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12+ ways technology can get your kids outside

Updated May 9, 2023

Across the province, Albertans are celebrating the end of a long winter’s nap and relishing this much deserved warm weather. Kids, meanwhile, are still firmly attached to their devices. Did you know there are ways to turn that into an outdoor magnet?

While chirping birds and sprouting buds may be enough for parents to start summer dreaming and into nature but the same can’t always be said for our kids. But phones, cameras, and even some game systems have ways to encourage kids to get outdoors!

Why should kids get outside?

It is well documented that nature reduces levels of stress and anxiety and improves mood and creativity. One study linked spending time in a forest setting to an increased expression of anti-cancer proteins which lasted 7 days post forest walk. Fortunately, technology can assist us once again in providing our kids their daily dose of sunshine.

Using an app or becoming creative with what motivates your child can get them out counting lady bugs or ripping up the trails.

Things to keep in mind when using tech outdoors with kids

Work together

Don’t just set the kids loose with the phone outside. Consider locking it to one application so they don’t run off and start playing their favourite game, and be interested in what they are doing (or at least act like it). Ask questions, listen actively, and “learn” from them.

Set a time limit

It may be a timer on your watch, on the device, or just an arbitrary time you’ll keep track of outside of technology, but don’t spend hours and hours on this in one day. Be prepared to put the technology away once your kids are engaging with the outdoors on their own.

Use technology with intention

Pick your time and place for using technology with a purpose in mind. Have a goal (besides getting the kids outside), and share it with your child in terms they’ll understand. Use your goal to drive conversations! It’s always a good idea to practice and teach mindfulness when it comes to the digital world.

Devices and activities to get the kids outside

I know it seems counter-intuitive. Using evil devices to get kids outside. But fresh air! Movement! If it takes using the phone or tablet, well, it’s a start.

Here are some tech-inspired ideas to reinvigorate your child’s love for the great outdoors:

1. Geocaching

There is no shortage of geocaches hidden all over our province ranging from easy, kid-friendly caches to challenging, complex, where-am-I-going caches. The excitement in the search and finding the treasure is sure to draw out the most reluctant YouTube addict.

You can use the Geocaching app on your phone, or invest in a hand-held GPS unit.

2. Photography

The number of picture enhancing apps and fun photo filters available can inspire the youngest of photographers. Encourage your child to appreciate and capture on screen the smallest creatures in nature or notice the beauty in a single water droplet left hanging on a leaf.

3. Scavenger Hunts

Suitable for older kids who can be on their own, parents can set up a scavenger hunt around the neighbourhood or on the trails. Perhaps the last clue will lead to the home wi-fi or iTunes password that was just changed.

4. Create a video

Creating video content and sharing it is immensely popular with kids. Attaching a GoPro, Insta360, or similar device to their bike helmet or scooter can bring out their adventurous and creative sides. Plus, the excitement in watching and editing their self-made videos may spark further outdoor creativity.

5. Bird watching

The river valley is a haven for our feathered friends. Did you know the great horned owl is Alberta’s provincial bird and they are right here in our YEG river valley? Download a bird watching app like Peterson Bird Identifier & Field Guide or eBird and see how many chirpers your kids can identify.

Take this to another level with a bird feeder camera.

6. Gamify with a fitness tracker

There are a few popular wearables for kids (FitBit and Garmin both have one). The great thing about these is it lets both you and your child see how much they’re moving their bodies. The apps often include badges or other ways to gamify activity (and sleep, water consumption, and other healthy habits).

7. Become a citizen scientist

A joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, iNaturalist encourages users to record encounters with nature. You can crowdsource identifications (for those strange bugs or beautiful birds you just can’t figure out!), learn about nature, and help create some really useful data for research scientists!

Similar citizen scientist tools include Journey North (tracking migrating animals), Project Noah (photographing wildlife), and Project Squirrel (count and record squirrel sightings).

8. Read a book

Bring the library outside with digital books! I love swinging in the hammock in the shade reading a good book while camping, and my kids are quickly following in my path. Applications like Libby, Hoopla, and RazKids are great to help readers not haul a massive stack of books around!

9. Test out augmented reality

Turn your playground into a video game! Biba is a smart phone app that encourages kids to interact with their playground while on a phone. Don’t worry about your phone – parents are supposed to “referee”, which means you’re getting up and moving, too.

There are Biba “enabled” playgrounds across Alberta.

Another app with limited Alberta-based challenges is Agents of Discovery. There are challenges in Drayton Valley, at the Banff Gondola, and Upper Shunda Creek.

10. Upgrade your walk or run

This one is better for older kids – with apps like MapMyRun (or walk or hike), Zombies, Run!, and Marvel Move, you can get coaching or stories while being active.

11. Stargaze

There are a number of star map apps you can download with various functions and price points. Look for one that displays with red light to preserve your night vision, rotates as you move your phone, and has a good number of satellites in the database (because what’s better than identifying that moving dot in the sky?).

I’ve had SkyView and SkyPortal on my phone for a few years now and switch between them.

12. “Collect” Leaves

Learn about identifying plants while building up a virtual leaf collection (no opening the encyclopedia to discover a long forgotten leaf for kids today!). iNaturalist can also be used for this!

Bonus: Listen to music

The sounds of nature may be missing when you do this, but sometimes just turning up the tunes is enough to make a space more inviting for kids.

Get outside and explore

Need even more ideas for getting outside this summer? Check out some more on Alberta Mamas:

“When children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength” – Maria Montessori