Get Outdoors · Homeschool

Learn latitude and longitude with geocaching!

Have you ever heard of geocaching? It’s basically a modern day treasure hunt using GPS technology. You use latitude and longitude coordinates to follow a map and find a hidden treasure. We use the geocaching app on my smart phone and it’s easy enough for my 8 year old to figure it out. It’s a great way to learn about nagivation, how latitude and longitude work, and how to read a map.

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One of the downfalls of GPS technology is that we rely very heavily on our phones or built-in navigation systems in our cars to find our way around. Gone are the days of pulling out the Rand McNally road atlas and figuring out a route. My GPS simply says, “In 500 feet, turn left.” Rarely do I have to put any thought into where I’m going. It’s just one more way that our smart phones are dumbing us down. I’d like my kids to get familiar with map navigation, and geocaching is a great intro to the subject. If you have fun with this, you could also learn orienteering with a topographical map and compass. That’s a lot more complicated, but a skill worth learning if you’re into the outdoors.

To get started with geocaching, download the free app for Android or iPhone. It’s simply called “Geocaching.” It will show you a map of your location and show you geocaches near you. My 8 year old son and I tried geocaching for the first time the other day.

Geocaches range in size from tiny (the size of a pill bottle) to big (the size of a trunk). The tiny caches have a log that you can sign to show you found it.

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Hunter holding a log from one of the tiny caches.

If the cache is big enough, you will find prizes inside, usually trinkets that are fun for the kids to choose from. When you take a prize, you leave something behind for the next person.

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These are the prizes we brought along to leave behind for the next treasure hunter.

I started off by teaching my son about latitude and longitude.I drew a really awful map of the world and drew a grid on top. I used low numbers and taught my son how to use the lines like a grid to chart a position. You could also use a big National Geographic type of map, with the real lat and long lines printed on it. For my son, it was just easier to make a simple one of my own.

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My crappy map of the world. The coordinates at the bottom are the ones we practiced with.

We started off with a geocache right around the corner from my house, but we never did find it. According to the app, we were right on top of it, but we couldn’t locate it. It must have been really tiny. We did see a snake and find a $5 bill though, so that’s a win!

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We found two more geocaches before it got too hot and we went home.

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Our first find. We took a Lego and left two dimes.

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The app makes it really easy, almost too easy. It shows you your position with a blue dot, so you can see where you are in relation to the cache. It also has a built in compass with an orange marker that adjusts as you move. The orange marker should be in the middle of the screen. That’s how you know you’re traveling in the right direction.

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A screen shot of the app. In urban areas it’s pretty easy to navigate because there are so many roads and markers.
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Another screen shot of the app showing the compass feature and the orange marker that moves as you navigate.

I would like to learn real orienteering, but geocaching with an app on my smartphone was a good way to introduce my kid to map reading and latitude/longitude lines. It was also fun to find prizes and leave some for the next treasure hunter!

 

 

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