Parents are always looking for new and interesting ways to educate and entertain their children. Many know that educational opportunities abound in nature, from the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, to the rising and setting of the sun, shooting stars and vernal pools full of tadpoles.
If you'd like your children to develop a personal relationship with nature, or maybe you'd like this for yourself, then "letterboxing" may be for you. The hobby of letterboxing encourages you to get out there on those dirty and dusty trails and enjoy the surroundings, but with the extra perk of treasure hunting.
Here's how it works:
“Letterboxers” hide small, weatherproof boxes, such as plastic Tupperware-style containers, in public places and post clues to finding the boxes online on one of several Web sites. There are about 20,000 letterboxes hidden in North America alone, according to www.letterboxing.org. Individual letterboxes usually contain a logbook, a rubber stamp (some hand carved) and may contain an inkpad. “Finders” seek the letterboxes and when found make an imprint of the letterbox's stamp in their personal logbook and leave an imprint of their personal stamp on the letterbox's logbook.
To get started, you’ll need a “trail name,” rubber stamp, pencil or pen, small pad or journal, one or more inkpads, a simple compass and clues, which you can print out from a letterboxing Web site.
A trail name is your letterboxing identity. Some letterboxers choose to use their real name, but others choose a unique name or nickname that means something special to them. The image for the rubber stamp should mean something personal to you or your family and is either hand-carved or store bought. This is your personal stamp, and you’ll use this to make an imprint in the logbook contained in each letterbox that you find. If you letterbox as a family, you can either use one team stamp or a stamp for each person.
The pencil or pen is used to add your trail name and date next to your personal stamp imprint that you’ve made in letterbox’s logbook and your own. You might also want to add a personal comment about your experience finding the letterbox. The small pad or journal is your “personal logbook” where you stamp imprints using the stamps in the letterboxes that you find. You should carry at least one inkpad. Although many letterbox clues don’t require it, you may also want to purchase a simple compass.
Once you’re equipped, it’s time to print out some clues to letterboxes near you. The primary Web site for letterboxing clues is Letterboxing.org. Another popular site is AtlasQuest.com. Once you have the clues to a letterbox that you’d like to find, read it carefully, and off you go. Some locations require only a short hike, while others can be a bit strenuous. Along with each set of clues is usually a description of how rough your trip will be and whether it’s child friendly. Not all letterbox locations are in the forests and parks of Connecticut. Some are in cemeteries, on the sides of quiet, country roads, even inside stores. These are usually listed as “indoor” letterboxing sites.
Important advice is given at Letterboxing.org, including your duty to respect the contents of each letterbox and the effort put into it by the letterboxer who made it. Letterboxes usually only cost about $5 to make, but the letterboxer who made it put a lot of time and effort into creating and placing the letterbox. Always return it to its original position and cover it in the manner in which it was hidden before in order to keep the treasure-hunting fun going for others.
There are directions for planting your own letterboxes on the aforementioned sites, which can be an exciting activity in itself.
All in all, letterboxing is a great activity and a real-life treasure hunt you can take with your friends and family. You will discover a fun outdoor activity that combines treasure hunting with rubberstamping and gives your kids and/or yourself an appreciation of nature.