Using technology as a way to help kids connect with nature might seem counterintuitive. After all, aren’t we trying to get our technology-addicted kids outside to take a break from screen time? Here in Canada, children spend an average of 7.5 hours in front of screens each day and all this screen time is contributing to a whole bunch of problems.
Too much screen time for children has a lot of negative effects. Children may experience sleep deprivation, attention problems, obesity, and decreased social interaction. – ParticiPACTION
Knowing what we do about kids and screen time, we might balk at the idea of letting our kids use technology in nature. However, when used right technology can actually encourage children and youth to get outside, engage with nature and have fun too!
A recent study from a researcher at UBC Okanagan, looked at how technology can be used to impact children’s experience of nature. In the study, 747 children were divided into three groups. One group explored a park using a phone app, another group had an environmental educator and the last group was given a map. The researchers discovered that the kids with the phone app were able to connect with nature just as well as the other groups and they had more fun doing it!
Technology can be used to facilitate exposure [to nature] with the added benefit of increasing children’s
Perhaps the thought of letting your child use technology outside makes you uncomfortable (I’ve been there) or has you explaining to random strangers that your child is actually geocaching and not playing a game on your phone (I’ve been there too). Using technology as a way of encouraging kids to get outside and connect with nature can be a great tool. The key is to be use it mindfully.
7 Ways to Use Technology to Get Your Child Outside
1. Go on a Geocaching Adventure.
Geocaching is a worldwide adventure treasure hunt! Just download the phone app or use a GPS device and off you go. Kids really enjoy geocaching and it can be a great way to motivate kids to get outside on those “ho-hum” kind of days. It’s also a great way to explore new trails and areas.
2. Get Motivated with Fitness Trackers.
Fitness trackers are all the rage right now and there are even ones for kids. This wearable technology can be a great incentive for kids to play, run and climb outdoors to meet the 24 Hour Movement Guidelines. One popular tracker is the Garmin Vίvofit Jr. Activity Tracker.
Children and youth (aged 5–17 years) should accumulate at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity and several hours per day of a variety of structured and unstructured light physical activities – ParticipACTION
3. Learn About Mapping with Apps and Devices.
Teach your child about maps and mapping by using a phone app like AllTrails or by learning how to use a handheld GPS device. My kids really enjoy using a GPS device because they can see how far they’ve hiked and how much further they have left to go. You can also use a GPS device for geocaching. Two good entry level GPS devices are the Garmin eTrex 10 GPS and the Garmin eTrex 20x GPS.
4. Explore Outdoor Locations Using Augmented Reality.
Agents of Discovery is an educational mobile game for kids living in North America. Kids use the app to go on Missions at specific outdoor locations where they have Challenges to complete. For a list of the Mission locations check out the Missions Page.
5. Become a Naturalist and Conservationist with iNaturalist.
Today with technology anyone can become a naturalist and conservationist, all you have to do is download an app on your phone or tablet. The iNaturalist app helps users record their observations in nature and shares them with fellow naturalists. This is a great app for helping you and your child discover all the different plants, insects and animals in your neighbourhood and beyond. If you aren’t sure how to identify your observation, fellow iNaturalists users will help you out. The awesome thing about this app is that all your observations, even those in your backyard, help scientists and researchers around the world.
6. Learn How to Be an Ornithologist (Bird Expert).
The eBird and Merlin Bird ID apps were developed by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and gives users a way to identify and record bird sightings around the world. When these two apps are paired together, parents and children can figure out what birds they’ve seen, make a record of it and contribute to the research and conservation of birds worldwide.
7. Discover the Natural World through Digital Photography.
Nature photography is a fun way for kids to connect with nature. It allow children to make careful observations of colour, shape, texture and light. One fun book for kids to learn about photography is Photo Adventures for Kids: Solving the Mysteries of Taking Great Photos. Most phones and tablets have built in cameras, but if you’re looking for a camera that is both waterproof and drop proof I recommend the Fujifilm FinePix XP120 Waterproof Digital Camera.
3 Quick Tips for Using Technology Outside with Children
Technology can be a great tool for learning, exploring and observing nature with kids. Be purposeful about choosing technology that engages your child in nature and be aware of how you use technology outdoors – be a good role model!
Use Technology Together.
When using technology outside partner up with your child, ask questions, interact and learn together.
Only use technology if it helps your children get outside or engage with nature. Don’t be afraid to put technology away once your child is interacting with nature. Also, minimize the use of screens outside with children under five.2
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TOP 15 NATURE APPS FOR FAMILIES
- Crawford, M., Holder, M. and O’Connor, B. (2017). Using Mobile Technology to Engage Children With Nature. Environment and Behavior, 49(9), 959–984
- Canadian Paediatric Society (2017). Screen time and young children: Promoting health and development in a digital world. Paediatrics & Child Health, p. 461–468
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