Geocaching With Kids Teaches Map Skills | My Family Travels
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Entice your children with geocaching – a fun, interactive, technological, original way and cheap way to explore either your next destination or your own backyard.

One of the latest phenomena in GPS technology combines a high-tech scavenger hunt, coordinates, mapping, and tourism into one game called geocaching. A hand held hiker’s GPS, cell phones with GPS enabled technology, or other gadgets with mapping capabilities are used to mark a single “waypoint.” These waypoints might mark a monument, large volcanic rock, a state park, or a hidden treasure like a buried seashell or hidden trail. Waypoints are then uploaded online to sites like www.geocaching.com for other GPS enthusiasts to download and embark on a unique scavenger hunt.

A spirited game of geocaching can also teach your kids about mapping and coordinates and incorporate a game of hide and seek with waypoints and hidden treasure. Kids can learn how important maps really are, and how each spot on the planet has a single fixed coordinate that can be accessed by anyone. It also might teach adults a thing or two about directions, too.

After familiarizing yourself with the basics of a GPS device and reading through your product directions, even young kids will discover that its easy to mark a waypoint with a just a few clicks. It’s a similar process to programming a cell phone and GPS’ are generally intuitive to handle and incorporate a user-friendly menu.

Getting Started

Families can create a series of waypoints to mark that bench overlooking the beach, a favorite restaurant, or an old lighthouse and upload them to geocache websites to share with other travelers and GPS enthusiasts. Anyone with a GPS unit can use those coordinates to locate your cache and join the fun. If you want to hide treasures like seashells or a special keepsake, it’s important to practice low-impact principles and hide only environmentally friendly objects that won’t compromise a park’s policy on litter or harm the planet.

Begin by purchasing an inexpensive GPS on eBay, at an outdoor retailer, or borrow one from a friend. You can also see if your cell phone already offers GPS capabilities. Geocache Navigator or the geocaching iPhone application is a good place to start. Next, organize a test game in your own backyard, a local park, or favorite outdoor spot before setting off on your next vacation. Once you’re ready to start geocaching, send out half of the family to hide the treasure so the other half can do the seeking. Then take turns with the GPS and see what you discover. You can also mark popular attractions and natural wonders with a waypoint and let your family go on a group scavenger hunt.

Geocaching on the Road

But you don’t have to invest in a GPS or organize your own game of geocaching to get in on the fun. Some destinations including The San Francisco Zoo, Key West, and Philadelphia’s Visitor Center are already offering GPS Ranger Tours where visitors can rent a device loaded with coordinates, self-guided maps, and videos to take a tour of area attractions.

For families with college-aged kids, Cal Poly is the first campus to offer GPS Campus Tours for an interactive approach to exploring the campus. It’s an innovative way to offer potential students and visiting parents a chance to combine GPS, cache, video, and audio to learn more about the college experience.

Charlotte Harbor Geocaching also promotes the new phenomenon at their eco-tourism haunts around Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands in North Carolina.  An ongoing travel promotion, it entices visitors to hunt for hidden caches full of certificates for free hotel stays, dinners, kayak rentals, and shopping discounts. Caches are also hidden in the Charlotte County Parks and Blueways and a special kayaking geocache game can be played right on the water.

Further west, Spring Creek Ranch near Jackson Hole, Wyoming offers a geocaching game for families looking for a high-tech bonding adventure. Located on a wildlife sanctuary, the resort encourages groups and families to use the game as a means to foster teamwork, communication, and problem solving skills. Its 1,000-acre property houses a private geocache course and also rents GPS units to hunt for public caches in the Jackson Hole area.

Geocaching is steadily encroaching on the mainstream radar and you’ll be hard pressed not to find a region of the country using it. Geocaching can be found at Northstar Resort in Tahoe, California, and the family-favorite Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont also offer family-friendly geocaching.  Googling “geocaching resorts” turns up a long list of participants worldwide to choose from . It’s exceptionally popular in areas that incorporate the game with state parks, preserves, and wildlife sanctuaries.

Even the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC is taking an innovative approach to GPS enabled games with the launch of Spy in the City. Families go on a mission around the Capitol grounds, Ford’s Theatre, the National Archives and other area attractions to uncover a double agent. Players have to figure out who is the double agent through video clues, trivia questions, Flash-based games and puzzles. Kids can learn more about Washington DC’s historic sites and learn more about GPS and mapping while going on a covert operation.

Before you head out with your GPS for your own treasure hunt, log onto www.geocaching.com to learn more about GPS games and locate over 732,000 active geocaches around the world. Just plug in the zip code of your next vacation destination and follow the coordinates to hidden treasures and attractions.

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