Geocaching—Fun and Educational
Written by Kathy Balman
Highlighted in Homeschool.com’s most recent virtual magazine
Most of the country is having cooler weather. Take advantage of this season and get your family outdoors for some fun and educational learning. It’s time to take your family on an adventure. It’s time to go geocaching.
So what’s geocaching?
Geocaching is treasure hunting using a GPS unit. Caches (the “treasure”) can be found all over the world. They can be at your local park, along a hidden trail, underwater or on the side of a city street.
How do you get started?
To get started locate caches near you by creating a free account on the geocache website. Make sure you also read the Geocaching 101 page too. The geocache website helps you locate the 6+ million caches worldwide. You can search by city, state, address, longitude, latitude, name etc. Once you do a search you can see a list of all the caches near your location in both a list and map format. You can also view further details about the caches including: cache names, difficulty, cache size, cache type, date last found, date placed, etc. Click on the cache you want to go hunting for to view further details, clues, logged visits and more.
Feel free to add us as a friend — we call ourselves the balman4! One of our geocaching goals is to complete all the GA state park caches. There are 50 state parks and 14 historic sites that participate. Your state parks may also participate; just visit your state parks website or contact them to find out.
Next get a GPS unit. We use one on my cellphone that I downloaded for free. I have an Android phone and really like C:Geo App. There are also several apps you can purchase like the official Geocaching.com App which is $9.99 (available for iPhone, Android, Windows 7). Other options are purchasing a handheld GPS for around $100 on Amazon. Or using your portable car GPS. We used our TomTom before, and it worked fine. Just make sure the battery is fully charged and that you change the settings to walking instead of driving. Sometimes I print out the geocaches information from the website to have as a back-up just in case something happens to our GPS unit. And we also always have an old fashioned compass just in case.
Next download or manually enter the coordinates into your device. You are now ready to set out on an amazing adventure to find a hidden treasure. Your GPS should guide you right to the cache or at least get you in close proximity to it. If you’re stumped you can look at the clues and photos from the previous logged visits on the geocache’s detail page to help you (I still have to do this sometimes). You will need to think outside of the box. Remember these are hidden treasures. The people who hide them do not want them to be easily found by Muggles (term used to describe non-geocachers). Many times you will need to think creatively. When you are in the area where the cache is hidden start looking for spots that look like good hiding spots like under rocks, inside tree cavities etc. Also look for off beaten paths that may have been created by previous geocache seekers.
And finally, make sure you log your find on the geocaching website. The people who created the cache love to read about people who have found it.
So what’s in the cache?
All kinds of really neat things!!! What treasures you will find inside really depends on the container type and size. My kids have found stickers, small toys, pens, pins, etc. The GA state parks require the use of a green ammo box, and this is what most cache creators use because it is camouflaged and waterproof. Inside each cache is generally a log book (which you will want to sign) and sometimes various trinkets that others have left behind. If you wish to take a trinket (which my kids always do) you will need to replace it with a trinket of greater or equal value. There may also be trackables like our Homeschool Pinocchio, who is traveling the globe right now!
Earlier this year we found our first micro cache. These caches are about 2 inches in length and can be very hard to find (like a 35mm film canister). There are also Earth Caches, Mystery/Puzzle Caches and Geocaching Challenges (we have completed 10 of these). You can read more about the types of geocaches here.
Depending on the cache adventure you’re choosing make sure you’re prepared and take plenty of sunscreen, bug spray, water, snacks, a first aid kit, and definitely a camera. Oh, and of course your GPS!
How can you make it educational?
Geocaching is the perfect opportunity to get your children outside for an adventurous field trip. It covers so many subjects (including PE) and can be an excellent learning experience. Each time we go on a geocache we discover new exciting things. We have learned about insects, waterfalls, birds, rocks, Indians, compasses, rivers, mountains, flowers — the list goes on! Both of my children draw pictures and write in their journals about the many fabulous things we experience during our trips. After a geocache adventure you can go home and continue the learning with some fun unit studies or lapbooks that go along with the various things you explored on your journey.
Kathy Balman quit her full time job in July 2011 to become a stay at home/homeschool mom to her two children. Besides being a full time mother she is also a devoted wife, blogger and social media manager. Read more about her homeschool journey on her blog, http://www.kathysclutteredmind.com.