When considering ways to get kids to ditch the devices this summer and head outside into the sunshine, giving them your phone may seem counterintuitive. But these clever apps are the best of both worlds, with ideas and activities designed to get kids running wild outside with minimal time looking at a screen. Read on for 6 apps that inspire outdoor adventures and genuinely fun family time together.
The geocaching phenomenon is here to stay, and it’s easier than you think to get started. Download the free Geocaching Intro app to find a hidden cache near you. There’s probably one in your neighborhood just waiting to be found!
Step outside and use the app’s compass and the hints provided to find the hidden geocache, sign and date the logbook and hide the item again. You and your kids will be surprised at how quickly you’ll get hooked on this real-life treasure hunt.
Account creation required to log your finds; upgrade to the full version to unlock all caches near your location.
iPhone/iPad, Android, Windows, Free (Full version $9.99)
2. Audubon Bird Guide
The Audubon Bird Guide app searches for your location to find birds that are part of your local habitat, making it easy to find what your kids see perched in the branches outside your window. Or, even better, send the kids outside with the Audubon Bird Guide app to help them discover the wildlife in your area.
If you prefer not to have your kids running around with smartphone in hand, give them paper and colored pencils to draw what they see and use their observations to search the robust guide in the app at home. They can browse by color or shape to quickly identify what they’ve spotted.
iPhone/iPad, Android, Free
3. Monkey Spot Scavenger Hunts
This invaluable photo scavenger hunt is made for kids who are looking for something to do not just outdoors, but also when the family is on a summer road trip or out to eat. (If your kids have a hard time waiting for the food to arrive at the table, this app is a must-have any time of the year.)
The fantastic free checklists include searching for science in everyday places, looking for artists and colors at the art museum or acting out a detective story with friends. And if kids are headed outside for the afternoon, you can purchase additional hunts designed for the playground or finding nature in your own backyard.
iPhone/iPad, Free ($0.99 for each additional hunt)
4. Plum’s Photo Hunt
The kids can embark on a photo hunt thanks to this fun and simple app from PBS Kids. Take a walk outside to snap a smartphone photo of items to be found, such as water, patterns found in nature or interesting insects. Photos can even be shared safely online in a collection of fascinating galleries from kids across the country who have completed hunts of their own.
5. Star Walk Kids
View the night sky through an interactive, real-time star map in the palm of your hand with Star Walk Kids. Clearly marked constellations and planets with an appealing cartoony feel make the stars come alive for you and the kids. As you turn and move the phone, the map instantly updates with your location for an accurate map of what you’re seeing overhead.
Major celestial bodies are described with clear narration and interesting facts — perfect for an unforgettable astronomy lesson under the stars on a cool summer night.
iPhone/iPad, Android, $2.99
6. Wild Time
Wild Time is an app that doesn’t actually require anyone to bring the screen outside. Simply browse the list of suggestions for how to spend some outdoor time; it’s conveniently organized by how much time you have to spare.
Pick an activity from the list, and off the kids go! If you’re looking for some inspiration for your next visit to the park, search the list for neat ideas like worm charming or creating a volcano out of mud, vinegar and baking soda.