So, it’s the 5,000th day of summer (or at least it feels that way by about 10 a.m.), and I realize my best laid plans to keep my kids engaged in educational activities and fight summer brain drain haven’t yet materialized. My two sons have been swimming, vacationing, heading to sports camps and parks (all good things by the way), but not a single book, math problem or science activity in sight. They’ve also spent plenty of time staring at screens on their mobile devices. I’m sure I’m not the only one that dropped the ball on this, right?
Well, with school just around the corner, there’s a unique way to harness the power of those little phone screens for good and get their brains engaged in something besides Fortnite. There are lots of apps out there that can involve your kids in conservation and science that will encourage them to get outside and experience nature!
I just recently worked with some local families to review three such apps during a project for my master’s degree through Miami University’s Project Dragonfly program. Families with kids ages preschool to junior high used the apps and shared their experiences with me. Here’s the scoop!
- Marine Debris Tracker – Think of it as a scavenger hunt to clean up the environment! Head to your nearest local waterway (we went to Miami Whitewater Forest) and log any trash or pollutants you see. Although the app isn’t the most attractive, it’s easy to use. You just choose from a list of categories like plastic bottles or aluminum cans and note the number of each item found. The app automatically logs a location, and you can add a picture and description of the item as well. Logged items become part of a database that is available to researchers. Bonus idea is to wear some gloves, take a garbage bag and do a clean up while you’re at it!
- Instant Wild – This is a great one for a rainy day or sitting and waiting at a restaurant when the kids are bored. You can help researchers identify animals from around the world! Users view and tag images to identify the presence and type of animal with the help of an in-app field guide that offers suggestions based on native wildlife for those areas. Users can even favorite images and earn badges for their efforts. My kids loved looking at video of baby elephants roaming the savannah and learning the difference between a plains and Grevy’s zebra!
- iNaturalist – This app will get your kids outside and help them learn more about the species native to the Greater Cincinnati area! Users take a photo of any plant or animal and then identify it with help from a field guide within the app. It tracks the location of the observation and adds it to a map. You can view others’ observations as well, and data gathered can be used by researchers.
Each of these apps provides a chance to pique your children’s scientific curiosity through gathering data, learning about nature and thinking more about the local and global environment. You can use apps like these to bring science to life outside of a classroom setting and encourage scientific thinking! Plus, it’s fun, free and gets them to do something productive with those phones.
There are lots of other apps out there that can involve you and your family in the scientific process, just search in your app store! Do you have any nature or science apps you’ve used that you would recommend to other families?
Side note: As with all apps, make sure you’re involved in the process. Because some of these do note actual locations, you may want to consider setting the app up with yourself as the user and just letting your kids use your login.