By Renae Blum
Wish your kids spent more time outdoors and less time in front of a screen? It’s a common concern. Rather than cutting out electronics completely, a phone can be a great tool in helping spark a child’s curiosity and interest in the outdoors.
Give the three apps below a try. All are free, available on both Google Play and the Apple App Store — and can enrich your family’s experience of the outdoors.
Merlin Bird ID
Kids can explore their curiosity about birds with this easy-to-use app, which helps with bird identification. Wondering what birds you’re hearing? You can make a live sound recording, and the app will suggest species in real-time. The app can identify bird photos, too.
Don’t have a photo or sound recording? There’s also a Bird ID Wizard which offers possibilities based on your answers to simple questions. Check out the “Explore” section, too, where you can browse a library of birds in your area, complete with photos, sounds and maps.
Seek is another app that’s great for identifying what you see outside. Simply open the camera tool, snap a photo of the plant or animal you see, and the app will make an identification. You then have the option to read more about the species and its range, similar species and the time of year it appears. The more observations you make, the more badges you’ll earn. You also can participate in monthly challenges.
Seek was designed for kids ages 9 to 11 and does not require registration or collect any user data by default. It’s a simpler version of the iNaturalist app and great for families who want to explore the outdoors together.
This app is your gateway into a great outdoor family activity — geocaching! Geocaching is a treasure hunt aided by technology. The goal is to find caches, hidden containers with a logbook and sometimes, small trinkets for trade, which the app will help you discover. There are more than 3 million caches hidden worldwide, making opportunities for geocaching fun nearly everywhere you go.
Geocaching can be a fun way to explore places in your neighborhood you didn’t know about, or to have some added fun on a vacation. Geocaches come in a variety of sizes and difficulty levels; for the best family experience, focus on caches with a low difficulty level (this is easy to do with the free version of the app, which limits you to easier caches). Kids of all ages can have fun helping locate caches.