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PBS and Henson pioneer Geocaching for preschoolers

In just over a decade, Geocaching, a game of high-tech hide-and-seek, has gone from a little-known niche hobby to a mainstream activity. In fact, more than one million estimated searches take place somewhere on the planet at any given time.
July 23, 2010

In just over a decade, Geocaching, a game of high-tech hide-and-seek, has gone from a little-known niche hobby to a mainstream activity. In fact, more than one million estimated searches take place somewhere on the planet at any given time.

Players use their Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers to both hide and seek out containers (commonly called caches) anywhere around the globe. The caches are usually small waterproof boxes that contain a logbook, and the game’s most enthusiastic participants have been adults. But thanks to US pubcaster PBS and The Jim Henson Company, that may be about to change. The pair have created a preschooler-safe version of the geographic pursuit, driven by Henson’s year-old series Dinosaur Train.

Maura Thompson, associate director of children’s and educational programming outreach for PBS affliliate WNET recently discovered the game and its current scope. From there, ideas on how it could translate to the pubcaster’s kids audiences started to fly.

‘Maura brought us the idea and we could see very quickly how it’s a great realization of one of the key messages of Dinosaur Train,’ says Nicole Goldman, VP of marketing and publicity for The Jim Henson Company.

Soon Goldman and Thompson struck up a partnership with predominate Geocaching site Geocaching.com and began developing a game dedicated to Dinosaur Train. ‘The whole concept of Geocaching supports our message of getting kids outside and inspiring parents to interact with their kids,’ says Goldman.

The pair began enlisting local PBS affiliates across the US to promote the concept and convinced several museums, zoos and aquariums to participate in hiding the Dinosaur Train-themed geocaches that preschoolers and their parents would eventually hunt down. The caches contain a figurine or stickers of one of the dinos listed in Dinosaur Train’s online field guide that delivers images and information about the prehistoric creatures. Latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates (used to indicate the location of all caches) for the Dinosaur Train treasures are housed on a microsite (www.geocaching.com/dinosaurtrain) and are also linked through the series’ main website.

‘We have 17 [caches] out there right now,’ says Thompson, listing hiding locations in US cities like Boston, Seattle and New York City. ‘We have about 100 more to go out and then we are hoping families will start creating their own.’

The goal is to build a Dinosaur Train Geocaching community big enough that participants will start planting their own themed caches and connecting with other fans of the series through the game. ‘We are looking at it as a long-term program,’ says Goldman. ‘The viral nature of the game will help it spread,’ she says. ‘In six months we expect many more stations to be involved.’

Goldman adds that in the future she can see possible partnerships with the property’s licensees around the caches. ‘Perhaps there could be a layer of promotion put into the box,’ she says. ‘Picture a coupon in the cache or a promotional code that can then be entered online. The possibilities really are endless.’

About The Author
Gary Rusak is a freelance writer based in Toronto. He has covered the kids entertainment industry for the last decade with a special interest in licensing, retail and consumer products. You can reach him at garyrusak@gmail.com

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