Tag Archives: outdoors

Apps to Get Your Family Outdoors

By Tracey Dowdy

Using a smartphone or tablet doesn’t have to mean screen time or inactive play. Use these apps and websites to have real world adventures with your kids this summer and become amateur bird watchers, citizen scientists, and amateur astronomers.

Audubon Bird Guide

audubonThe Audubon Bird Guide has a catalog identifying over 800 birds with information on their appearance, habitat, behavior and migration patterns. Take the app outdoors and find Birds with eBird, a “free online program that allows birders to track their sightings, while other birders watch and search in real-time.” Amateur birders track their location, each bird they saw, how many of each species, where and how long they were outdoors, and then jump to the eBird website and click “Submit Observations” to upload their information. There’s even an un-official eBird challenge to submit at least one list a day for one year, even if you only bird watch for a few minutes.

Cost: Free
Availability: iTunes, Google Play, Amazon

Night Sky

night skyNight Sky takes the expanse of the night sky and puts it in your child’s hands. Just point your phone’s camera at the heavens and using geo-tracking, Night Sky will identify the stars and planets above your head. Use Stargazing Conditions to identify the best night to look for constellations and planets or combine Stargazing Conditions with World Traveler to see the conditions in an area you’re traveling to. The app includes music, sound effects, 3D Earth Mode, satellite tracking and you can connect with other star gazers through the Night Sky™ Community.

Cost: Free
Availability: iTunes, Google Play, Amazon

Meet the Insects

meet the insectsDid you know the animal with the most species on earth is insects? Well now you do! Meet the Insects is crammed with facts about every species you can think of, from butterflies to beetles. Choose Forest, Village and Water, or Grass editions to identify bugs in your backyard, on a camping trip or anywhere else you come across creepy-crawlies. Kids can learn more about each species through videos and photos, create a journal to keep track of what they’ve seen, or take a quiz to see how much they’ve learned.

Cost: $4.99 per edition
Availability: iTunes

Nature’s Notebook

natures notebookNature’s Notebook makes kids citizen scientists by having them create an account at usanpn.org and start logging their observations of the natural world around them. Kids choose an environment like a park or their backyard and then become amateur naturalists by recording the plants and animals they see as well as changes in behaviors and seasons. All their observations are logged in the Nature’s Notebook database which then helps scientists track climate change and animal behaviors around the globe.

Cost: Free
Availability:  iTunes, Google Play


leafsnapThe Smithsonian Institution, University of Maryland and Columbia University have combined forces to create Leafsnap. Users take photos of leaves and through visual recognition software, Leafsnap identifies the tree species. The app has beautiful, high quality images of leaves, flowers, fruits, petioles, seeds, and bark found in the Northeastern United States and Canada.

Cost: Free
Availability: iTunes

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.



Apps to Help You Stay Active This Winter

By Tracey Dowdy

Now that Mother Nature has dropped a blanket a snow on the northeast, it may be tempting to hunker down and stay inside til Spring. Instead, take advantage of the winter weather and make the most of the snow. There’s more to do than you may think.

Let’s Move

Let’s Move is First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to get kids moving and the Let’s Move website is a great resource for winter fun. Along with fitness tips and nutritious recipes, the Get Active tab has loads of suggestions to get you and your family moving, including a “Let’s Move Outside” option with links for “Where to Go” and “What to Do”. Discover forests, parks, hiking trails, and get tips on what to bring on your hike like water and healthy snacks.

National Park Service

The National Park Service website can help you find a park and plan an adventure in your area. Find winter activities near you or take advantage of winter hiking trails. Plus, to encourage families to get out and explore, every fourth grader (or age equivalent free learner) and their family is eligible for free passes to National Parks for a whole year.

Nature Rocks

Nature Rocks by The Nature Conservancy will be your go-to on snow days, rainy days, sunny days…you know where this is going. Fill in the blank from a drop down menu: “It’s (snowing, raining, warm, cold) outside. Where do you want to play?” Choose your own backyard, a park, the forest, or the water and get connected to ideas for Winter Olympics themed games, crafts like bird feeders made with pine cones, or art projects to make with snow.

Natural Learning Initiative

The Natural Learning Initiative has a list of fun winter activities you can do in your backyard. Go on a nest hunt with the leaves off the trees, make snow angels and paint them with food coloring, build a tiny igloo with ice cubes as bricks and snow as mortar, or use sand toys to build snow castles.

Finally, if you or your kiddos are going to be outside for awhile, remember these tips:

  • Dress in layers – Active play warms kids up so dress them in layers to keep them from overheating.
  • Stay hydrated – Kids may not realize how much they sweat when playing outside in the cold so remind them to stop for a drink once in a while.
  • Protect your extremities – You lose heat through through your head, ears, hands and feet first, so make sure you keep them protected.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.