10 Ways Families Can Use Technology to Connect to Nature
Do your children enjoy being outdoors? According to a recent study from the Nature Conservancy, 82 percent of American parents feel that spending time in nature is “very important” to a child’s development, second only to reading.
Admittedly, going online in order to strengthen your family’s connection to the great outdoors may seem counterintuitive. Yet, in our wired age, it makes no sense to ignore the many apps and websites that inspire a deeper involvement with nature. Here are 10 you can try.
NatureFind pinpoints places where families can satisfy an appetite for exploration. In addition to nature centers and natural history museums, the website provides descriptions and directions for zoos, botanical gardens and wildlife refuges. A mobile version makes it easy to find activities on the go. naturefind.com.
Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder provides concise information about city, state and national parks. A menu of activities allows you to search for parks where your family can pursue your favorite pastimes from bicycling, boating and bird-watching, to camping, caving and climbing. ohranger.com.
AllTrails is a source for comprehensive information on 50,000 trails in the U.S. and Canada. In addition to information about the level of difficulty and scenery along the way, you’ll have access to comments from other hikers. The basic app is free. For $50 a year, you can get very detailed maps produced in partnership with National Geographic. alltrails.com.
Merlin Bird ID was produced by the scientists at the Cornell Ornithological Lab. This app encourages children to observe carefully and determine a bird’s identity by answering five questions about appearance and behavior. merlin.allaboutbirds.org.
TreeBook features photos, drawings, descriptions and range maps that help kids identify common trees in North America. itunes.apple.com (search for “TreeBook”).
Mywildflowers.com is a website administered by a wildflower enthusiast. A very simple key prompts kids to answer questions about flower color and shape, as well as blooming season, leaf shape and plant size. mywildflowers.com.
The National Parks Field Guide is an app crammed with photos that make it easier to spot the flora and fauna typical of each national park. In addition to wildflowers and trees, the app covers birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. wild.enature.com/apps.
Project NOAH (Networked Organisms and Habitats) encourages wildlife lovers, young and old, to take photos of what they see and upload them to a website. The photos help scientists track wildlife populations. Plus, a global community stands ready to help your child identify unknown plants and animals. projectnoah.org.
Nature’s Notebook takes a different approach to observation. Your family can sign up to record changes in a specific site, such as a favorite park or your own backyard, then use the app to make regular field notes. Specific questions encourage children to notice seasonal changes for plants, birds and other creatures. Those observations become part of a database that helps scientists track changes in the growing season and in migration patterns. usanpn.org.
iNaturalist, an app and website, is the brain child of college students who wanted people to be able to share their photos of the animals, reptiles, birds, insects and plants. Their ambitious goal is a “living record of life on Earth that scientists and land managers could use to monitor changes in biodiversity, and that anyone could use to learn more about nature.” inaturalist.org.
Carolyn Jabs raised three computer-savvy kids, including one with special needs. Visit growing-up-online.com to read more of her columns.