Kids ages 8 to 18 spend an average of over seven and a half hours a day consuming entertainment media, according to a recent study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. With nearly as much screen time as sleep time, it’s no wonder that kids today spend significantly less time playing outside than past generations.
But, just because your kids love their smartphones, doesn’t mean you should give up on them enjoying the great outdoors. Smartphones don’t have to be the enemy of outdoor play; in fact, they can actually complement it quite well. With smartphones like the HTC One outfitted with features like built-in compasses and easy-to-use navigation, you and your kids can use your phones as powerful tools to help enrich your interactions and make discoveries in the great outdoors. Consider these five apps to help get you started:
Geocaching ($9.99; Available for iOS and Android)
Geocaching is essentially a high-tech version of hide and seek whose fanbase knows no age limit. People all around the world participate in these treasure hunts for nearby geocaches (typically a small container and a logbook detailing who has found it), using GPS coordinates or specially tailored apps. With a global community of over six million people, you and your child can embrace this new hobby together. You are sure to be surprised at the number of geocaches hidden in your local surroundings. Or, if you have an upcoming vacation, use geocaching as a fun way to discover a new place you may not have found otherwise.
Nature Passport (Free; Available for iOS)
Developed by IslandWood (a Washington-based outdoor learning center) and Nature Play Western Australia, this app uses smartphones to empower kids as they conceive their own adventures in the great outdoors. Nature Passport gamifies the outdoor experience through themed missions that can be adjusted to various degrees of difficulty. Missions are broken down into categories: explore, learn, play and geocache. As missions are completed, badges are earned, motivating your children to reach the next level of accomplishment. This app is designed for children ages 7 to 12.
The Night Sky ($0.99; Available for iOS, Android and Kindle)
With so many constellations illuminating the sky every night, it’s not easy to remember the names and locations of them all. But, with The Night Sky app, you can discover all of the patterns in the night sky. Using geotracking data, this app pinpoints your location to determine which stars, planets and constellations you are seeing overhead in real time. This is the perfect app to download before your next camping trip.
Leafsnap (Free; Available for iOS)
With the Leafsnap app, you will always have an answer when your child asks, “What kind of tree is that?” Simply take a photo of a leaf, upload it to the app and let Leafsnap identify what kind of tree it grows on using high-tech visual recognition software. The only caveat is that the app’s database is a bit limited. This electronic field guide is currently optimized to identify trees in the Northeastern United States. But, it will soon be expanded to include foliage growing in the rest of the continental U.S.
Audubon Birds Pro ($9.99; Available for iOS, Android and Kindle)
Similar to Leafsnap, this app is an electronic field guide. But, it identifies birds instead of trees. Audubon Birds Pro features a robust database that can be used to identify over 821 species of birds based on photos, characteristics, habits and habitats.