“Just one more minute, pleeeeease. I need to finish fighting this boss.”
“I have to check in to get my daily reward.”
“My friends are going to be online at 10:30! I have to meet them in the lobby.”
And on and on…
There are lots of great reasons for kids play games and use technology in general. They can interact with friends; use their writing skills to message with friends online, write emails or even blog posts; plan, build and create; budget their time and learn patience by waiting to collect ‘rewards’ instead of buying them; simply have fun and so much more. I get it. I can see all of the arguments for tech and think some of them are pretty valid. Our kids are growing up in a technology filled world and it is going to be a part of their lives until the end of their days.
All of that said, they need other things too. Most notably, they need balance. They also need nature and deep, meaningful interactions with friends and family. Those things (and many more like music, art, physical activities… ) need to balance out with the technology in a way each family sees fit.
Nature can play a big role in helping kids to bring balance into their lives. Nature can ground them and help connect them to the bigger world and the people around them in a way that gaming on a server just can’t.
Studies have shown that kids with regular access to nature in outdoor play environments engage in more creative play, have increased ability to focus, have greater self-discipline and so much more. Many parents know time in nature is beneficial to their kids but are faced with more and more difficulty getting their technology loving kids outside. The question is posed to me often: How do I get my kids outside when all they want to do is sit on the computer, iPad, etc…?
So, parents know it is important and the question is not if kids need nature, but how to get them outside when faced with the ever alluring pull of the technology at their fingertips?
This is a valid question that does not have a simple one-fits-all answer and can be approached in a variety of ways.
While it is easy to say,
“Just do it! Just take them outside!”
It can be a bit more complex than that and each family needs to find their own strategies and tactics for dealing with the issues at hand. One way is to play off the fact that kids love tech is to take technology outside and use it as a tool to help kids connect – like a gateway to bridge the gap.
If you are struggling with getting your technology loving kid into the great outdoors (or even just the backyard), take heart and check out the tips below.
Some Tips for Using Tech Outside
For the younger kiddos:
First of all, if kids are not already using technology I would wait to introduce them to the idea of using it in the outdoors. There are plenty of things for children to do outside without the addition of tech to their outdoor time. In fact, young kids need to bring very little outside. They can find everything they need (sticks, rocks, water, flowers, bugs, etc…) to play, explore, and wonder.
The tips here are for kids who are reluctant to get out and need an extra incentive.
If they are already using tech and they want to use it outside (or you want to use it to help motivate them to spend more time outside) encourage them to try some of the nature related tech activities like the ones I will share below. You may have to do these things yourself to encourage them to give them a go. The hope here is to get them out and eventually transition them to the much more organic, free-range time outside (whatever that looks like for them). The benefits of unstructured outdoor play for children cannot be stressed enough and you will probably find that over time the tech use will decrease as the discovery and sheer joy of play outdoors increases.
Here are some ideas for using technology outside with all kids, but especially the younger crowd:
- Take photos of nature discoveries with a camera or phone and share with friends. Kids love to share. Heck, we all love to share. Younger kids might want to share with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or any number of other family and friends. If posted to Facebook for all of your friends and family too see, it might even inspire others to explore nature and share those nature explorations with your kids.
- Use a macro lens (like Easy Macro) to get close up with nature and see the details.
- Take a favorite Doll or Dino (or any other toy) on a photo safari. Using a favorite toy to get outside is a wonderful idea. Posing that toy for a photoshoot along the trail is great fun for kids of all ages.
- Load nature apps on your phone to help inspire exploration and identification (see list below).
- Geochaching is another great motivator for kids to get out. Who does not like a treasure hunt? And, there is an app for that! (See below) You can also use a GPS, which kids love.
- Use nature prompts as a photo hunt.
- Don’t forget traditional ‘technology’ like magnifying glasses, binoculars and microscopes. They open up whole new worlds!
Seeing through the lens of a camera can often make one notice things that might have been missed.
Watching even the most common creatures under the macro lens can be an eye opening experience.
All of the ideas above apply to teens as well but here are a few more ideas for the older kids:
- This older crowd might want to share photos or videos on Facebook or Instagram with reviews of the places they explored and the cool things they did: rope swing, ropes course, white water rafting, rock climbing, awesome view from the top of the hike, an especially cool flower or other nature sighting, a bushcrafting project. Those are all super things to share and may just inspire some of their friends to come along with your family on your next adventure. (And I use the term adventure lightly here. A trip to your local hiking trail can be just as much of an adventure as a longer trek or exciting activity. It is all about how you frame it. You might consider getting a local hiking guide and let the kids plan the next adventure!)
- Use a video editor right on the phone or on the computer to make a nature documentary (let them channel their inner Sir David Attenborough) or vlog (video blog) of their explorations.
- As with the younger crowd load up on nature apps for identification. Some of these also let you record your sightings and keep life lists and would be a great way to motivate older kids to get out. (You can make these records and lists private to limit online interaction if needed.)
A few apps we love:
– The Audubon Society apps
– Cloud Spotter
– Merlin Bird ID
– Tides Near Me
– NOAA Weather Radar
The article 10 Way to Take Better Smartphone Photos will help you and yours do just that, and if you are going to take photos of cool nature stuff it is always fun when they turn out good.
Being out in nature is a good thing in and of itself. There are benefits beyond measure. The hope is that whatever tools are used to get kids out and engaged will eventually lead to fantastic interactions with our natural world, a genuine love of nature, and plenty of unplugged time in nature as well.
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, talks about helping kids develop a ‘hybrid mind’ that can work within the realms of both nature and our technologically advancing world. There are advantages and strengths in both and a child that can function swiftly in both worlds, bridging the gap between the two, will be better off in the long run.
Do you use tech to help get your kids engaged with nature?
I would love to hear more about how you use it and what the kids think!
P.S. The Mud Puddles Nature Lab is a wonderful community of people working to connect their families with nature and enrollment is currently open for a short time.
– daily prompts, with extension activities and ideas for incorporating the prompt into daily life, right in their inbox
– printable journal sheets and activities
– thematic book and resource list each month
– membership in a private Facebook group
– discounts on future workshops through Mud Puddles to Meteors
– inspiration, support, and encouragement in a vibrant community of like-minded families
We would love to have you join us!
Click here to learn more and sign up!