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How Geocaching Improves Your Moral Compass

by Karen Ung
Geocaching is a useful tool in developing your children’s moral compass as it teaches them the importance of following rules in the absence of oversight. When I took up geocaching with my children, I was impressed to see how eager they were to learn and follow the rules. They quickly grasped the concept of playing fairly and honorably in order to keep it fun for others and passed on this knowledge to their friends. If you are a muggle – a non-geocacher – you may not know the rules (and joy!) of seeking caches and trading treasures, but I like to believe that most people who come across a geocache would do the right thing and trade up, even, or not at all.
Not a moral compass, but it might point you in the right direction.
On a recent camping trip, our new friends discovered a geocache and we observed how things can go wrong when people don’t play by the rules. Since we didn’t have any treasures to trade (we were on a bike ride and hadn’t planned on geocaching), I instructed the kids not to take anything from the cache, but encouraged them to sign the log book if they wished. When one child took something anyways, his mom told him it was ok. When another child popped a hair elastic in the cache in exchange for what was taken, I informed her that it was important to trade items of equal value so there will be fun treasures for the next kids to find. Instead of concurring with me, the mother retorted “People leave things like that all the time in the cache near our house!” Wow… so we should we do it too and then jump off a bridge? To my dismay, the child kept the treasure, his sibling took back what she had traded, so they basically stole from the geocache. A teachable moment was missed.

How can geocaching develop one’s moral compass?

Rule Compliance

As in any sport, geocaching has rules. Before you play, it is important to learn the rules so you don’t ruin the game for your teammates – who incidentally, are all over the globe! Following the rules ensures that the cache will be around for a long time for others to enjoy and that there will be ample, fun treasures to trade. It is heartbreaking to find empty caches or caches full of garbage. Since when is a broken crayon, decapitated doll, or business card a treasure?
An example of trading treasures gone wrong.

Conscience (What do you do when no one is watching?)

The whole trading treasures thing is an honor system. No one is watching you, so no one will know if you stole from a cache or made a crappy trade. Ultimately, a geocacher has to decide what she will do – trade up (leave something of higher value than what she took), trade even, or not at all. This is where parents can guide their children to make the right choice in the hopes that they will do this all on their own in time.
It takes practice to develop a strong sense of right and wrong, but starting early, and letting kids learn for themselves will hopefully help guide them when they are subject to bad influences. It is easy to think “no one will know” or “other people do it” with respect to anything (including texting and driving, drunk driving, sex, or drugs), but I hope my kids will learn that whether or not there is an adult, police officer, or other authority figure present, they are responsible for their own actions and must make sensible choices.
Anticipating what’s inside is always fun! Keep it fun!

Fair Play

Sometimes it’s hard to follow the rules properly because kids don’t understand the value of things. That’s ok; that’s when we as parents can help! “Sure, that Lego figurine is smaller than your McDonald’s toy, but it costs a lot more. Do you have something fancier to trade? Or is there something else you would like instead?” Take advantage of the opportunity to discuss the value of money. Empty your change purse and show them how much various treasures are worth. For the record, the recommended value of a geocaching treasure is at least $1, but the best practice is to trade up (leave something or better value than what you took), even, or not at all.
Discuss “treasure” values with your kids so they can make fair trades.


A good geocacher has many responsibilities. By making children accountable for the following tasks, and discussing the consequences of skipping steps, they learn to be thorough and considerate because their actions have an impact on other geocachers:
  • Keep the cache hidden from muggles (so the cache does not get damaged, pillaged, stolen).
  • Fill in the log book (as verification that you found the cache).
  • Trade treasures according to the rules (so there will always be cool treasures for others to find).
  • Put everything back in the cache the way you found it (so nothing is missing).
  • Close the cache properly (to prevent water damage to contents).
  • Re-hide the cache just as you found it (so other geocachers can find it).

My kids usually work together to accomplish these tasks and are quite efficient! They like to get ‘er done so they can find another cache!

An added benefit of geocaching is that it encourages teamwork.
Geocaching is a fun way to point your children in the right direction and teach them the importance of making good choices whether someone is watching or not, regardless of what others are doing. To learn more about geocaching and how you can geocache with your smart phone, please see this post.

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Karen Phillips March 28, 2016 - 6:37 PM

I hear you on the crappy trades, we have often not traded anything as the cache was full of junk. One time my youngest absolutely had to have a bouncy ball so he sacrificed a Lego guy (I wasn't impressed with his choice haha but I let it be his choice!)

Play Outside Gal September 4, 2015 - 4:50 AM

Of course it wasn't you! You guys are pros! 🙂 I hear ya on unfair trades.. sometimes we just don't bother and sometimes we leave stuff and clear out the garbage because we don't want the next seekers to feel sad!

Tanya Koob July 17, 2015 - 3:24 PM

Oh gosh, I hope that didn't happen on my camping trip. 😉 I know I wasn't biking with you so it wasn't me, lol! And my treasure bag is ginormous for geocaching. I'm just waiting to actually be able to leave some of our good treasure because every cache we find is full of crap and it's never a fair trade for us!!

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