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Why Geocaching Should Be Your Family’s Next Hobby

By: Emily Schnipper, Zamzee Operations + Customer Support 

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From the @Geocaching official Instagram

At Zamzee, when we’ve talked about ways to get kids more engaged in playing outside, Geocacaching tends to pops into my mind. While caching appeals to people of all ages (or at least those who like to collect things and solve puzzles), parents with kids are always a mainstay of the game. My own mom introduced me to the hobby, which uses GPS to find hidden containers all around the world. As a never-ending game, rather than a sport, Geocaching is as compelling as a video game, and is a great way for families to have fun together, create memories, and appreciate each other’s unique talents.

Although Geocaching can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, it does require a few tools. What you’ll need is a GPS device or a GPS-enabled cell phone, a Geocaching app (if you’re using a phone instead of a GPS), and the instructions on Geocaching.com. The advent of phones with GPS has increased the popularity and reach of the game, and makes it more compelling to kids who are hard to drag away from their phones. While the most popular app for iPhone seems to be the “official” Geocaching app, Android users like the free C-Geo. You also may want a few small toys or other trinkets to place in larger cache containers.

To help you get started, I’ve enlisted some committed caching parents to share advice and experiences. Emilie, a mom of two boys, started caching in 2011 when her sons were 11 and 13. She told me that her whole family enjoyed caching, but in different ways. Emilie says, “We all have different relationships with [caching], which is why it’s part of our family dynamic. I am the most compulsive about it. My older son enjoys the adventure and the search the most. My younger son likes to hide caches. My husband tolerates it but enjoys the camaraderie.” I agree with Emilie that the “something for everyone” aspect is one of the coolest parts of this game.

Caching is the “go-to activity” wherever Doug goes with his son and daughter, aged 13 and 10. “It’s always a struggle to get them outside as they’d prefer to hole up in their room on a screen,” he told me. At the same time, it didn’t take much convincing to get his kids to try caching. They liked the idea of finding caches, as well as the small trinkets that are sometimes hidden inside.

More than one parent advised that even though caching can become addictive, it’s important to leave everyone wanting more. Ken, who caches with his five and eight-year-old sons, says “Don’t overdo the amount of time spent caching, no matter how obsessed you might be with it personally, because family members may become burned out and not want to continue.  It’s also important to keep caching fresh and fun. I try to do this by going on lots of road trips and exploring places that we would not otherwise have visited had we not been lured there by a cache.”

I asked Ken if caching has had any effect on his sons’ physical, mental, or emotional health. He answered,“It definitely has made them into powerful hiking machines. I think hiking as a form of exercise has positive benefits for all three aspects of their health.  In addition, our participation in numerous CITO (Cache In Trash Out) events have instilled in both boys a healthy respect for Mother Nature, earth, and beyond.”

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The innards of a medium-sized cache found on a hiking trail.

While many Geocaches can be found on hiking trails, they are also in cities, suburbs, and small towns. If possible, start by checking out any caches within walking distance of your home, then try expanding your search. Since I started caching two years ago, I’ve racked up tens of thousands of Zamzee Pointz, passed quite a few Challengez, and found lost villages, hidden gardens, and some very interesting facts about blimps. Geocaching often takes me on long walks, where my attempt to find all the caches in an area leaves me barely noticing the distance. If you incorporate walking from one cache to another, you’ll gain all the benefits of physical activity (and the satisfaction of solving a challenge), without ever having to enter a gym that smells like feet.

You’ll notice that like a semi-secret club, Geocaching does have a culture, a language, and an etiquette all its own. As you get into the field, explore the website, and meet other cachers, you’ll catch on quickly. Pretty soon your family will be FTFing, TFTCing, and avoiding Muggles like pros. Are you a seasoned cacher, or are you trying it out for the first time? Let us know in a comment, or by sharing your experience on our Facebook page. I’m wishing you many safe and happy finds!

Walking: In Search of Inspiration (and Free Books)

By: Emily Schnipper, Zamzee Operations + Customer Support 

In November’s newsletter, I wrote about some of the ways I’ve made my “Walks to Nowhere” more interesting.  Like a lot of suburban people, I don’t have much to walk to, but no way am I going to miss out on the benefits of walking.  As I’ve found, walking can increase your appreciation of the world around you and even boost your creativity.  (Not to mention passing many Zamzee Challengez.)

Walking with a camera is my favorite.  I’ve given myself a mission to capture the strange and beautiful things lurking in a town that I always thought was boring.  Through walking and photographing, my perspective has shifted.  I didn’t even realize until I started writing this, but I can’t honestly say that my town is boring anymore.  (Maybe I’ve also learned that boredom isn’t always such a bad thing, but that’s another story.)  My favorite discovery, without a doubt, has been the phenomenon of Little Free Libraries.  All my friends and family know my obsession with these cute, tiny houses filled with free books for kids and adults.  Check out the map on their website here.  There may be a LFL in walking distance from you.

Photo Credit: Emily Schnipper

Photo Credit: Emily Schnipper

I’ve also found that walking is one of the best ways to get ideas or break through a creative block.  If you’re struggling with homework or work-work, go on a walk if you can.  Your renewed focus will be worth the time it takes.  Something about the rhythm of walking makes it especially good for coming up with songs or poems.  Walking is something you can do in your own time, at your own pace.  When life is filled with obligations, that opportunity can be hard to find.  In an article for the The New York Times, Kate Murphy writes about people who’ve decided to walk across the US.  She calls this epic walk a spiritual quest and a way to search for meaning in life.  As people over the centuries have found, walking can speak to some deep part of ourselves that goes beyond the benefits of exercise.

