There’s no question digital and mobile tech provide mesmerizing tools for kids today, but one of the fall-outs is lack of outdoor play and exercise.
A growing body of research shows that regular exposure to the outdoors may be just as important as exercise, especially for children. The result of doing both is an increased attention span, improved physical fitness and mental well-being, yet sometimes it’s tough to inspire kids to change their behavior. While we fully endorse unplugging completely to improve family bonding and exercise, sometimes a little extra coaxing might be needed.
What if mobile devices became a part of the solution? Interactive apps, journals, embedded GPS tracking, field guide applications and more can be used as lures to get our kids moving and active in the great outdoors. As the saying goes -- “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” -- so here’s 11 you might want to consider:
Disneynature Explore (iPhone, iPad, free): Unlike other apps or games, this free, augmented
reality app from Disney Citizenship encourages kids to go outside, play in nature and have fun. Children 4-8 and their caregivers can search their own backyard to go on a hunt with a lion, view their surroundings through a butterfly’s eyes, follow tracks along with the bear to find its cub, crack a nut like a chimpanzee, and much more ! This Parents Choice Award winner includes a Spanish-language option and parenting section for learning and teaching kids about animals and ecosystems. Ages 4-8.
Plum’s Creaturizer (iPhone, Android, free): Go on a nature adventure with Plum's Creaturizer! This Parents’ Choice “Gold” Award winner learning app from PBS Kids provides opportunities for kids and families to interact with nature in a thoughtful way and have fun exploring together. Kids and families can build wild creatures, then head outdoors to photograph them right in their own backyard. Age 5+
Meet the Insects: Forest Edition (iPad, $4.99): Kids will be inspired to get outside and become
explorers of fascinating creepy crawlies with this fun and interactive app. Multi-media resources turn kids into budding backyard bug enthusiasts with virtually everything they'd want to know
about the insect kingdom. Includes beautiful graphics, fun music, realistic insect sounds, journaling and more. Age 5+
Nature Passport (iPhone, free): IslandWood has created the beta version of this simple and engaging nature app offers missions that encourage kids to learn, play, and explore in natural spaces where they live and learn. The missions can be done at school, in after-school programs, or with friends and families in backyards and parks. The passport missions are suitable for urban, suburban, and rural areas, and to give participants practice with science, art, and math skills. Age 6+.
Star Walk™ 2 - (iPhone 2.99, Android free): Star Walk for Kids is perfect for young space explorers to introduce them to astronomy. With colorful images and friendly narrators, kids can begin to recognize constellations, planets of the solar system and grasp the fundamental principles of astrophysics.
It’s a great app that easily answers most of the questions connected with astronomy and even shows cartoons explain some of the phenomena. Age 6+
Star Chart (iPhone, iPad, free): Touting 20 million users, this top educational and augmented reality astronomy app is like having a virtual star chart in your pocket! Simply point your AR enabled device to see through the eyes of your iPhone or iPad into a high-tech window of the whole visible universe. Using state of the art GPS technology, accurate 3D simulations, and a great deal of technical wizardry, Star Chart calculates – in real time - the current location of every star, planet and moon visible from. Age 8+
Leafsnap (iPhone, iPad, free): Nature-enthusiast kids can take a photo of a leaf, and Leafsnap will
help them identify the tree by using visual recognition software via field guides created by Columbia University, University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution. Kids can build their own reference catalogs along with an extensive list embedded in the app. Games are provided to help sharpen tree-identification skills, but it is up to the end-user to make the final decision on what looks like the closest match to the apps recommendation. This is the first in a series of app Age 8+
Birds Eye Finding Guide (iPhone, free): The ultimate field guide for beginning and intermediate birders as a free download. Explore the 100 most common birds near you (or for any spot on earth), and learn about the birds you are most likely to see in your yard or the local park. See customized lists of birds reported recently near you, at any birding hotspot across the world, or any random point on the map! When ready to see more, paid subscriptions give you access to every countable species in your region or worldwide. Ages 8+
CharityMiles (iPhone, Android, free): Free mileage tracker app donates money to charities based on the number of miles you walk, run, or bike. Users choose the charity they'll be moving for during each session, based on a list of more than 40 well-known charities, such as the ASPCA, Stand Up to Cancer, World Wildlife Fund, Girls on the Run, and Special Olympics. Kids and adults can earn up to 10 cents per mile for biking and 25 cents per mile for walking or running and can sign up as teams. Though younger kids could use this app, it's best to use an adult's email address and for kids to use with an adult. Age 13+
Pooch To 5K (Android, free ) Best free application for any beginner runner and his pooch companion to get ready for a 5K. The program allows users to slowly build and increase strength and stamina for themselves and their dog by alternating between walking and running for short periods of time. In only 12 weeks your kids, your dog and you could be ready for your first 5K and feel better and healthier than ever before. Age 8+
Zombies, Run! (iPhone, Android, free): Get ready for the run of your life! Join 2 million runners on an epic adventure as zombie chases simulate a incoming horde, and players have to increase their speed to escape. Stories feature survivors of a zombie plague who are fighting for their own survival. Violence is used to fight off Zombies and some characters die over the course of the season. The user agreement asks that teens between age 16 and 18 get a parent's permission before registering, but registration is not required to run and listen to the stories. It's interval training...with exciting twists that will definitely keep you and your teens moving. Age 16+
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Cynthia Lieberman co-founder, CyberWise.org and has a graduate degree in edia Psychology and Social Change. She serves as a content marketing
and PR consultant for Fortune 100 companies, including major Hollywood
studios, Virtual Reality and healthcare, serves on the Board of Directors for
the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), and
teaches Social Media Marketing at UCLA Extension. @liebermanc