Spend the Waning Days of Summer Hunting for Buried Treasure

I grew up in Ohio, where I had excellent adventures running around in the forests and fields near my house. Now we live in Brooklyn and my own son and daughter wouldn't know a hundred-acre wood from a shopping mall. Still, I wanted to instill that sense of adventure in the kiddos and teach them a little bit about their neighborhood and, eventually, nature.

What to do?

We recently discovered a trend called geocaching after I got a GeoMate Jr. handheld tracker in the mail for review. Geocaching is a hobby that involves all the adventure and mystery of wandering around the woods in search of pirate treasure but incorporates cool technologies as well as the kindness of strangers. Let me explain ...

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Geocaching is a sport. Geocachers hide small caches -- usually in a Tupperware box or something considerably smaller -- in a certain place and note the GPS coordinates. Using the GPS satellites that are constantly rotating the Earth, you can mark spots down to a few feet. Geocachers place their treasures in the crook of an old tree or on some piece of public property and write a description of what's inside, usually with a little clue about where it's buried.

Other players then embark on a quest to find the cache, logging their discoveries online at Geocaching.com. You can leave notes and little items in the cache for other people to find, as well as coins or gear bearing unique tracking numbers known as "trackables." The trackables wend their way around the world as geocachers drop them into new caches. My son, above, found his first trackable this weekend, and we're about to pass it on.

You don't need much to geocache. There are iPhone and Android apps available -- a free version includes the three closest caches, while the $9.99 version allows you to find multiple caches, log discoveries from the field, and add notes and descriptions to your own caches. If you're in a dense city, there are actually plenty of caches hidden right under your nose. Oddly, we discovered some in places we've often frequented. You'll never look at parks and sidewalks the same way again.

The GeoMate Jr. ($69), a geocaching device for kids, contains 250,000 caches and is rugged enough for pre-schoolers. There are two buttons on the face, one to choose a cache and another to mark your finds. Arrows point you toward the cache and a distance read-out shows you how close you are. The iPhone and Android apps are a bit more fully-featured, but the GeoMate will lead you to a cache without much fuss.

Kids love it because it seems like they're playing a real-life video game and adults love it because it keeps the kids busy. Like model trains, a lot of this is more for the parents than the wee ones anyway (although we won't admit it).

Why not try it on an upcoming trip to the grandparents' or on vacation? Or why not get to know your local streets? It's a fun, nearly free adventure that children of all ages will enjoy -- and it gets them out of the house. Who could ask for more?

Would you ever try geocaching with your kids?


Image via John Biggs

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