Imagine a high-tech, outdoor treasure hunt and you have geocaching! Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smartphone or GPS. It’s a fun, free, family activity and it is sweeping Naples and the rest of the country.
Geocaching is an awesome family activity that teaches children geography, how to use a map and GPS, as well as life skills like patience, taking turns and treating the environment with respect. It’s not just fun here at home, it’s a good activity for vacations and can be a great way to get to know a new area.
Beth Housewert is an experienced geocacher who believes “it has strengthened our children’s understanding of nature. They quickly learned how to ‘tread lightly’ when finding caches. We kindly move logs, branches and flowers to look for our booty, not thrashing through without respect. With that understanding, my children have also become extremely observant of our natural surroundings. When caching you need to use keen eyes and look for slight differences since many cache containers are camouflaged or extremely small. It has gotten to the point now that my 6 year old can find many caches before I do.”
Chris Carpenter of Naples is the father of two sons: Alex, 16, and Luke, 10, and started geocaching after learning about it from friends online. “One day we were looking at my son’s phone, and realized it had a compass and the ability to find latitude and longitude coordinates. We had a whole day to kill, so we gave it a shot and started doing some online research. It turned out there are caches everywhere, all around us, and we had had no idea. We downloaded the app from geocaching.com and gave it a shot.”
As Carpenter found, it’s easy to get started. Register for a free basic membership at geocaching.com. Once registered, visit the “Hide and Seek a Cache” page where you enter your postal code. A list of caches within that code will be displayed. Choose one from the list, click on the name and then enter the coordinates into your GPS device (you can get apps specifically for geocaching). Follow the directions and start your search. Once you (hopefully!) find your cache, open it, sign the logbook and then return it to its original position for others to find. You will also log your success on the site and can upload photos and comments.
Depending on your available time, you may search for one or several caches during any particular outing. The skill level is across the board from simple-to-find caches in an open location to caches that take many hours and specialized skills and equipment to find. At the upper end of difficulty are caches that require advanced skills like rock climbing.
For your first time out, read through the descriptions on geocaching.com carefully. Has the cache been found recently? Are there any comments indicating it was difficult to find or that obstacles made it difficult to navigate to the location? Look for finds that have “easily found” or “good for children” in the comments. Start easy and work your way up to more difficult finds. Your children especially will thrive on success and want to continue participating if they have early success.
Caches always contain a logbook for you to log your find. Many also contain “shareables.” These little items can be anything from a small toy to something more valuable. Remember, if you take an item from the cache, return something of equal or greater value. Food, drugs or alcohol or dangerous items should never be placed in a cache and should be reported if found.
There’s an app for that
According to Carpenter: “A smartphone is your best friend, from any manufacturer. The application is cheap and simplifies the process. If you don’t want to buy the app, the website (www.geocaching.com) shows the coordinates for most of the entries for free. Just write them down and use your GPS device or smartphone to find the treasures. If you are bringing the kids, which I highly recommend, make sure they have water and snacks. Wear comfortable clothes and sneakers, as you might get a little dirty.” He also suggests packing a handful of small, cheap toys (from the dollar store or the bottom of your child’s toy box) to leave behind in caches that have shareables.
Beth Housewert works at the Children’s Museum of Naples and manages the geocaching course in North Collier Park. Through the museum, a handful of caches, all of which are family, child and stroller friendly are maintained. The caches are always well stocked with plenty of swag and goodies. According to Housewert, “Any cacher is welcome to find these caches. By the guidelines of geocaching.com, they are not ‘connected’ to the museum. We just maintain them and use them in our programming.” The museum plans to place more caches over the next few months and offer guided tours to give newcomers the basics they need to get started.
Once you get a little geocaching experience under your belt you may want to try your hand at hiding a cache. Complete instructions on how to do that can be found at www.geocaching.com.
Geocaching is a great learning experience for children. “I am in the unique position of having a teen and a younger child, so we use geocaching as a driving lesson for the teen, and compass and map reading skills for all,” Carpenter says. “Geocaching has a ‘cache in, trash out’ policy; we collect and dispose of any garbage we find in the area, so there is an environmental aspect as well. Cooperation is key, between the family finding the cache, and across the entire geocaching community. I make sure my children understand that this only works because everyone involved pitches in and does their part. “
The benefits of geocaching are numerous for everyone in the family. “It is so important to add that caching always makes our family work as a team,” Housewert says. My husband and I have our roles to get the kids started by searching and selecting the caches to find. Together we head out, check in with the coordinates and ‘feet away’ status, then when we are close enough we depend on the kids to actually find the cache container. We might catch sight of it and give clues, but we make sure that we all get a turn finding the goodies.”
It’s time together, it’s educational, it’s almost free and it’s great fun. Give it a try soon. Your kids will have a blast and won’t even know that they are learning so much along the way!