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Even if you’re taking a short home/work break, you can tap into that tradition of walking as a way to find inspiration  A recent study at Stanford showed that while walking didn’t help people find one right answer, it did help them brainstorm more creative ideas.  Other studies have found that walking can reduce stress and anxiety, insomnia and depression.  It can improve memory (vocabulary words, anyone?), self-esteem, and energy levels. Unlike many other physical activities (weight-lifting, surfing, toe-wrestling), you probably already know how to walk safely, and have all the equipment you need.  So the next time you’re struggling with a problem in your life, see if walking might give you a bit of clarity.  I’ll see you on the sidewalks!

How Playgrounds Foster the 5 Types of Play

ImageDifferent play structures on the playground engage children in different ways, whether it engages their imagination or their intellect. Well-arranged play environments should enhance children’s development by integrating learning and play in a way that’s fun but also boosts development. Here is a rundown of a few types of play and play structures and how they contribute to different experiences for children.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) categorizes play into five different types: creative play, games with rules, language, physical play and pretend play. For the most part, physical play structures, like playground equipment, contribute to children’s physical development by providing places to jump, climb, run and move around in general. Strength in gross motor development, as a result, improves in children who regularly partake in physical play.

Outdoor play structures can also include activities that allow children to engage the other types of play, such as games with rules, pretend play and creative play. Creative play is characterized by activities that let children express their feelings, ideas and thoughts by using their imaginations. Playing pretend on various play structures often features make-believe, role-playing, drama and fantasy games.

Elevated Play Components

playland-zamzee-4Elevated play components are equipment that can be approached or exited from above or below grade. For example, a climber that a child could ascend or descend is considered an elevated play component. These play structures, as you may guess, build balance and strength: two abilities that children use during play on these particular types of playground equipment. Other elevated play components, such as slides, use gravity to produce a sense of rapid descent.

Many elevated play items can be roped into fantasy and creative play as well. If an entire play structure is imagined to be a castle, pirate ship, spaceship or something similar, children are bringing in elements of drama, make-believe, role-playing and ultimately pretend play. This sort of play develops imaginations and steers young minds to think in creative, abstract ways. Continue reading

Every BODY, Let’s Move in Dayton

In September Zamzee was contacted by the National Park Service in Dayton, Ohio about a “Let’s Move” event the community was planning. The park service asked if we could donate a few Zamzee meters to inspire participation, and we were happy to help! Leisa Ling, a park guide at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park coordinated the event, and she gave us a recap of how it went.

September 28, 2013 was a beautiful day. Not only was it the 20th anniversary of National Public Lands Day, it was also the day of our event dubbed “Every BODY, Let’s Move!”, a family-friendly event to promote First Lady Michele Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign.

Held at Huffman Prairie Interpretive Center which is one of the units of Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Dayton, OH, the site offers the perfect spot for an outdoor event with its scenic position at the top of a hill under big, old shady trees. The goal was to create an event to draw people of differing interests and ages and fitness levels to come together at the park and do something active.

With five rangers and seven volunteers we offered many different activities, including…

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….a dog walk, a 3 hour hike… Continue reading

Getting Kids that Love Videogames to Love Exercise

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By Andrew Kardon from Mommy’s Busy… Go Ask Daddy

My kids love videogames. They will sit and stare at a screen for hours upon hours. Thanks to the Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360 Kinect, at least some of this game play is active. You should see the sweat I work up playing Boxing on the Wii! But I struggle to get my kids engaged in other types of physical activity, especially activity outside the house.

Recently I’ve started to incorporate video game themes into outside playtime. I’ve noticed that the more I do it, the longer my kids stay engaged in outdoor physical activity.

Take baseball for example. They love playing Mario Sluggers on the Wii. (Okay, fine. I love it too!) When I suggest we practice baseball on the driveway, Jason usually responds with, “I know how to play baseball. I play Mario Sluggers and I’m really good at it!”

Not exactly the same thing, Sport. But Jason will be a bit more amenable to playing outside if we can somehow relate it to Mario. Granted, it results in some rather… odd parts of the game.

Ryan likes to pitch a “special,” which means he pretends to throw a fireball at Jason. In reality, a “special” is a large kickball instead of a baseball. It’s not exactly America’s traditional pastime, but if it keeps them engaged and outside, I don’t care what type of balls they throw.

We use the Mario approach on neighborhood walks, too. Inevitably there is some point in the walk where Ryan’s legs will start to hurt. He’ll ask, “Are we done yet?” That’s when I pull out the video game card. Continue reading

10 Lessons on How to Stay Active as a Family

If your New Year’s resolution is to get your family active, take a step back before you attempt to go 100 mph forward and read the 10 most important things we learned in 2012 about moving as a family.

1.  Physical activity is more important than weight loss. Being active improves both your physical and mental health, and how your body feels is more important than how your body looks. Especially when you’re a kid.

2.  Finishing first is not the most important part of running a race. So when your video-game-loving kindergartner wants to run a one-mile race, make sure you believe in him. He’s going to finish.

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3.  Moving doesn’t have to be serious. You can get a healthy dose of exercise while having fun playing games like ant hospital and toilet tag. Yep, those are real games. Seriously. Continue reading