What is part treasure seeking, history lesson, problem-solving, and academic credit activity? A school letterboxing field trip across Miami Springs, that’s what.
Students from All Angels Academy participated in just such an adventure last month that allowed the fifth- through eighth-grade students to trek across the city in this unusual but engaging learning experience.
But what exactly is letterboxing, you might ask? The game is little known, but has a small yet solid following of enthusiasts around the world. It’s a type of scavenger hunt with clues that lead to a cleverly hidden box — often right under the unwitting public’s nose. These hidden letterboxes are found all over the world and several are right here in Miami Springs, a popular stop for tourists as well as locals who are keen for the hunt.
It works like this: Enthusiasts go to letterboxing websites to get a set of clues for letterboxes located in a particular area they are in or will be visiting. They follow the clues — sometimes direct, other times cryptic — until they find their intended object. The letterbox itself is any kind of solid weatherproof box, such as a food storage container, and in it are the tools of the game: a log book, a stamp, an inkpad, and a pen.
The letterboxer is also equipped with his or her own logbook, stamp, and pen. Once the letterbox is found, the seeker stamps his or her logbook with the stamp found in the letterbox, a way of proving, “I found it.” The date and place are noted in pen. In the logbook found in the letterbox, the seeker places his or her own personal stamp, dates it, and leaves a message, such as, “Great hunt,” and where he or she is from. It is not unusual to find letterbox logbooks with stamps and messages from people across the globe.
The 2-mile quest in which the All Angels Academy students participated was particularly intriguing because the clues were not only puzzles that needed to be solved, but they also incorporated interesting facts about Miami Springs’ past, in what sixth-grader Avery Tallman described as “an exquisite and leisurely walk and an exploration through the depths of Miami Springs history.”
Created years ago by local letterboxing enthusiast Martin Crossland, the walking trip around the city seemed a perfect fit for the students, whose interdisciplinary, school-wide theme this year is “My-ami,” focusing on Miami history. What better place to explore than the school’s very own neighborhood, which is rich with local history?
“Letterboxing makes you think and learn, and anything that makes you think and learn has educational value,” Crossland said.
The expedition had the students, who traveled in three separate groups, hit major landmarks around town. Each stop in the directions discussed the significance of the landmark in the development of Miami Springs.
The trip covered many cross-curricular educational objectives in addition to history: reading comprehension; vocabulary and wordplay; paying attention to details; reading informational text; calculations; employing logic skills by following sequential directions; higher-order thinking via problem-solving; navigating using cardinal points and a compass; identifying the purpose and function of flora and fauna in the community; examining local architecture and structural engineering and design; and physical activity in the form of sustained walking on a moderate terrain.
Making the day even more meaningful, two of the groups got a special treat when some distinctive guides — one with Mayor Xavier Garcia, and the other with City Manager Ron Gorland — joined them. These students got some unique, behind-the-scenes peeks at the city, particularly visits to the council chambers and the city jail, much to the students’ delight.
The icing on the cake at the end of the trek was a tour of the Curtiss Mansion, the recently restored home of the founder of Miami Springs, Glenn Curtiss. It was a first-time visit for most of the students. Led by docent Philip Giberson, they got a close-up view of this significant piece of the city’s history.
In the end, the students did find the letterbox. They left their mark and recorded their find in their own logbooks. By all accounts, the day was a fun journey for the students.
Fifth-grader Max Betancourt said, “It was an amazing adventure. I learned all about Glenn Curtiss, the founder of Miami Springs. He’s one of the people to create a plane, and he helped create the airboat. I also learned about Mr. Kellogg, the creator of Kellogg cereal. He asked Glenn Curtiss if he could buy a hotel and he said, ‘For a dollar,’ so he gave it to him and ended up turning it into a spa” (now Fair Havens Center).
Although letterboxing has roots that go back to ancient cairn, or rock placement, formations, it has also caught up with the electronic age. A higher-tech version is called geocaching — basically the same idea as letterboxing, but with the use of GPS systems and apps. Crossland has this next in his sights as he seeks to improve and develop his Miami Springs walk.
With compasses or high-tech apps, it’s all fun to the students, who end up learning in the process. Sixth-grader Madeline Felipe summed it up when she said, “It was an adventure worth taking.”
For more information about letterboxing, visit www.letterboxing.org.