What’s geocaching all about, you ask? It’s is a recreational activity where you seek out hidden caches using their geographical coordinates. This can be done with an actual GPS unit, or with an app on your smart phone. It’s a great way to put a little more excitement into hikes, discover new places, just get out and do something active, or fill a few minutes at pit stops on road trips.
Some caches are barely big enough to hold a little piece of paper to log the signatures of those who have found it, and others are big enough to contain a little treasure (you take one and leave one). If you haven’t checked it out, get started at www.geocaching.com, which is the site that shows you a map of all geocaches. You can set up an account so you can log the geocaches you’ve found, among other things.
So, it all sounds great in theory, but it becomes a little more complicated when you introduce children into the equation.
My first experience with Geocaching with the kids was an epic fail. I had the kids in flip-flops, and shorts—which would have been okay, except we were tromping through terrain well above the flip-flop pay grade. It was hot. They wanted to hold the GPS, but with all the waving and twirling they do, the GPS wasn’t steady enough to give a good reading of our distance or direction. After a brief and undignified wrestling match I had the GPS back in my possession, but both the kids were crying.
Most of the misery of that attempt was my own fault. I didn’t put the kids in appropriate footwear. No bug spray, snacks, or drinks. Bad planning in general.
I’ve wised up a bit since then, and not just in regards to footwear. We started using the official Geocaching.com app on our phones and tablets instead of using a GPS. It was an improvement over using a dedicated GPS unit. You can see more detailed information and hints about each cache, but the app is still a little finicky when it comes to the compass. So, it is still best if an adult or someone with steady hands holds it—which is a problem, because the kids always want to hold it.
While this wasn’t a deal breaker when it came to geocaching, I knew there had to be a better way. I did some sleuthing (aka googling), and I found this thing called the Geomate Jr. Basically it’s a little handheld GPS unit for the kids, but it’s super easy to use and understand. Here’s a two minute video that illustrates what it does.
So I contacted the good people over at Brand44 (the current owners of the Geomate Jr) and they agreed to send me one for free—for scientific purposes. I needed to test it with the kids to see if it really did lessen their frustration and help them feel more involved.
The Geomate Jr. comes with geocache GPS coordinates already loaded. When you turn it on, it automatically tells you the nearest twenty geocaches and off you go. You can geocache wherever you are without having to do any research beforehand. I pulled it out of its packaging in a parking lot, turned it on and found a geocache under one of the light poles. From the reviews I saw, lots of people (many adults, mind you) like to keep them in their purses or cars to have on hand wherever they go, just in case boredom strikes.
However, it needs updated. They charge, like, $30 for the “update kit”, but all it is, is a USB adapter cord. Save yourself some money and use one you have lying around the house. If you have a USB adapter with a connector like the one shown above (and you probably do. It’s the most common connector for phones and tablets) then you’re all set. Go to the Geomate Jr. website, http://www.brand44co.com/GeomateJr/. It’s not the smoothest website I’ve ever used, but it does the trick. Download and install the Geomate Loader Setup, and then choose which region you want to update.
When we took the kids geocaching last weekend they loved holding the thing. There’s a circle with an arrow telling them which direction to walk in, and the number in the middle of the circle shows how far away they are. The format is so easy to understand that my six year old and my four year old had no problems using it. They loved shouting out our ever changing proximity to the geocache as we got closer (“We’re thirteen feet away! Now five feet away! It should be right here. Search around me everybody!).
The bottom line for me was how much more exited the kids got about finding the caches and feeling like they were a valuable part of the team. As any mom can attest, kids with happy and enthusiastic attitudes make all the difference on family outings.
We ended up using our phones in conjunction with the Geomate Jr. so that A) we, as adults, could also see where we were supposed to be going–without having to wrestle with the kids for a peek, and B) so that we could see the hints and comments on the cache if we had trouble finding them. The latter was especially helpful as several of the caches we sought had been MIA for a couple years (according to the last recorded date they were found) and we might have doggedly pursued them until nightfall to no avail.
So now we put the kids in good shoes, douse them in repellant, bring snacks, and sometimes do a little research beforehand. Most importantly the kids get to help us navigate to the “treasure” (that’s how my kids refer to caches) which was the key to getting the kids pumped about wandering through the wilderness with smiles on their faces.
If you haven’t tried geocaching before, start by setting up a geocaching account at www.geocaching.com, and then download the Geocaching app (by Groundspeak Inc. It is $10) and take it for a test run to see if you enjoy it. If it’s something you decide you want to do as a family, look into the Geomate Jr. You can find it on Amazon.
Thanks again to Brand44 for sending me the Geomate Jr when I asked. We’ll get lots of enjoyment out of it for years to come.
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