Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kindergarten Geocache

Cammy is currently enjoying her first day of Kindergarten.  She even rode the bus by herself like a big girl.  Quite literally by herself, in fact.  When we saw her off in the morning she was the only child at the bus stop.  Then, being the concerned and involved parents that we are, we went to the school to make sure she got to her class fine and knew what was going on.  What we discovered was that she was, in fact, the only kindergarten student (at least from her class) to arrive on that bus and it was the first bus to arrive at the school.  She thoroughly enjoyed the process, though.

(By the way, I love her school.  They have a smart board/projector system in every class.  I no longer feel agitated about buying all kinds of supplies at the behest of the school, a brief tour through the facility and interactions with the staff and seeing them handle the first day of school indicates that they're running a pretty good shop there.  Though I still think the excessive cleaning supplies are unnecessary.  Kids get dirty.  It's good for them.  I'm fairly certain that if I wrap my child in a magical cone of Clorox for 18 years then as soon as she steps out into the world on her own she'll probably get cancer and die.)

Anyway... As we were seeing the facility and meeting the teachers earlier this week, one of the things the teacher asked Cammy was "do you like treasure hunts?"  She then handed Cammy a sheet of paper which listed key points of interest throughout the classroom, and Cammy's job was to go find them and come back for a prize.  Nice little way to get Cammy comfortable and familiar with the room.  Naturally, Cammy responded well to this.  You see, Cammy and I go on "treasure hunts" all the time.  It's what she (and, by extension, we) calls Geocaching, since that's kind of a big word for her.

Cammy and I go out pretty much every weekend (weather permitting, etc.) and find a few more geocaches, and she loves it.  We both do, really.  It's a fun hobby, it's good father-daughter bonding time, and it's just great to go out and see interesting little pieces of the world around us that we otherwise would never have bothered to notice.  This got me to thinking, and I have since cobbled together the pieces of an idea for her Kindergarten class that may be a fun little project for the kids.  And, of course, it would be by certain measures good for them.

The idea is to have an official geocache for the class.  Something near the school (it's in a pretty good location, being surrounded by trees and near a park) that the children can hide the cache and occasionally monitor it as a class.  It's at the very least a nice little walk in the park field trip, which is always a good thing.  But they can make it even more involved than that.  Here's what I'm envisioning:

Each child draws a picture, potentially of his or her self, and writes (in classic 5-year-old style) his or her first name on it.  Something small, smaller than a 3x5 index card.  It would be dated (even if it's just dated "Kindergarten class of 2010-2011" or something of that nature), and each one would share a label describing what it is and why it's in the cache.  The label would be something akin to:

"Hi!  I'm a geocache item created by a kindergarten student.  I was hidden in a cache along with lots of others just like me.  I'd really like to travel to other geocaches so I can see new and interesting places.  Please take me with you and hide me in another cache.  Also, if it's not too much trouble, could you send an email to telling me where you found me and where you hid me?  Don't forget to mention my name and class year, there are a lot of us!  Thank you, and happy geocaching!"

You get the idea.  Each of these would of course have to be laminated to protect against the elements.  The more durable we can make it the better.  The email address (and it doesn't even have to be email, it can be any form of notification and tracking) would just be a school-monitored (or parent-monitored if someone were to volunteer for this, which I would be glad to do) account and the information sent to it could be passed along to the kids so they can see where their cards are going.  Maybe even have a map of some kind to track its travels.  (Again, I would thoroughly enjoy putting together a digital representation of this.)  Sort of a pen-pal to the world kind of setup.

Now how does this benefit the kids themselves, other than just be really fun and maybe learn a little bit about maps and distances and such?  Well, let's take a look at the things I think Cammy is slowly gaining from our geocaching:
  • Going outside.  It's that simple.  Go outside, go to a park, go into the woods or through a field, get your hands and clothes a little dirty.  Go do something.  It's certainly a heck of a lot better than sitting around in front of the TV all day.  Sure, I'm a huge fan of the smart boards in the classrooms, but I'm equally a fan of stepping out into the blinding sun and enjoying the outdoors.
  • Leaving no trace.  Geocachers, as a community, tend to be considerate of the environment around them.  Not in a hippie tree-hugging way, but in a not trampling through the woods and destroying things way.  For example, one of the caches Cammy and I found was near an old farm house building of some kind.  It was very much off the dirt road, which itself was off the beaten path.  Nothing around it, nothing can be seen.  But it's there.  It's interesting, and we were curious as to what its function was and how old it was and all that.  The cache specifically said to please not touch it, don't break or disturb anything.  Not because that guy owns it, but because he would hate to see it damaged or ruined in any way beyond what years of nature has already done.  And, as geocachers, we tend to all think that same way.  When we find a cache, we don't just toss it back on the ground.  We carefully place it back as it was found.  We don't leave any trace that we were even there, save for the log entry in the cache itself.  We don't disturb the environment around us.
  • Taking no more than you give.  One of Cammy's favorite things about geocaching is that she gets new toys.  She's a small child, after all.  But she understands at this point that she must bring toys to trade.  She may not fully grasp the idea just yet, but on some basic level she's beginning to understand that it's poor form to just take things from these caches.  Every time something is taken, something else must be left.  (The kids would especially love this part because they can see the interesting things that people leave in the class' cache, and possibly trade them out with other things.)
  • Being considerate beyond your personal scope.  We try to teach children to be considerate to people, naturally.  These people generally include friends, family, teachers, etc.  Basically, people with whom the children interact.  But what about the people with whom the children do not interact?  The people whom the children never even meet or see?  This is similar to the "leaving no trace" point above, but on a different level.  Other people, people whom you'll never meet, enjoy these geocaches and/or the places in which they're hidden.  Be considerate to those people.  If something about the geocache needs to be fixed, fix it.  Or at least report it back to the owner of the cache.  Don't take up excessive space in the log book, don't damage the log book, etc.
  • Appreciation of the little pieces of the world around us.  This is probably my favorite part of the activity.  We're not talking about deep woods camping here, just little spots slightly off the beaten path (or sometimes on the beaten path) that we otherwise would never notice.  I mean, think about how you view the area around you.  There's your yard and your neighborhood and all the nooks and crannies you notice on foot there, but outside of walking distance it sort of breaks down to a series of destinations and paths to reach them.  We tend to neglect that those paths, and the paths near them and so on, are also filled with little nooks and crannies and interesting walkable things.  The simple act of standing still and looking around, in an area where you normally drive by at 40mph, gives you a different perspective and a new appreciation for that area.  It doesn't make your world bigger, it just reminds you of the fact that the big world is made up of many little areas.
There's probably more that I just can't think of right now, and I may add it later.

I really think the children would enjoy this and would learn from it.  And, over the years spent at that school, they can continue to see how their class' items have traveled and how other class' items have traveled, etc.  New kids in the class can add their own, the kids can continue to interact with it if they so choose as they grow into older classes, they can involve friends and family, etc.  And I think it would help teach them some important life skills beyond the usual classroom rhetoric.  The teachers and administration may enjoy it as well, seeing what's become of something their kids made, etc.

I'm definitely going to have to put together a proposal of some sort for the school administration.  Heck, maybe this could be something our non-starter Kiwanis Club (the club that doesn't want to go on the cart) could host.

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