are endless.
So, after much poo-pooing, I’m now endorsing the technology-aided activity of geocaching for children for president of our family activities. I’m a father, and I approve this message.