By: Maria McDonald.
As a Geocaching HQ staffer often tethered to the office, I love it when the opportunity to be out in the community presents itself. Such an opportunity presented itself last week when a teacher (Username: Cache-alope) from a local after school science program (Pathways) asked me and Partner Programs Manager Annie Love (Love) to present geocaching to her middle school students. My immediate reaction: Middle schoolers?!? Oh no…anything but the awkward tween years. Luckily, my love of all things geocaching overcame these initial thoughts, and the opportunity to share my passion for geocaching with the next generation removed any lingering doubt.
While preparing our presentation, I got to thinking about children’s involvement with geocaching more generally. While one of the most fascinating elements of geocaching is its ability to be many different things to many types of people, children have a particular place in this game we cherish. First and foremost, kids love toys. If nothing else, geocache SWAG gives youngsters the opportunity to find fun toys. This often keeps them interested in a ‘treasure hunt’ before the more nuanced elements of the game can hold their attention. Another element that particularly appeals to children (or rather to their adults chaperons) is the idea of giving their walk a purpose. Have you ever tried talking a child into going for a walk with you? Nearly impossible! They’re bored and whining before you hit a quarter mile. Tell a child you’re going geocaching and you can get her to cheerfully – and unknowingly – go for a long walk. Lastly, I thought about the importance of finding activities the entire family can enjoy. Geocaching has wide appeal in this aspect as babies in strollers, grandparents in walkers, and every age and stage in between can find something about geocaching they enjoy with geocaches they are able to access. It truly is an adventure for the whole family.
So how do you get your youngsters into geocaching? Here are 5 easy Tricks of the Trade (TOTT…but different this time around).
1. Bring Snacks. Simple but true, you can bribe – I mean convince – a child to do just about anything with the right snack as incentive.
2. Be enthusiastic. Kids know fun when they see it. If you see geocaching as something fun, adventurous, and exciting, that enthusiasm is going to shine out your face like rainbows and they will want to be part of the action.
3. Plan geocaching outings that you know will provide SWAG. This part is easy, as mentioned earlier children love stuff. Geocaches have stuff in them. Plan on searching for geocaches with young ones that you know will provide them with cool stuff. Worried the geocache may not have the goods needed to keep your child’s attention? You’re an adult – use your super sneaky adult powers to have extra SWAG of your own on hand to suddenly make SWAG ‘appear’ as if from the geocache itself. Sort of like planting evidence but much more legal. After the planted SWAG is discovered enthusiastically, mention the next geocache with cool stuff is just around the corner…
4. Find caches that match the child’s skill set and ability. At every age of child development there are markers and goals for what children are capable of learning. Find a way to incorporate the learning goals for their age range into the caching experience. Think broadly about what this could entail, are they working on balance? Climbing? Counting? Over/under/up/down differentiating? Find the skills they seem naturally drawn to learning in their age range and work them into the adventure.
5. Make them part of the team. Children of any age, much like all other ages of humans beings, want to be included. When children are able to participate and contribute to something they see others doing with enthusiasm they will want to play a role themselves.
So how did the presentation with the dreaded middle schoolers go? Amazing. This was the greatest group of youngsters you could ever hope to geocache with. They were riveted by the geocaching presentation and remained two steps ahead of us with every engaging question. When it came time to leave the classroom and enter into the woods on this particularly rainy day, the kids charged ahead brimming with enthusiasm. The students worked together in pairs, one using a compass and the other piloting a GPS heading towards a staged geocache their teacher had placed specifically for them. They worked their way quickly towards the find and made up usernames on the spot when signing the staged logbook. How “XXthekillertacoXX” came so quickly to one young lady’s mind I’ll never know, but a greater username I challenge you to encounter. The adventure came to a close upon returning to their classroom where the students excitedly talked about how they could share this fun new activity with their families. This afternoon in the woods with youngsters reminded me that Geocaching really can be fun for all ages, even tweens when presented correctly.
Editor’s Note: Maria McDonald wears many hats at Geocaching HQ. She is both our Office Manager and Education Specialist, having worked years in public school systems.
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