As a mom, I see my fair share of playgrounds each week and to be perfectly honest, after almost six years of frequenting these structures, I find them absolutely boring. Now don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy watching my kids make new friends, breaking new barriers (monkey bars), and observing their problem-solving skills at work, i.e. how to get down from heights, but candidly the passive nature of observing has taken its toll. Oh sure, there is always the parent that is crawling around and seeming to be having just as much as his children but for me, been there—done that.
I was rehashing my playground burn out with my friend Suzy. I felt hesitant telling her about my diminished interest in playgrounds; I didn’t want to come off as a “bad mom.” To my surprise, she totally understood, even agreed and prattled off a handful of alternative activities. Among her suggestions, was a game known as Letterboxing. “You’ve never heard of it?” she questioned, almost shocked that I hadn’t. “Letterboxing is great fun and your kids will just love it;” Suzy went on to explain what this activity was, and I found it so fascinating and fun that I wanted to share it, so you can experience it too.
Letterboxing began in Victorian England when a man hid his calling card with a stamp in what is now referred to as Dartmoor National Park, located in the southwest of the country. After a 1998 Smithsonian article was published giving an account of this hobby, American enthusiasts by the tens of thousands began to join in the fun. Aptly described by Letterboxinging Info, this activity combines the elements of hiking, treasure-hunting, and creative expression—perfect for families.
A person or family doing the hunting will have their own stamp or stamps, along with a journal devoted to specifically for Letterboxing that serves as a sort of passport. Inside the plastic or weather proof container is a sealable bag containing a stamp, an ink pad and a journal. The Letterbox hunter will stamp the journal inside the box with her stamp and in turn will take the stamp from inside the Letterbox and stamp her journal. One can write a sentence or two in the Letterbox journal, “It was a fine day; a gopher tortoise crossed our path; Kid 1, age 3; Kid 2, age 5.” The Letterbox is then put back in its place for the next group of hunters, and etiquette states that a site is left more pristine than one found it, picking up trash or pulling nonnative invasive plants, etc.
This past time requires little equipment save a rubber stamp (which can be made with an eraser and X-acto knife or purchased at a store), a small journal, and a compass, and if you plan on removing nonnative plants, then a weed-puller and gardening gloves may also come in handy. Letterboxes are scattered all around the United States and participants can look on the Internet for their general locations. By visiting a Letterboxing website, keying in a zip code, a list of nearby areas of interest will appear.
For example, Suzy told me that a natural area the kids and I frequent is a letterbox hub. This particular letterbox requires no compass and is a good one to find with small children. Following clues provided by the creator of the Letterboxer, the treasure hunt begins! “Ten paces to the left of the fallen tree....across from the body of water...look up from where you sit..,” one looks up and ah-ha! There is a small box, obviously anthropomorphic as opposed to a saw palmetto or bird’s nest, and the hunt is a success! Working as a team, my kids and I are fully engaged, our collective focus and objective keeps us tethered. The hunt naturally gives rise to talking, laughing, and group accomplishment, not to mention developing navigational skills, exploration of communities, and getting fresh air.
The activity brings friends and family together and everyone gets to play. Unlike the playground where I passively watch my children or perhaps push the swing for my little girl, Letterboxing pulls us in as a unit and the exercise requires significant involvement. There are several sites to find out more about Letterboxing, its history and how to play. The Internet is key to finding locations, so you will have to visit these sites for local areas of interest and clues (Letterboxing.org, Letterboxing.info). Once you have had your appetite whet by the game, you will undoubtedly become hooked and may even want to create your own Letterboxing sites. You will want to record your site online with clues for others to find and for you to enjoy their stamps and comments.
It’s a wonderful activity to use while traveling, to explore the towns and cities that you visit. Your journal will soon become tattered, well worn and full of stamps with notes from your hunts.
Go give this century-old hobby a try and share how much fun you had; what sorts of notes have you found Letterboxing, & what is your stamp? Grab a compass and get outside! Let the hunting begin!
Heidi Aspen Lauckhardt-Rhoades
Writer and Social Media Correspondent