Geocaching & Letterboxing Support Learning and Outdoor Adventures as a Family

Geocaching and Letterboxing: Outdoor Adventures that Practice Mapping Skills & Support Discovery of Place

Have your kids ever fantasized about finding buried treasures? Adventure-loving kids’ fantasies can become realized by participating in geocaching and/or letterboxing, activities that lead explorers to a hidden treasure of sorts. Though geocaching and letterboxing are slightly different activities, they’re fairly similar and both use maps and landmark clues to lead participants to a specific location, where a hidden box contains a log (where visitors can add their own notes) and perhaps some small treasures. Both activities support children’s development of map skills and test their minds with riddle-like clues, and hidden letterboxes and geocaches are always outside – meaning that adventuring to find one will likely lead to additional learning about the local landscape.

Geocaches are everywhere – a simple search can turn up more nearby geocaches than your family has time to find! Designed with technology in mind, geocaches are defined by their geographic location – meant to be identified using GPS. However, it’s possible to use maps and clues in order to find geocaches, too – the activity doesn’t necessarily depend on the use of technology while you explore. (Keep in mind, however, that some caches may be more difficult to find than others if you forgo the use of GPS.) The techy-est of families may even choose to download a geocaching app, which turns Apple devices into cache-finding tools that allow for easy access to caches in over 185 countries… though part of the fun of geocaching lies in the adventure itself, so the ease with which you’d like to find the caches depends on what your goals are for the activity! 

In order to find a particular nearby cache, families can work together to examine a map and determine the best route to the location and decipher the location clues for additional information. Generally made out of plastic containers or other waterproof boxes, geocaches include a log where visitors can note that they’ve found it, as well as some small treasures like stickers, magnets, nature objects, or other small trinkets. The cache’s treasures are like tiny souvenirs – take one with you to begin a collection of all sorts of geocache treasures!

Dating back to the mid-19th century, letterboxing includes the same sort of activities, but instead of finding treasures, folks participating in letterboxing create their own unique stamp to add to each box’s log book. Stamps should reflect a person’s personality and unique identity, and allow them to truly leave a mark on each box that they find. If you do a lot of letterboxing, you might find that you develop connections to the anonymous folks whose stamps you find in multiple logbooks.

Families who gain lots of experience with geocaching or letterboxing can further their learning by creating their own secret spot. While the guidelines for geocache listing suggest that creators of caches find at least ten geocaches before creating their own, it’s worthwhile to not only find a certain number of caches but to participate in the activity for a prolonged period of time before attempting to add to the network. This way, you’ll gain experience not only in locating caches and letterboxes, but you’ll have lots of time to reflect on which caches were most fun to find, which were most difficult to locate, and what you enjoy most about the activities – and you’ll be able to use this information to help you create an excellent cache or letterbox.

In addition to practicing mapping skills and participating in an outdoor adventure as a family, one of the benefits of geocaching and letterboxing is the discover of place.  Hunting for these treasures may lead you out and into your community to discover places you’ve never been to before!

In order to learn more about geocaching, letterboxing, and map skills at home, check out these titles:

  1. Let’s Go Geocaching by John McKinney
  2. The Letterboxer’s Companion and The Letterboxer’s Companion, 2nd by Randy Hall
  3. Ben and the Geocache Treasure by Heather Gregory
  4. Caching In by Kristin Butcher (a chapter book for older readers)
  5. As the Crow Flies: A First Book of Maps by Gail Hartmann
  6. Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe by Vera B. Williams

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