Introducing Children to the Geocaching Adventure Game

High-tech treasure hunts gets kids outdoors

Geocoin example for Geocaching

Amaustan / Wikimedia Commons

Ask your children if they want to go outdoors for a hike, and they'll likely moan and turn back to their screens. Invite them on a high-tech treasure hunt for a geocache, and they'll pepper you with questions as they put on their shoes and head for the door.

What Is Geocaching?

Geocaching combines mobile tech with the thrill of a scavenger hunt. It refers to an activity where participants use their phones or handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to locate "caches" containing log books, trinkets, tradable goods, or even money.

Caches are typically hidden and listed by other geocachers. There are more than 3 million registered geocaches hidden in more than 190 countries. Even Antarctica has registered geocaches. Advanced versions of the game include multistep puzzles and trackable traveling objects such as geocoins and travel bugs.

Newcomers are usually surprised by how many caches are located near their own homes. There are plenty of new challenges to keep kids interested in future outings.

Geocaching With Kids Combines Learning and Fun

Geocaching with kids can range from a simple search of an easy-to-find cache to multistep lessons in GPS technology, geography, and map reading. Many caches are educational in nature and are closely linked to regional history or geological features. Some caches are hidden by children for other children, making these finds especially appealing. Geocaching is an excellent scouting activity because it includes orienteering and other outdoor skills.

How to Get Started in Geocaching

To get started, you need a handheld GPS receiver or smartphone with GPS capabilities. Once you've gotten your GPS device, geocaching is completely free. Visit geocaching.com to register for a free account. You can start the search by setting different location parameters, including postal code and keywords.

Cache descriptions include a significant amount of information, including exact coordinates of the location, description of the cache, and type of cache. (Most consist of a waterproof container filled with items.) You'll also find difficulty and terrain ratings, clues, tips, and comments from others who have found the cache.

Kids can participate in every part of the process. You can choose caches with easy difficulty and low terrain ratings for younger children. Move up to more advanced ratings as you and the children gain experience.

Caches often contain small gifts or toys that are of interest to children. Cache etiquette requires that you place something in the cache if you remove something, so plan to bring along some small items to put in the cache, at least one for each child. Caches often contain logbooks, so the kids can sign in and leave comments.

Advanced Geocaching

Traveling trackable items, such as geocoins and travel bugs, add an interesting dimension to geocaching. These items have unique identifying numbers, and you may look them up on geocaching.com to find out where they've been. A cache may include a travel bug that originated in Australia and traveled via Hawaii and Quebec to your state. This information can be turned into a geography lesson, as the kids review the travel bug’s adventures on a map. Advanced geocaching may involve multistep instructions with clues leading to the cache.

A Few Tips for Geocaching With Kids

  • Engage kids in every step, from learning how to use the GPS to selecting and finding caches.
  • Bring water, bug repellent, and hats on cache hunts.
  • Let kids find the cache after arriving at the coordinates.
  • Educate kids on the “take one, leave one” ethic of cache treasures.
  • Pick up your own trash, or better yet, show the kids a great example by picking up other trash you may find along the way.
  • Bring a camera and notepad and pen to write down numbers of trackable items.
  • Integrate science, history, geography or geology lessons into your outing.