Technology and nature seem like an incongruous match. After all, when youre urging your kids to go play outside, its usually in an attempt to distract them from the allure of the Internet and their devices, not an effort to engage them in yet another online activity or app.
But don’t be too quick to dismiss technology. While it’s fun, outdoor exploration is also an informal educational pursuit, and the Internet offers a wealth of information that can help match difficult concepts like biology and astronomy with real-life examples in nature, creating a solid foundation for scientific curiosity and inspiring new knowledge on a daily basis.
Turn a tablet or phone into an instrument for inquiry with nature apps to make the great outdoors with your family even greater. Below are some apps to get you started.
Leafsnap: Identify foliage in a flash with this interactive field guide developed by Columbia University, the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institute by taking a photo of leaves, fruit or bark against a sheet of white paper. Currently the database only contains trees in the Northeastern United States, but the guide is spreading its roots and growing. Leafsnap is free in the app store and is coming soon to Android.
Source: Merlin Bird
Merlin Bird ID: Magic is for the birds with this fun app that asks five easy questions to help guess which bird has been sighted and then offers tips, resources and additional information including sound clips from Cornell Labs Macaulay Library. This free app opens up a whole new world of possibilities for burgeoning birders and is available for iOS and Android devices.
Geocaching.com: Treasure meets technology with geocaching, a hide-and-seek activity thats fun for all ages. GPS coordinates lead players to hidden caches of tokens and small items in this satellite-led scavenger hunt. With over 2.5 million spots listed globally, the free Geocaching.com app on iOS, Android and Windows devices can help you find local loot.
Source: Star Walk
Star Walk: Explore the universe with Star Walk, a real-time astronomy guide that augments reality to show constellations, planets, stars and satellites in their actual place in the sky above. A time machine feature allows users to see a map of nights in the past or future, and a calendar of events ensures youll never miss anything interesting. Star Walk is a paid app available on iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows devices.
Source: Plum’s Photo Hunt
PBS KIDS! Plums Photo Hunt: Kids are encouraged to take a closer look at the world through a new lens with scavenger hunts out in nature. Photo missions include quests like finding signs of animal life, taking a weather-related photo or searching for patterns in nature. The app also includes a field journal so little explorers can organize and analyze their findings, as well as a photo editing app to add characters to their shots. Plums Photo Hunt is free and only available on iOS devices.
Source: Project Noah
Project Noah: Go out into the field with your citizen scientist and submit photos of nature to help with actual research missions and to earn virtual patches for participation. The community can help identify findings and the constantly growing field guide is informative. This app is recommended for ages 10 and up due to the social component but is best used as a family activity anyway. The Project Noah app is available for free on iOS and Android devices.
Kids have a natural curiosity that leads to a desire to learn, and often make discoveries about life and the world they live in through the simple act of playing in the dirt or sitting in a tree. While its true that technology isnt necessary for good old-fashioned outdoor fun, its possible to turn screen time into green time with educational apps that explore nature in a way thats interesting, social and scientific, too.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.