A small creek runs along the border of our property. Most days, when the water is low and the sun is out, you’ll find our kids traipsing through the water, building dams, catching critters and skipping stones.
We’re fortunate to have a big backyard, and our kids know it.
Yes, it’s true. My tech-loving, game-obsessed, YouTube-crazed kids actually like to go outside and play once in a while. This is not to say they’re always eager to go out. It sometimes requires a little coaxing.
“If you go outside, I’ll bring popsicles,” my wife will offer as an enticing reward. We know the currency, and our kids will devour an entire box of frozen pops in one afternoon.
Recently, however, I’ve been luring them outside with tech. “Hey, you guys wanna walk around the yard to see if we can catch some Pokemon,” I ask, in reference to the PokemonGo game app.
They’re often up and looking for an iPad or asking their mom to borrow her smartphone before I can even finish the sentence (yes, I secretly downloaded PokemonGo to my wife’s phone to build my little PokemonGo army).
Lately, however, I’ve been turning to other apps to encourage outdoor fun. Some apps we’ve enjoyed for years, and others we’re just testing for the first time this summer. Below are two of my favorite (well, the second is more of a collection of apps):
Geocaching (Groundspeak Inc.). Geocaching is a free app (with a premium version) that turns all outdoor play into an expedition. Think of it as a massive, worldwide adventure, with small-to-large treasures for you and your team to find.
Some treasures are difficult to find. Some are easy, which is good news for the young “cachers” who just want the thrill of uncovering their first treasure). Some treasures are in local, easily accessible places such as parking lots and parks. Others are in more remote destinations, placed miles deep in the woods and only accessible by hiking trails or abandoned rail lines.
You’ll need to give permission to the app to use the location-based feature of your mobile device. This gives the app your precise location and makes the game much easier to play.
Stargazing. I’m a space geek. My kids insist I’m on a mission to get one of them to land a NASA job. Maybe I am, but for now, we simply enjoying stargazing apps to explore the sky together.
Sky Map is our favorite. It’s free and easy to use. They get a kick out of finding planets and identifying constellations.
Tech experts at Common Sense Media recommend The Night Sky, Redshift Astronomy, Star Chart, Star Walk and Starmap HD among the best apps for observing the night sky with your future astronauts.
I’d love to hear about apps you use for exploring the outdoors. Post a message or email me with your favorites.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.