Balancing screen time with active play time is an ongoing challenge for families these days. Now, it seems game designers are starting to catch on. After digging around in the Apple App Store and on Google Play, we’ve found six fun apps you can download that combine outdoor time and tech time.
While we’re big advocates of screen-free play time, apps like these can offer a little extra enticement to coax reluctant kids to play outside or spark interest in activities like stargazing, plant identification, or nature exploration. With these apps, kids can use your phone to complete fun tasks at a playground, go on scavenger hunts, become mini-astronomers finding and identifying stars and planets, discover new, fun hiking trails, or become nature specialists.
Related read: 10 tips to manage screen time
1. Get ideas for new playground challenges with Biba
After a while, kids may find familiar parks “boring.” This app provides kids with lots of fun options for new ways to play, by combining time at the playground with their imaginations.
Use the easy instructions to enter the layout of the equipment at your own playground into the app, and Biba will send your kids on tasks they’ll love to complete. While they slide, run, climb, and jump they can pretend to be race car drivers zooming around a track, archaeologists searching for dinosaur bones, or explorers collecting tiny baby robots they can keep track of in the Biba app.
Info: Playbiba.com (Free, age 4+, in-app purchases available. Available on Google Play or the Apple App Store)
Related read: How playground design delivers play “nutrition”
2. Go on a treasure hunt with Geocaching (by Groundspeak)
Geo (earth) and cache (hide or storage) come together in a game I can’t believe I’ve never played. Your whole family can become pirates in search of loot, Indiana Jones hunting for the Holy Grail, or explorers looking for buried treasures!
Using the Geocaching app, kids can join the more than 3 million people playing across the world. Geocachers hide containers that are never buried but sometimes difficult to find (perhaps they’re beside tree roots or behind rocks). The caches are then listed by coordinates in the app and explorers use a GPS to find them.
Once you’ve found a cache, check it off and put it back exactly where it was. Sometimes the hidden containers have trinkets such as toy cars, trading cards, local coins, or keychains in them. If you take a piece, replace it with a piece. Geocaching with some small prizes is a fun way of exchanging tiny treasures with others and is a game that can be played around the world.
Info: Geocaching.com (Free, ages 4+, in-app purchases available. Available on Google Play or the Apple App Store)
3. Try stargazing with SkyView
With no wifi required, the SkyView app lets your kid become mini-astronomers. Simply point your device at the sky to find out when and where the planets, satellites, sun, and moon will be at any time on any date. With incredible graphics and so much info about the night sky, kids may just never want to come inside for bed!
Info: TerminalEleven.com ($2.79, ages 4+. Available on the Apple App Store)
4. Find endless ideas for scavenger hunts with Monkey Spot Scavenger Hunt
With a seemingly endless number of scavenger hunt lists, kids can use a device almost anywhere to tick off items. At home or walking around the neighbourhood? Playing in the backyard or going on a hike? Maybe you’re planning a trip to the zoo or the beach?
Kids take photos of items to check them off their list. Can they find an animal with no legs? How about items that begin with every letter of the alphabet? There are so many things for your kids to seek and find.
Info: MonkeyBarCollective.com (Free, ages 4+, in-app purchases available. Available on the Apple App Store)
5. Discover new nature hikes and bike paths with All Trails
Get your kids involved in planning family hikes using the All Trails app.
Simply enter your address, postal code, or area you’d like to visit, and the app will provide a list of hiking, cycling, cross-country skiing, or snowshoe trails within a boundary you set. This is a great app for discovering trails you never knew you existed right in your backyard (or close to it!).
With over 10 million people using the app, there is SO much information about trails right at your fingertips. From photos and comments, you can easily discover the distance of a trail, its difficulty level, whether it’s pet friendly, is a good place to bring strollers or bikes, has rivers or lakes, is paved, has good bird-watching possibilities, etc.
Kids can take photos on hikes to share (with complete anonymity) with the hiking community and can post notes about their experiences on trails that can help other adventurers. They can also use the app to easily create a hike within a long trail that they’d like to complete. Convincing them to come home after all the fun they’ll have might be a bit harder!
Info: AllTrails.com (Free, ages 4+, in-app purchases available. Available on Google Play or the Apple App Store)
Related read: 8 ways to make hiking more fun for little kids
6. Learn to name flora and fauna with Seek by iNaturalist
Parents (well, at least me) are sometimes completely in the dark when it comes to nature knowledge. Sometimes, for example, I can identify a flower only by its colour (as in, wow, that’s a beautiful yellow flower). But kids are so curious especially when it comes to things like cool, hairy bugs!
With the Seek app, simply point your phone camera at a living thing and image recognition technology will identify the plants, birds, amphibians, fungi, and so much more that kids discover. Badges can be earned for seeing and identifying different living things.
Chances are that your kids will learn that flowers are more than just “yellow.”
Info: iNaturalist.org (Free, ages 4+. Available on Google Play or the Apple App Store)
A note on screen time
Even though the apps we’ve shared with you are fun “extras” to help get kids active and playing outdoors, it’s important to remember that every child also needs lots of screen-free active play time outdoors.
Apps like these can be a great way to add variety to your nature walks and playground visits, but remember: nothing beats time spent climbing trees and playing forest games with friends, exploring muddy riverbanks and rocky beaches with family, or just playing catch or kicking around a ball in your backyard!