During a recent cub scout camping trip, the scoutmaster tried to help the boys track down a geocache. I had no idea what this thing was, but saw that the kids were really excited about finding this little treasure, and equally disappointed when they couldn't find it. Being the ever curious person I am required that I know what this geocaching thing was! For those of you who don't know, here is the definition from geocaching.com: "Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location."
After a quick search of the Apple store, I had downloaded the free version of the Geocaching app. It's easy to use, and even though the free version without a premium subscription is limited, you are able to find geocaches that are located near you, within walking distance for the most part. With the free version, the more caches you locate, the more that are shown on your map - sort of a reward for finding something.
After locating a couple of easy geocaches, signing the log and being successfully infected with the geocaching bug, I realized that it would be amazing to use this new hobby to teach the map skills to the boys. I've seen way too many people in my life who could not read a map to save their lives, and I refuse to allow that to happen to our boys. So we have purchased a folding road map for the area we live in, like the one shown here, available in gas stations across the country.
These fold out maps are perfect for spreading out on the table, marking where you're going, and using it and a compass to navigate to it. Yes, you can and should also use the GPS app on your phone, or a standalone GPS in order to locate the cache, but the map and compass will teach reasoning skills beyond what our digital toys can teach. You could also just locate each geocache on the map after you find it, then mark it somehow. The map can be tacked to the wall and used for your homeschool education on your hometown.
Reading a map helps them learn to think logically, and in itself is an adventure. They can learn to read it, see something that looks interesting and help navigate to the location, making this a family adventure increases the fun and gets everyone involved. Here are some ideas on teaching your kids to read maps: http://www.teachkidshow.com/teach-your-child-how-to-read-a-map/.
A wonderful side effect of all the walking we've been doing the last couple of weeks is the health benefits! We spent hours walking around the neighborhood and in the hills around, and my waistline is slowly by surely shrinking. What a fun way to add P.E. into the day. We bike, we walk, and we explore. We adults get so wrapped up in what we have to do for the day, that we rarely look outside that limited view, geocaching has been a truly enjoyable way to explore the countryside and look at the scenery with the kids. Finding treasures along the way is a great bonus, but make sure you take time to look at the plants, animals and rocks you see along the way. In our hills, we found anise growing wild, a couple tomato plants, wild grape and a number of other edibles. We also saw pieces of quartz and tourmaline, and watched the bluejays flying around us.