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Guest Post: Geocaching Birthday Party

On April 23, 2011, in Guest Posts and Interviews, by Julie
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Today’s guest post talks about how to plan and hold a geocaching-themed birthday party. An inexpensive alternate to party games, kids of all ages will enjoy learning to geocache in a park or backyard. Incorporate party favors into cache containers, have your cake, and eat it too!

Today’s guest post is written by Sheri Wallace, senior editor for the online travel website Road Trips for Families.

We’ve had over a decade of kids’ birthday parties at our house now. It was easy at first — year one we had some balloons and the neighbor kids came over. It got more elaborate after that. About kindergarten the theme was “dogs” (chosen by the child) and everyone made themselves a dog collar from candy and craft supplies, ate on dog plates and dug in the sandbox. Like most things with kids, it keeps getting more and more complicated. The last three years have all been mad science parties with experiments and blowing stuff up in the backyard. The dads are enthusiastic with this theme and it’s been successful at being very gender neutral. Lots of work for me, but the kids love it.

This year she wanted to have a geocaching party. (Thank goodness! My repertoire of kid-friendly experiments is overextended.) We’ve become a geocaching family over the past couple of years and she wanted to introduce all her friends to the sport. But how does that translate for kids who have no idea what geocaching is?

Luckily, geocaching is addictive. It’s fun, easy to learn and kids are natural born seekers. You’ll need to customize the party to suit the location, age of the birthday child and her friends as well as your budget, but here are my basic tips:

Location

Pick a location for the party with natural hiding spots. These caches won’t be entered into the geocaching system, so you need to make them easy to find without doing damage to the area but at the same time keeping them concealed for the hunt. Visit the location with geocaching in mind, and remember you want to keep the kids visible at all times, so ideally the area will be big enough for them to roam but with not too many obstacles to easy supervision.

We had our party at a local park that is naturally landscaped. No big expanses of lawn, but lots of trees and grasses and even a little pond. There are also some hiking trailheads that start at the park, giving me a lot of options for hiding the caches.

Cache Containers

I bought a wide variety of cache containers because I hadn’t been to the park to do much research without the kids and didn’t know exactly what I’d find. After doing this party I’d suggest pencil cases with screw-on lids, plastic containers about the size of a sandwich with the clip on lids, and a couple of larger containers. I think we set out about a dozen caches total. I bought all the containers at a discount store, and took back the ones I didn’t use. I saved this year’s containers for next year’s party (it was that popular).

To fill the caches I used items that the kids could use to start geocaching on their own. The first cache was larger and contained homemade bags that they can use for their cache prizes. After that, they got pencils, erasers, some fruit snacks, marbles, and other items you’d typically find in caches or at birthday parties. It was surprisingly hard to find these filler items on demand, I suggest looking for them right now and stashing them for the party as you find them. I think I spent about $6 per kid on containers and filler items but had I stocked up as I saw big packs of things like erasers I could have done better.

Hiding the Caches

My husband and I went early before the party to hide the caches. I filled them at home and just took a couple of paper bags with the containers to the park. We had to be very stealthy because muggles abound and when people see you hiding stuff in the bushes they get pretty excitable. I am not sure if broad daylight or after hours would attract more attention. Be sure to check with the park and make sure it’s ok to hide/retrieve the caches, it would be catastrophic to have to move the party at the last minute or have the location staff confiscate the caches while you sort it all out.

There are probably better ways to do this, but I used the GPS on my phone to give me the coordinates of where we were hiding the caches and just wrote down the numbers on a piece of paper. I made a note of what was in the cache and some basic info on where/how we hid it in case we couldn’t find it later.

Then, I went back to the picnic table area and made a “guide” for the kids to follow. Since we hid the caches by walking in a giant circle, I mixed up the coordinate order so the kids didn’t get the giant circle theme and started them at coordinate #5. Then they went to #8 and then to #1, and so on. I was waiting for them to figure out the coordinate system and put things in order, but that never happened. I think that’s because we picked a different girl to control the GPS for each cache.

How it Worked

After we had lunch, I explained what geocaching is, and showed everyone the GPS app on the phone. Since only one kid can really be taught at a time, I decided to randomly pick girls to lead the hunt. That girl got the phone and worked with me personally to understand how to use the coordinates to determine if they should walk right or left, etc. We got a LOT of exercise. I tried not to intervene if the girls were off course and let them use problem solving to figure it out. Older or younger kids will require different levels of assistance, but it was very interesting to see how fast some kids “got it” and others really struggled.

The leader girl would hold the phone and direct the group and then when we got close everyone would look for the cache. After three or four caches, some girls started looking ahead and running to search trees in our route, etc. About 30% of the kids really got the concepts quickly and were natural geocachers. About 15% of them never figured out anything and just enjoyed the walk and hunting for the cache when they got close.

Be prepared to keep the kids together, especially in a busy area (we didn’t have anyone around us much and it was safe to let the kids roam) or if you have a lot of kids that run off from the pack. You might need as many as three or four other adults to help. If you have a location that doesn’t have line of sight, you could break the pack into mini-packs of kids, each with an adult, and vary the order that they look for the caches so they don’t reveal the locations accidentally to another pack.

Note that I removed the cache containers as we found them and carried the bag with the empty containers with me as we went. If you have mini packs of kids, you’d leave for the last group to find.

Tips

We had about a dozen caches and that was probably too many. It was a warm day and the kids were running around and they got pretty tired. I’d probably do 8-10 if I had to do it over again in the same location.

I think next year I’ll pick a circular nature trail. Staying on the trail to cover ground, we can still hunt for a cache once we get close, but less running back and forth across the park will make me happier and we can get more creative with better hides for the caches.

We had kids ranging in age from 2-12 and they were all girls. Your group may necessitate different logistics. All the kids liked the “prizes” equally and they all have raved about the party to their parents.

Some of the parents got out GPS apps and followed along with us. Be prepared to explain how to geocache, and if possible, stock a registered cache with something special to find as the grand finale. That way the kids can bring back their families to that cache and explain the system to them.

We followed the CITO rules and the kids loved it. They looked for trash between the birthday caches and the nature of the hunting kept them from grouping up too much.

I should have prepared a geocaching basics sheet for the parents. I was surprised how many were interested but didn’t seem to know how to research info. Even if you print business cards with geocaching.com and a couple of “how to” links on them, that info would have saved me a lot of time.

Just Do It!

This was one of the cheapest and best birthday parties we’ve done. We spent so much time geocaching that we didn’t need to pay for anything besides hot dogs for lunch at the park. Keeping with the CITO theme I didn’t use anything paper or throw away for the party. No piñata and no balloons or other things that add up cost-wise. We made a point of telling the kids about waste and recycling and they could have cared less about all the decorations and stuff we didn’t do.

My daughter loved introducing her friends to her new sport and several families have gone geocaching with us since the party. You might set out a registered cache in honor of the birthday child as the grand finale if your group would enjoy learning about cache management.

When Sheri Wallace isn’t planning birthday parties, she’s traveling or working as a marketing expert for green and organic companies. Contact her at sheri at organicprpro dot com if you need science experiments, dog collar patterns, or geocaching party tips.

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