outdoorwithsmartphoneThere are many ways parents can use technology and video games to motivate learning and facilitate family time with joint media use.

The Pokémon Go craze, which got 21 million active players to get outside and explore in the real world, is the perfect example of another way you can use technology to your benefit: connecting your kids to the outdoors. This opens a world of possibilities for learning and growing while positively affecting their mood and self esteem.

You can take advantage of this same idea — using screen time to give your kids more green time — with a variety of other fun games. Here are seven free apps, all available on both Android and iPhone, that you can use to entice your young gamers to explore their surroundings, use observational skills and have an adventure right in their own neighborhood!

  1.  Geocaching: This real-world global treasure hunt has been extremely popular with hobbyists, and the tech explosion has made it even more accessible and user-friendly. The game is simple: boxes are hidden in “caches” around the world, and the goal is to find these using longitude and latitude coordinates posted online. While geocaching was once played largely with maps and handheld GPS devices, now there are several apps to make the journey even more tech-infused and fun, such as the aptly named app Geocaching. Geocaching is a family-friendly activity, with caches rated on difficulty and terrain type; many are even accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. For Dinosaur Train fans, learn how you can find or create a Dinosaur Train-themed cache.
  2. Nature Cat: The hit PBS KIDS show “Nature Cat” is all about exploring the outdoors, and the new Nature Cat app helps your little gamers do exactly that. Every day, a brand new adventure awaits your explorers, connecting them to the real world outside. The app explores concepts such as trees, weather, and compasses, using location-based input from your device. Children can create their very own nature journals, drawing pictures, taking photos, and recording sounds that they hear in the great outdoors.
  3.  Wild Time: If you and your little one have a few minutes to spare, open up Wild Time and get outside. You input how much time you have — from 10 minutes to half a day — and the app gives you and your child something to fun to do outside in that time. All of the activities are unique and encourage kids to be adventurous and creative. For example, some suggestions include Bird Dinner Party, Shadow Watching and Smell Catching.
  4.  Project Noah: Project Noah launched as the #1 education app in the U.S. for good reason: children are helping to identify new species all over the globe by photographing all the animals and plants they find outside. There are three different ways to play and encourage your kids to explore nature and get moving:
    • Spotting: Take a picture of an interesting plant or animal, put it in a category, tag the location and add a short description and submit.
    • Location-Based Field Guide: Kids can see what plants and animals have been spotted near them and learn more about them. Map, list and grid view are available to pique your little one’s interest.
    • Field Missions: These missions come straight from research labs and environmental groups, and your child is helping them by photographing the plants and animals requested.
  5.  Plum’s Creaturizer: This game, based on PBS KIDS’ web-original property, “Plum Landing,” encourages kids to explore and appreciate our beautiful planet. With Plum’s Creaturizer, children get creative as they create their own creepy, crawly, cool creature. Once finished, players turn screen time into green time by heading outdoors to explore with their new creatures. Devices with cameras allow players to take photos of their creatures superimposed onto the world around them. Kids will get a kick out of watching their creations run around their own backyards and favorite playgrounds.
  6.  Ready Jet Go! Space Explorer: With expert curriculum backed by NASA, the Ready Jet Go! Space Explorer app, gives kids a suite of tools to play with and learn about the wonders of outer space. Little astronomers can browse the Solar Encyclopedia, learning more than 300 fun facts about planets and constellations. They can add a splash of color to the night sky by painting constellations, and best of all, the device’s GPS allow your astronauts-in-training to turn their attention to the sky overhead and view the positions of stars, planets and constellations in real time.
  7.  Monkey Spot Scavenger Hunt: Entice your children to go outside with the fun and exciting Monkey Spot Scavenger Hunt, which gives them a collection of themed tasks to complete, many of which are to be done outside. Different hunts come with different tasks, and many come pre-loaded with the free version. The best part is that you can use this at home or when you’re already out and about. For example, there’s an Art Museum Adventure that will make your family field trip more exciting. Children take a photo to document the completion of a task, whether it was to spot an animal on a walk or find items that start with each letter of the alphabet.
About Jessica Thiefels

Jessica Thiefels is the editor of Whooo's Reading and an education blogger, who's been featured in publications such as EdTech Digest and Daily Genius. Her favorite books growing up were "My Side of the Mountain" and "The Giver," and she hopes to inspire a similar love of reading in students and educators.

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