If you’d like to make learning fun for your family this summer and are looking for something quirky, skip the resorts and amusement parks and aim for one of these quirky adventures instead.
Caverns and caves can be found in almost every state. Visit the Natural Caves Association to find those near you or along your road-trip route.
Some caverns are more child friendly than others, so consider your child’s age and skill level before embarking on your descent. Many caves have guided tours and others are safe enough to be self-led.
Dress in layers because it can get considerably cooler inside the caves – especially those that are filled with glacier water and other underground streams.
Also, from personal experience, leave your children’s lovies – including all dolls, bears, and blankets – safe in the car or zipped tight in a backpack. Don’t make the tour guide climb down to retrieve a lost teddy that fell into a pool of mineral juices. The smell is quite hard to wash out!
Letterboxing can occur anywhere enthusiasts live or play. There are said to be about 50,000 letterboxes secreted away in North America alone.
Letterboxers hide small, weatherproof boxes in publicly-accessible places (like parks) and then post clues to finding the box on various websites for enthusiasts to read and discover. Similar to geocaching (explained below), letterboxing is a treasure hunt style outdoor activity, but instead of a GPS device letterboxing requires the deciphering of cryptic clues.
Purchase or craft a unique rubber stamp to represent your family. You’ll also need to take a small artist’s sketchbook with quality paper to log the stamps you’ve found. Visit Letterboxing.org and search for letterboxes in your area or for ones that are hidden along your road-trip route.
You can search online for letterbox clues in your area. Clues to finding some of the more highly-sought boxes are also passed around by word of mouth. Your kids will learn how to follow directions, read maps, and decipher clues – all qualities that strengthen their problem-solving skills.
Geocaching is a kind of treasure hunting that uses your smart phone as a GPS device to pinpoint a treasure’s location.
Treasures are hidden by people all over the world and can be found in both rural and urban areas… pretty much anywhere you can get cell phone service. Once people hide their treasures they upload the GPS coordinates to Geocaching.com. Only two rules apply: If you take something, leave something; and always sign the logbook so other families know who’s visited their treasure location.
After registering at Geocaching, plug in the new GPS coordinates of your next treasure’s location. I recommend bringing along a field guide to help you and your children identify local animals, flora, and fauna.
Wear comfortable shoes and dress in weather-appropriate clothing. Also, be sure to bring a few unique “treasures” for swapping with the items other families have left in the cache.
Your kids will learn navigation skills, plant and animal identification, and even writing skills if you encourage them to leave kind notes for other treasure seekers. The best part of this activity is not the goofy “treasures” to be found at the site, but the excitement of finding new favorite locations and completing an adventure.
Some final thoughts…
- While trekking in unfamiliar areas, be sure to keep a lookout for irritating or poisonous plants and animals.
- When hiking, wear hats and long pants and sleeves to protect from the sun and biting insects.
- Carry high energy snacks and water, along with a basic first aid kit in your backpack.
Above all, have fun and stay safe as you adventure out in the wild.
James Smith is a travel writer, adventurer, and survival expert.