Although the pamphlet is not yet published, the Boy Scouts of America have released the requirements for the Geocaching Merit Badge. As part of this Merit Badge, boys learn about safety and geocaching ettiquette, the use of a GPS device, and steps for finding and logging a cache.
I will probably be asked to be a Geocaching Merit Badge Counselor. As a Scoutmaster, I took boys on many geocaching adventures, often combined with a campout or other outing. Initially, boys wondered why they would want to go geocaching. But often after trying it, at the next patrol leaders council, the boys wanted to plan more activities that incorporated geocaching.
Occasionally, parents asked me: "So are they going to earn the Geocaching Merit Badge?" At the time, there was no merit badge for geocaching, and I did not know if there would ever be one. But there are plenty of reasons to take Scouts to find geocaches without having a separate Merit Badge.
In Scouting, we often learn about navigation with topographical maps and orienteering using a compass. Nonetheless, in an actual outdoor situation, scouts will often start walking in whatever direction seems good, and avoid getting lost because they are on a trail or with a group. The inner motivation to learn navigation doesn't always set in. As many of you have seen, this is often the case with adults as well.
A geocaching activity has the potential to turn navigation into a treasure hunt. While it requires planning, the activity can be done without much setup. In case you were worried, it can also be done without having a GPS for each boy. In one activity, the boys competed in two patrols to find as many as 20 geocaches in a forested park. Each patrol had an adult with a GPS, who gave bearings for each boys compass. The patrols were rated based on how many hints they needed for each find.
Geocaching can be inspiring for adults as well. Inspired by family and Scout trips, I have written geocaching software for Windows Mobile and have some underway for Android phones. In the process, I have learned not only outdoor skills, but software and business skills that have taken my career in a new direction.
If your son is a Scout, I hope you will take him geocaching and maybe even earn the merit badge. If not, I hope you will take your children geocaching anyway. There is so much for them to learn and appreciate about the outdoor world. The best results I've seen are when scouts go home and beg their parents to take them on more geocaching. The best parents will give in and do it.
In future blog entries, I can post tips for earning the Geocaching Merit Badge, and suggestions for geocaching related activities. Please comment if this is a topic you'd like to see.