I’m the mother of two boys. There’s rarely a day that goes by that you don’t hear me saying, “enough with the phone!” That’s especially true when we’re on a hike or camping trip. But then it dawned on me: why not use the phone to encourage my kids’ exploration. These eight apps will not only get your kids motivated for your next family outing, they may even teach them something. Shhhh… they don’t need to know that part!
When I was in seventh grade, my biology teacher assigned a leaf collection project. To this day, I can correctly identify various species of maple trees - Red, Sugar, Silver, Norway, and Japanese - plus a heck of a lot more. My kids? Not so much. Enter Leafsnap (iPhone only), an app that uses visual recognition software to help identify species from leaf photographs. The app doesn’t work on the fly; you need to collect the leaf and then take a photo of it later against a white background. And while the current collection only includes trees found in the northeastern United States and Canada, it continues to grow, plus there’s enough overlap to make it useful in other regions. My kids like the games which challenge you to correctly identify leaves, flowers, and fruits against a ticking clock. They may be the only games where I can beat my boys, at least for the moment.
Developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Merlin Bird ID (iPhone, Android) answers the question, “What kind of bird is that?” You start by downloading a bird pack for your region. Then your child answers five simple questions about the bird that he saw. Like magic, Merlin reveals a list of birds that best match the description. Your kid can then delve deeper by reading facts and even listening to the bird’s call.
My boys and I wish that we would have found these apps sooner as we can hardly find the North Star on our own! SkyView Lite (iPhone, Android) and Star Walk (iPhone, Android, Kindle) help identify stars, planets, constellations, and even satellites. You simply point your cell phone toward the sky. You’re then able to access more information about what you see.
KidTripster Tip: Start with the Moon as your first target.
Think of geocaching as a treasure hunt. I've done it several times with my cub scout den, but it also can be a fun family outing.
Here's how it works: you download the Geocaching app (iPhone, Android) and create an account. Next search for a geocache, a specific location where a small container holding small trinkets is hidden. There are two million geocaches worldwide, so you likely can find one nearby. Then start navigating toward that site. When you find the cache, sign the log and exchange trinkets, if you'd like. Younger kids, especially, will delight in their accomplishment!
KidTripster Tip: Make sure to bring small items to trade. Fast food kids' meal prizes work well.
Sometimes your kids just need a little motivation to get moving. Both Map My Hike (iPhone, Android) and AllTrails: Hike, Run & Cycle (iPhone, Android) are apps that track just how far they go on foot or by bike. If your kids are like mine, they'll likely make a competition out of it. AllTrails also has an extensive database of more than 60,000 trails which you can filter by length, rating, and difficulty. It highlights trails that are dog- or kid-friendly.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah lives in Portland, Oregon, surrounded by miles and miles of trails through what looks like J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth. While she enjoys hiking with her sons, her most loyal trail companion is her black Lab, Java.
Looking to get out into the Great Outdoors? Consider renting an RV or camper with our friends at Outdoorsy. It’s the Airbnb of RVs, matching RV owners with would-be renters. Use this link and get an extra $50 off your booking just for being a KidTripster fan! In addition, KidTripster will get some coffee money from Outdoorsy at no cost to you.