With the school year ending I am sure a popular online search phrase includes "free things to do in [insert your home city]". I've got a great one for you, and all it requires is a smart phone and an app.
I recently learned how to geocache so that I could teach our Beaver Scout group how it works. Little did I know that our own kids would love it so much, and that we would continue to do it as a family.
There are caches hidden all over the world and all over our beautiful city. Think of it - and pitch it to the kids - as a world-wide treasure hunt.
Some caches are tiny little capsules, some are jar-sized with little treasures inside and some are big enough to accommodate a book exchange. Some caches are easy finds and some require solving a riddle or mathemtical equation. We've haven't tackled any of the advanced searches or used a handheld GPS without the visuals, because my children would lose interest if the process was too complicated. We tend to find the easier ones, providing instant gratification and maintaining excitement.
Here is a step-by-step instruction on how to get started:
1. Download the geocaching app (www.geocaching.com). The icon is green with arrows. Basic membership is free. Create your own account.
2. Educate yourself by reading more about geocaching
3. Decide on an area you'd like to explore and search that area for caches on your device. Little markers will appear where caches are hidden. Clicking on the markers will give you more information such as the size of the cache, the difficulty, the terrain, hints, parking in the area etc. Plan your route.
4. Pack a bag with water and snacks. When you find one you will want to find another!
5. Ask the kids to pack a little ziplock bag with trinkets they are willing to give away. Keep them small; like a marble, a bracelet or little figurine. When you find caches with treasures inside you can take one and leave one!
6. Head out to the area where caches are and give it a try! Let your kids hold the phone (with a protective case and only if you're comfortable) and follow the path to the cache. The fun is in the search and they're sometimes nicely hidden.
7. If you're in a populated area, consider trying to find the cache secretly so as not to draw attention to the fact you are looking for something hidden. You don't want to reveal its location to non-geocachers which could lead to it to be "muggled" (stolen) before the next person finds it. This just adds to the excitement and adventure for the kids.
8. Found a cache? Awesome! Take a look inside, exchange your treasure, log your finding (there is usually a paper log inside) and log in the app that it has been found. The app will track your finds but it also lets the owner of the cache know it's still hidden for the finding.
The experiences you have finding these caches are incredible! The other day we were out and it was getting dark. We found a cache but it was a bit challenging to open as it required a unique key-lock system. We headed home, got our flashlights and returned to finish what we started. Another time, we were geocaching and a movie was being filmed in the park where we were searching. We watched the director film and capture their project which was quite fascinating.
Once you get the hang of it you'll realize there are caches everywhere! They are hidden in our parks, on walking trails, at beaches, in parking lots and even in urban areas. The caches will lead the way to adventure for you and your family. Seek out new parts of town, bump into fellow geocachers and enjoy the outdoors! You and your family may decide to hide one of your own for others to find!
Happy treasure hunting!
Andrea is currently a SAHM with three children, ages 3, 7 and 10. She has lived in Ottawa all her life and loves what Ottawa has to offer. You can find Andrea on Twitter!