By Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media editor
My son would glue his eyeballs to my iPhone if I let him. He wants every second he can squeeze out of that shiny device, and we're constantly wrestling with the when and how of device time. So, when I found a way for us to blend outdoor time and exercise with the allure of the iPhone, I knew I'd struck gold.
Geocaching is something that tech-savvy (and GPS-owning) families have been doing for ages, but now that many families own at least one smartphone, this digitally driven treasure hunt is something almost anyone can enjoy.
Here's the deal: An international community of treasure hunters (known as geocachers) have hidden little caches of fun stuff all over the world. You can use your smartphone to hunt down the treasures -- usually little goodies like plastic toy animals, a play token or maybe a dime. How cool is that?
Recently, I took three kids to a nearby park and spent hours searching trails, tree stumps, boulders and fences for caches. Each time we found one using an easy geocaching app with a map and compass, the kids celebrated their successes with hoots and hollers. I celebrated their observation and problem-solving skills. And by the end of our journey, I also celebrated their sheer exhaustion and the easy bedtime in store for me.
One thing to note: The treasures are often very small, and sometimes there aren't any goodies, just a log to sign. But kids quickly pick up that it's more about the thrill of the hunt than the prize.
Though this is still a new thrill for my family, I've picked up a few tips that I think are helpful for other novices:
- Start with a free app, and move to the fancier ones after you've decided you want to keep geocaching. We started with Groundspeak's free app but finally bought the $9.99 version when I knew that this was a big hit with my kids.
- Research your cache sites on the official geocaching website (or on the full version of the app) before you leave the house. The first time I took my daughter out, I didn't do this, and we ended up searching for caches that no longer existed. Now I always check before I go to avoid disappointment.
- Teach your kids the short and sweet rules before you start: Always put the cache back exactly as you found it, and, if you take a treasure from the cache, you must leave something of equal or greater value.
- Non-geocachers are called "Muggles," as in the non-wizards in Harry Potter's world. If you see Muggles during your hunt, you should act normal, and don't let them catch on to what you're doing. (Kids LOVE this part.)
- Always bring a pen!
Photo by Sierra Filucci
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