It’s now the last long weekend of summer and the school year is looming just around the corner. Most families see September as a time of getting back into the routine of the school year, but for the families of teachers the contrast between the wonderful summer months and the rush of the school year is especially sharp. I try to cram as much travel into the family calendar as I can, but I have learned that the month of September is a strict “no travel” time. Other families may be taking the trailer out for one last camping trip or trying to squeeze in a quick weekend getaway but with a classroom to get ready and a new school year to prepare for, Labour Day really does live up to it’s name in households with a teacher.
Still, no travel doesn’t mean no exploring. While it’s not possible to be on the road every day of the year, we can try to bring the sense of adventure that travel gives us to our everyday lives. One of the things we do to get the kids interested in exploring close to home is geocaching. Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunting game played using GPS enabled devices to find caches hidden at specific coordinates. There are over two million geocaches hidden around the world and if you were to go to the website at Geocaching.com and create a free account you may be surprised at how many are hidden close to your own home. These caches range from tiny micro caches that just fit a tiny scroll of paper to good sized plastic containers.
Using a smartphone to access the geocaching website and to find our coordinates, we can turn any walk into a treasure hunt. All caches contain a logbook where you log in your name and date and many also contain a stash of trinkets that you can take and exchange for one of your own. This is my kids’ favourite part since there’s nothing a preschooler likes more than picking out a prize, even if it’s just so we can leave it at the next cache we find. You can also log your find on your account on the website.
Turning our ordinary walks into treasure hunts has really helped bring a sense of exploration and discovery to our everyday lives. Suddenly, the kids aren’t just seeing trees, fences and park benches, they’re seeing these objects as potential hiding spots. We’re getting off the paths and suddenly noticing gaps in the brick walls, stones that may hide cavities underneath and fallen logs that may hide hollow spots. We’re looking up into the branches of the trees and under the gnarled roots. We’re problem solving and using our imagination to think of ways that caches could be hidden in each location. And we’re sharing the sense of accomplishment when we work together to make a find.
It’s also easy to create and register your own cache and then keep track of who comes to find it. We have one within walking distance of our house and we periodically go out to check on our own treasure, making sure the log book has pages left, replacing the container if it’s needed, making sure it’s well hidden, etc. Our kids aren’t quite old enough to grasp the idea of latitude and longitude, but for older kids it would be a great tool for learning about these concepts.
For our family, going “treasure hunting” has become part of our everyday explorations. Yesterday, when we returned from an outing that included geocaching, my husband asked if maybe it could be considered a bit odd that our children find it normal to just find little boxes of treasures in random trees and holes in the ground wherever they go. I guess you could see it as a bit odd. Or else you could just see it as a metaphor for exploration in general. There are treasures to be found wherever you go if you’re willing to keep your eyes open and look beyond the surface of things. Geocaching with your kids just gives you some physical treasures to find along with the other ones.