Letterboxing n. a type of treasure hunt, in which a box, known as a letterbox is hidden in a remote rural location and clues are provided as to its whereabouts.*
Treasure hunt. Clues. Free. Need I say more? And forget the gadgets of geocaching. This is antique -- something straight off the activity roster of some rustic sleepover camp in northern New Hampshire. All you'll need for this adventure is your signature rubber stamp and an ink pad.
This largely English pastime crossed the pond about 15 years ago, and the Norwalk Historical Society announced its inaugural letterboxing trail earlier this Spring. I had always wanted to try it and was thrilled that it'd landed in our backyard. No doubt, this is a great family activity for older children. I was curious to see if I could do it with a preschooler and toddler in tow.
We printed out the clue book from the NHS's website, and decided to skip the first box, as it was located in a cemetery. I didn't want to freak out the 4-year-old too soon (he still brings up the cut-out witches from Halloween every time we enter a Dunkin Donuts). We opted for the Norwalk Green's letterbox instead. (A few of the letterbox locations are clumped together, which makes planning an outing easier. You can always tackle the others on another day).
Right away, I could see the educational value in letterboxing -- even for little ones. Kids have to use their listening or reading skills, observational skills, basic orientation skills (left vs. right), and counting skills to move through the clues. OIder children will get to use their multiplication prowess, too. This is active learning in an outdoor setting ... major parenting points! You'll even pick up a little local history along the way. (Did you know there's a piece of the World Trade Center in downtown Norwalk)?
It took us about a half hour to land on our first letterbox. (Keep in mind, I was guiding a 4-year-old, i.e., repeating clues 'til I was blue in the face, wrangling a toddler, and recovering the stroller every 50 yards. A more efficient crew will find the boxes much more ... well, efficiently). It was a thrilling moment when the little dude discovered and retrieved the box, though I must admit, I was a little deflated when I saw it. I don't know why, but I was kind of expecting a kitschy handmade wooden box, not Gladware. But good thing...tiny red ants had still managed to infiltrate the precious contents! My little guy was ELATED at the sight of the massive stamp he would get to stamp on our booklet (proof we'd found it), and equally excited to leave our special tiger stamp in the box stampbook (proof we'd been there). Twenty letterboxers had come before us with a myriad of stamps -- dogs, flowers, shamrocks, you name it. What silly fun!
It was such silly fun my preschooler couldn't wait to do ANOTHER one. So we crossed the street to search out the St. Paul's cemetery letterbox, where we had wonderful discussions about how you can be dead in the ground annnnd alive in heaven at the same time. After we'd found that one, he wanted to find ALL THE REST. Fine by me. But on another fine afternoon, or with daddy there for reinforcement!
We've all got until November 1st to find all twelve -- before the letterbox gnomes put them in storage for winter. To sweeten the pot, the first 10 letterboxers to complete the trail will win a prize by presenting their dozen stamps at the Norwalk Historical Society. As of May 25th, there were still a couple left to be claimed ... please let Mommy Poppins know how you fare!