parenting

Outdoor Activity: PBS KIDS Dinosaur Train Geocaching Challenge

momeducationparentingeducation

Outdoor Activity—Recently, my boys and I had the opportunity to take the PBS Kids Dinosaur Train Geocaching Challenge. As you may or may not know, geocaching is a family-friendly outdoor adventure that blends technology, gaming and environmental discovery. Participants use a GPS, smart phone, or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", anywhere in the world. There are currently 1,519,577 active geocaches and over 5 million geocachers worldwide, my family and me being four of them.

The Dinosaur Train Challenge is comprised of 92 geocaches hidden in the U.S. and Canada, each one featuring a dinosaur, containing educational information related to that dinosaur, and hiding in a museum, zoo, aquarium, or aviary. The geocaches are made and hidden either by PBS station representatives or families who like Dinosaur Train. Anyone can make a geocache or participate in the challenge, regardless of their experience level. Everything they need to know can be found here.

Here's what we did:

  • I went to pbs.org/parents/dinosaurtrain/geocachingchallenge. About halfway down the information page, I found  a link to the list of Dinosaur Train geocaches. After clicking on that link, I scrolled through that list until I found one located in our state. I noted the description, small map, and logs of previous visits from other users. Even without the actual coordinates of the cache, I had a good idea where it was hidden.
  • I programmed the coordinates of the cache into my GPS and grabbed a Dinosaur Train-related trinket that I happened to have on hand. It's customary to trade stuff in geocaches: you put something in (i.e., a trinket, book, or something cooler, depending on the theme and location of the cache) and take something out.
  • As soon as we got on the road, my GPS told me what direction I needed to go and the approximate distance to the cache. It led us to within 10 or 20 feet of it. All GPS's have a margin of error (here's why), so they'll get you in the area of a cache, but it's up to you to interpret whatever clues were provided by the maker of the cache or those who've visited it before you. Therein lies a big part of the fun of geocaching.
  • This cache was hidden in Tracy Aviary. It actually took two separate visits to find it, complicated by bad weather and traffic. The staff of the Aviary didn't even know it was there, but Dave Orndorff, the curator, was kind enough to let me in for free the second time to continue my search.

  • We found the cache! It contained a logbook for us to record our visit, a few bird or dinosaur trinkets, and information on the microraptor, a small, bird-like dinosaur. We left our trinket and took a travel bug, and then spent a couple of hours exploring the whole aviary.

I like geocaching with my kids because I know they're developing critical and creative thinking skills as they go through the process of helping me follow coordinates to and deciphering clues about finding a geocache. I'm told that these are cornerstones of problem solving and scientific thought. Beyond that, though, it's just a lot of fun to get outside together!

What educational outdoor activities do you like to do with your family? What skills do these activities teach your children?

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