Making the great outdoors part of a child’s routine is important, but sometimes difficult. Research shows that kids who grow up playing and exploring their backyards and neighboring parks are more apt to continue this practice as they become adults. Smelling fresh air, hearing birds chirp, and feeling the sun’s rays can put everyone in a better mood, and also allow parents and their children to focus on each other and the beauty of Mother Nature.

The battle between screens and summertime can be hard fought for most parents. More and more kids are preferring to stay indoors and binge watch YouTube videos or scroll aimlessly through their phones, instead of participating in outdoor activities. Here is a short-list of free, downloadable apps that encourage and require users to be outdoors and taking in their surroundings, while still having the comfort of a smart-phone in-hand. (*All apps are available for Apple and Android phones.)

 

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APPS for Animal Lovers

Merlin Bird ID

This application is specific to North America and will help a parent or child answer the often echoed question in spring and summer of, “What type of bird is that?” The Merlin Bird ID app is free to download and requires the user to answer a few simple questions about his or her unknown bird species. Questions typically come in multiple choice form and have to do with a person’s location and the activity of the bird being viewed.

Once answers are provided, Merlin Bird ID will analyze that as data and provide potential matches. This app was created by Cornell University and utilizes information from an extensive database. It is great for young children and parents, as well as novice bird watchers, and seasoned pros. The user can even attempt to obtain a photo of an unknown bird species for picture identification through the app. Maps and bird call sounds can also be accessed through Merlin Bird ID, so grab some binoculars and look to the treetops in order to learn more about feathered friends in the area.

BarkHappy

BarkHappy is the ultimate app for dog lovers and dog owners. It can be especially helpful for parents who want their kiddos to stay true to their word and help out with the puppy, who is now a full-grown dog, that they begged to have for months and months. BarkHappy offers more options from a smartphone than simply taking one’s pooch for a walk around the block. This application can identify nearby dog parks, alert users to dog friendly events in the area, and also help coordinate outdoor dog playdates.

Puppy and dog events are becoming more and more popular for charity groups, and this app can connect a person to these groups and events with the tap of a finger. Dog 5Ks are a huge hit in getting families outdoors and exercising together. Plus the race t-shirts and party bags of dog treats and accessories are typically pretty fun. The “lost dog” feature is also nice should Rover or Fido ever get loose off of the leash and need help finding their way home.

Hiking Apps

REI National Park Guide & Maps

Recreational Equipment, Inc. offers this free app to help guide families and individuals as they visit National Parks all throughout the country. Hiking trails and detailed maps are provided, which can make for fun scavenger hunting at nearby sites or while traveling on vacation. Site seeing is made safer with detailed trail descriptions and a “live position” feature that keeps people from getting lost. The app can be used offline, so there are no worries when one ventures into the great outdoors. Special lists are available that outline kid friendly paths and highlight trails with beautiful scenic views. There is information for over 30 major national parks available, with more being added on a regular basis.

Groundspeak Inc.’s Geocaching

This app offers the ultimate treasure hunt to its user, and is equally great in getting teens, little ones, and families outside and playing. Geocaching is an outdoor activity that continues to increase in popularity and allows people to become trackers and scavengers. Tech expert Jennifer Jolly explained in an article for USA Today that, “Geocaching, which is really nothing more than using any GPS device to search for and locate hidden items in public places, is a hobby that has been growing for decades. Many geocaches include a box or container of some type, along with trinkets, souvenirs, and other items left by those who came before you. It’s always fun to find something secret, and you’re usually encouraged to leave your own small piece of memorabilia behind for the next person to enjoy as well.” Groundspeak’s app is free to download and great for beginners or seasoned pros. Geocaching is also popular all over the country, so treasures can be found near one’s home or while traveling to a new state.

Apps for Around the Camp Fire

ISS Detector Satellite Tracker

Bedtimes for little ones typically get extended in the summertime due to longer days. The early evening hours can still be spent outside enjoying the nice temperatures. Whether it is around the fire pit, on the deck, or during a camping trip, the ISS Detector application is a fun way to keep kids and adults outside and content while searching the skies for some beautiful wonders in outer space. The International Space Station (ISS) is visible from earth and an individual does not even require a telescope to see it float across the sky. A person only needs this free app which provides ISS information regarding: times, course of travel, identification of flares, and weather conditions. An alarm alert feature can be enabled to notify a user of on upcoming ISS fly-over so one never gets missed. This alarm can make for some fun count-down excitement with children and parents.

SkyView Free

This constellation and star finding app gives users the ability to located The Big and The Little Dipper with ease, as well as Canis Major and Minor. A flashlight and star map are no longer needed, because this free application uses the camera within a person’s smartphone to analyze the sky and pinpoint specific stars and patterns. Planets and satellites can also be sighted with this app, which is sure to be a general crowd pleaser while also encouraging potential space campers.

Sometimes by simply adding a tech feature to an outdoor activity a bridge can be built between parent and child that avoids the conflict of mandating a kid get away from his or her screen to go outside to play. All of the applications mentioned above are easy to download and even easier to use. Best of all, they encourage outdoor play and family time all in a tiny icon package.