6 Things My Kids Learn While Geocaching

kids geocaching

My family discovered geocaching on a summer vacation in the mountains of Tahoe. At the time my daughter was 6 and my son only 4 years old. They were already novice hikers, having taken on some of the (flat, easy) trails near our home. This would be a new challenge.


We rented a low-tech GPS from our resort and set out in search of our first cache (or “treasure chest,” as my husband and I sold it to the kids). That first expedition lasted close to three hours and may or may not have included one minor injury and more than one tense moment -- but it ended in absolute elation when we finally found a military-style metal box loaded with tiny trinkets.

If you’re not familiar with geocaching, it’s essentially a worldwide scavenger hunt. It started in 2000 as a game for serious hikers. They’d stash goodies along trails and post the coordinates online. Back then you needed some well-honed tracking skills to locate a cache, but now technology has made it much easier. So easy that families with kids of all ages can join the fun. We’ve even found some on stroller-accessible trails.

To play, download an easy-to-use smartphone app, log in, and you’ll see a map of caches near you. Point your phone toward a cache and start walking until you find it. The rules are simple. If you take something, leave something in its place -- then log your name and the date in the logbook and check out who else has found the cache.

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It’s been almost four years since our first geocaching excursion, but we still love to set out in search of caches as a family. Like that first trek full of ups and downs, each outing is rich with life lessons. Here are some things my kids learn from geocaching (I’d be lying if I said my hubby and I don’t pick up some skills, too).

Be patient.

There’s no instant gratification here. When we set out, we know it may take a while to reach our goal and we’re all okay with that. If we get stuck, the best we’ll get is a hint on our app. We can’t google the answer.

Decision-making takes practice.

Ever stand in line for ice cream with your kids and listen to them change their order 47 times before you reach the counter? (Just me?) Before we set out, the kids need to pick something of theirs they’re willing to part with. If we have a successful hunt, they’ll have to choose an item to bring home. I have yet to see anything in a cache any adult would want, but a kid trying to decide between a faded Pokemon card and an '80s-era Matchbox car with one glued-on wheel takes deliberation and a pros-and-cons list -- a skill they can take with them when they’re trying to determine which college to attend (or whether to order the sprinkles).

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It's important to know how to lead -- and how to follow.

One of my kids is a natural-born leader and the other is happy to go with the flow. Still, they get equal turns holding the GPS and guiding the way. One gets to practice confidently leading the family and the other practices quietly following instruction and trusting our leader.

Planning makes the whole process go smoothly.

If we leave the house with barely more than a glance at which geocache we’re heading for, we know it’ll be a more arduous process. We’ve learned to take the time to read up before we go. On our app we can find out what kind of terrain we’ll be facing, whether the cache is well hidden, how far we’ll have to hike, etc. We also know that if we bring water, snacks, sunscreen, and bug repellent we’ll last longer and be more likely to have success.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

With four of us out there, it usually means four different opinions on where to look or what that hint might mean. On our first expedition there was a lot of talking over each other and barely listening to what anyone else had to say. We’re learning to really pay attention to each other to determine whose idea just might work.

The harder you work, the bigger the payoff.

When it takes 10 minutes to find a cache, we get excited, but not that excited. When we struggle; when we think we may not find it, but refuse to quit or give up hope and then we have success? Well, that feeling is indescribable. Those are the times that result in a shared feeling of total joy. And really, what’s a better lesson that that?


Photo via iStock.com/tirc83

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