We all worry about the amount of time our children spend glued to a screen nowadays, but as any parent knows, getting them un-stuck isn’t as simple as just pulling hard. UK government guidelines recommend that young people (5 – 18 years) participate in at least 60 minutes, and up to several hours of exercise a day – not so easy when you’re engrossed in the latest Minecraft adventure or trying to top your score on Angry Birds. Monday to Friday we can assume that our children are experiencing some form of physical activity at school, but it’s the weekends and holidays where it can become increasingly difficult to get kids interested in anything but their iPad.
That’s where Geocaching comes in:
Described as the world’s largest treasure hunt, the premise is simple. There are millions of geocaches hidden around the world in all manner of different locations – your job is to find them. The finder decides on a cache to hunt for by searching online. Then, using a smartphone or GPS tracker, they search for it using the given coordinates. Each cache contains a few bits and bobs, usually of low value – this is your treasure. The finder will swap an item and then log on the website that they’ve found the cache. Of course, you can also place caches yourself, though the Geocaching Association of Great Britain (GAGB) recommends that you commit to the game for 12 months as a finder first, so as to limit the amount of boxes that may litter the environment. The benefits are obvious; it’s the perfect way to combine the internet with the great outdoors, and it’s a great way to stretch the mind, as well as the legs. It’s also fun both as a group expedition and for the solo explorer.
So, how do you get started?
Well, actually you’ll need to get your kids to go online before they can get outside. Geocaches are listed on websites, the most prominent being www.geocaching.com. Other popular sites include Opencaching.com, Opencaching UK, and Terracaching, which provide both information and coordinates.
You’ll also need a Smartphone or a GPS, so that you can accurately hunt down your prize. There are also Geocaching apps available for most Smartphones, so you may even have a device you can use to play already! Just search for “Geocaching” in the App store on your device.
Once you’ve successfully navigated your way to the cache, and managed to find it (some of these are extremely well hidden!) every cache contains a logbook which has a record of everyone who has found it. Make sure you take the time to flip through it – it’s fun for kids to see who has found the cache before them and how long ago it was since the last intrepid explorer ventured there. As you play more and more in a local area, you might even start to recognise some of the other cachers’ names out there. Be sure that your child adds their own entry. Geocachers use aliases so it’s a great opportunity to be creative. Some examples include Geovoyager, Iceman and Pirate but your kids can come up with anything – the sillier the better! They need to add the date (and time if they wish) and their ‘name’ as well as any additional information such as how long it took them to find, who they were hunting with, where they’re from – as much or as little as they want.
You may also find a number of small objects hidden inside the cache when you discover it. Remember, the principle here is “take something, leave something”. The original geocache hider may have placed a few goodies inside the cache when they first placed it, and it’s up to each finder to replace the goodie with something new when they discover it. Your child might like to think of a signature item or make their own calling cards before they set off. You can find various examples and templates online, or you can create something completely new and original.
Obviously some items shouldn’t ever be left in a cache, here’s a helpful guide for what is and what is not appropriate:
- No food. For obvious reasons – food can attract animals as well as going rotten and it can be a nasty surprise for the next person who opens it.
- Nothing illegal, dangerous or offensive. The GAGB guidelines state that ‘Only items that would be deemed safe and acceptable for an unaccompanied child to find should be placed in a cache.’
- Try to trade up, but always exchange something of equal value. As we said, plenty of adults do this and will leave items of higher value in the caches, it’s polite to respect these objects and not let your child swipe them and replace it with a bouncy ball!
- Travel Bugs. These are items to be taken and moved on. If you want to take it, you must be sure that you’re going to visit another cache.
- Be creative! Think of something fun and unusual that the next person will find and enjoy.
Once you’re done with your cache, and hopefully ready to find the next one, there’s a few things you should remember. Obviously, the cache should be left exactly where it’s found – it is a treasure hunt after all and you don’t want to make it too easy for the next person! If it was hidden under a rock or under some grass make sure it remains well hidden, and remember to ensure it’s properly sealed.
The fun doesn’t stop there:
When you get home they can also share their experiences online by reporting their find on the Geocaching.com website, and interact with other enthusiasts. It’s free to sign up for a geocaching account, though there is an option to go Premium if you get really into it.
In case you needed any more convincing, we spoke to a couple of Geocachers about their own experiences.
Helen Slaski and her son Mark, 13, have been Geocaching for over a year now, in and around Cambridgeshire. Helen told us, “It’s an amazing concept and for kids like Mark who are techno-addicts, it makes being out and about a much easier sell. I enjoy it as well – it makes for very long walks as we always want to do ‘just one more’! I also love the treasure hunt aspect.” Mark was equally enthusiastic, having found out about the idea from one of his tutors and has since discovered over 110 caches. We asked him if he’d recommend it to others; his answer “Yes, 110% I would!” Helen adds, “It’s extremely easy to get started – even I can do it.”
Next time your child refuses to shift from the couch or moans at the idea of setting a toe outside the living room, why not suggest this online treasure hunt and watch their face as you tell them, yes of course you can bring the iPad along. A word of warning though – the deeper into the countryside you go, the more likely the chance that 3G will disappear and the precious tablet will be rendered useless, though of course for many parents that would be no bad thing!
Photos via Pixabay.com