Family Fun With Technology
It’s August and if you have kids in your home there is a highly likelihood that their favorite phrase at this point in the summer is, “I’m bored.” So if you are looking for a relatively affordable way to break the summer boredom and do something that is fun, educational and healthy I might have something for you – have you ever heard of geocaching?
Geocaching is basically a technology based treasure hunt. Using a GPS unit and coordinates provided at the geocaching.com website you can scour the city looking for hidden caches. They come in all a variety of sizes from film canisters all the way up to large ammunition boxes. Right now over 2000 caches reside in the Fox Cities area to keep even the most ambitious family busy for some time, and if you find all of the caches around here there are more scattered all over the world.
It is easy to get started. The first thing you need to do is set up an account. A basic account at geocaching.com is absolutely free and will fill the needs of most users. You may need to purchase is a GPS but if you have a smart phone you can download apps that will turn your phone in to a geocaching machine. I use c:geo, a free Android app, it has a nice interface that makes most things really easy, but it’s not perfect. The compass page that acts as your guide is not very accurate. In fairness it may be a problem with my phone and not the app. You can also choose to spend ten bucks and get the official geacaching app which is available to both Android and Apple users.
Many geocachers prefer a dedicated GPS. As I stated earlier the smart phone didn’t seem to have great accuracy whereas even our oldest handheld unit works great. The catch with a hand held unit is that coordinates need to be downloaded or manually entered into the units. For what it’s worth, you can get a decent handheld GPS unit for about a hundred bucks these days. If you have a car mounted GPS units you can also use that if it has battery power. The problem is that they do not typically have a compass page so you would have to use the actual coordinates to figure out when you were getting close.
Once you have an account and a GPS unit in hand you can start your search. From geocaching.com you can set up your query of local caches. In this case I searched within 25 miles of zip code 54911. After removing the caches we had already found the result was 2188 possible caches. Each cache is listed with size, difficulty, type of terrain and when it was last found to help you choose your targets. There is even a button to click that automatically sends the coordinates to your GPS unit if it is hooked up to the computer via USB.
Here are some recommendations from 8 years of experience geocaching with my family.
1. Look for full size caches. These will have small toys and knick knacks in them that the kids can trade. Since the idea is to trade, not simply take, you will also need a supply of items to take with you. We usually raid the kid’s rooms beforehand for Hot Wheel cars, Little People, yo-yos, or happy meal toys. You get the idea, cheap and plentiful things that will not be missed. Pencils and pens are also good swap items.
2. Hike for it. If you are trying to get some health value out of this stay away from car caches. Many geocaches can be found simply by pulling over to the side of the road and hunting within 20 feet of the car – which kind of kills the healthy part. The caches’ description will give you an idea of where items are hidden, so choose accordingly.
3. Stick to easy caches your first couple times out so the kids don’t get frustrated and the corollary rule, let them find some of the caches.
4. Model behavior. Set an example for your kids. Never dig. Be careful about trouncing on the plants. If you really want to set an example, try a concept called “Cache in Trash out.” In other words leave the area better than you found it by carrying out trash that was left in the woods.
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