Apps to Get Your Kids Outside This Summer
By Tracey Dowdy
As a kid growing up on the east coast, summer meant long days outside playing with my sisters and our friends. Our moms shooed us outside after breakfast and we’d spend the day building forts in the woods behind our house, climbing trees, riding our bikes to the canteen, reading Nancy Drew mysteries on a blanket, simply filling our days with everyday adventures. We’d land at one friend or another’s house for lunch and stay out till dinner, then back out again until it was too dark to see and our moms called us in.
Since I’m obviously a dinosaur, someone for whom the technology of my childhood means a Casio digital watch, my summers look a lot different from what most kids experience today. Our kids live in a digital, virtual world. How do we get them to put down their devices and go outside to play? How do we convince them that planting seeds and watching them grow in the real world is more fun than watching on a touch screen? By giving them the best of both worlds of course!
These apps are designed to get your kids connected to the great outdoors. They’re fun, educational and limited only by imagination.
Disneynature Explore is an augmented reality app for kids taking them outside to explore the habitat of five realistic, animated animals. Kids choose Explore or Journal & Photos to learn about the animal’s habits, look for specific colors and patterns and take pictures of the environment. Audio as well as visual cues help kids through the activities, although kids may need your help for some of the options. There’s a special section for parents with important tips on starting conversations with your kids about the environment; for example the sea-turtle’s habitat is impacted by plastic bags in the ocean. It’s a great opportunity for parents to start a conversation about how we can be better global citizens and how something as simple as a reusable shopping bag can make a big difference. (Free – iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad)
Meet the Insects
Meet the Insects gives your budding entomologist the chance to get up close and personal with creepy crawlies. The app is organized into five main areas: Multimedia, Insect Story, Observation Journal, See Insects, and Quiz. The app is full of interesting facts, beautiful photos, illustrations, and media resources. Although packed with information, content is age-appropriate and easy for kids to follow. They can read, watch videos, check out images using the virtual magnifying glass, keep an insect journal, plus a host of other activities. Different versions are available in the app store: Water and Grass Edition, Village Edition, and Forest Edition. ($4.99 – iPad)
Audubon Guides Box Set
Audubon Guides are the most trusted field guides in North America. This four-in-one app gives you a comprehensive look at all the flora and fauna in your backyard and beyond. The box set combines the guides for Trees, Mammals, Birds and Wildflowers with thousands of gorgeous photos, offers search capability by common name, (first, last, or scientific), and provides information on habitats and migration patterns. Nature Share allows users to track and note sightings by location and share via social media without ever leaving the app. Best of all, the photos, maps and calls are available without Wi-Fi making information accessible virtually everywhere. ($14.99 – iOS, Android)
DIY – Skills for Kids
DIY – Skills for Kids is the companion app of the DIY website aimed at teens and tweens who want to design and create their own DIY projects – think summer camp arts and crafts time. Participation requires creating an account that sends parents an email for approval. Kids don’t need access to a workshops as the app offers projects for virtually any skill set – Backyard Farmer, Fashion Designer, Woodworker, Minecrafter, or Animator – everything from making a duct tape wallet to building a pond in the backyard. Kids can share images of their finished projects and earn badges that are posted at the top of their page. The online community is supportive and parents get a message every time kids post. (Free – iOS)
National Parks by National Geographic
National Parks by National Geographic is a comprehensive guide to 25 of America’s national parks from Acadia to Zion and points between. Whether you’re planning a road trip and looking to make the most of your visit or need a way to spend a rainy day, this app is a must. Stunning photos, thousands of points of interest with GPS coordinates included, where to stay, what to do, social media integration, collectible stamps – in other words, everything you’d expect from National Geographic. (Free – iOS/Android)
Is there a better way to get your kids outside than taking the whole family on a treasure hunt? The answer of course is no! Geocaching is simply a real world, outdoor treasure hunt using GPS to find your coordinates. Geocaching Buddy helps you manage a list of caches from a variety of sites, includes an in-app compass, embedded images and log notes for paperless caching, calculates waypoints (coordinates), backs up your information by email, and even remembers where you parked the car so getting home doesn’t become a whole new adventure. ($7.99 – iOS/Android)
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.