Best Free Apps That Take Kids from “Screen” to”Green”
By Abby Jenkins & Jessica Thiefels for PBS Kids
“But, Mom, why is this moon called the Pink Moon if it’s not really pink?” It’s questions like this that make me ever so grateful for technology that fits in my pocket. In my family, we spend a lot of time making nature observations in our neighborhood—looking up at the sky, in trees, under rocks and even just out our windows. We record what we see by making a list, drawing or taking photos. And, of course, we ask questions . . . which sometimes require search engine answers! (A full moon in April is called the “Pink Moon,” by the way, not because of its color but because of North American flowers that are starting to bloom. Now we know—and so do you!)
As parents, we often focus on our worries that screens will take our families away from the real world, away from nature. But I’m always on the lookout for apps and digital games that can bring us further into nature exploration, answer questions and help us document what we’ve learned. Here are seven free apps that can put you and your child on the path to an outdoor adventure right in your own neighborhood!
Photo Stuff with Ruff
Budding nature photographers will love Photo Stuff with Ruff, a camera app,complete with a photo gallery and built-in selfie moments. Based on The Ruff Ruffman Show, this app encourages children to explore science in the world around them by taking photos of different natural and man-made materials to complete silly scenes.
Play and Learn Science
One app—15 games! The Play and Learn Science app was developed with early childhood experts to give families new ways to explore earth, physical and life sciences together through play. With digital activities like playing with shadows and controlling the weather, the app is specifically designed to spark curiosity about real-world experiences and locations. And the helpful parent section gives tips for hands-on activities and thoughtful conversations!
Nature Cat’s Great Outdoors
A brand new adventure awaits every day! Nature Cat is all about exploring the great outdoors, and Nature Cat’s Great Outdoors helps little gamers do exactly that through activities about trees, weather, compasses and more. Children can create digital nature journals, draw pictures, or record sounds they hear outside. And the photobomb feature (taking selfies with Nature Cat and his friends) will keep the whole family laughing!
Merlin Bird ID
Wondering what kind of bird is outside your window? Merlin Bird ID can help! Answer a few quick questions or snap a photo of the bird, andthe app will give you a list of possible matches based on your region. Once kids have identified a bird, the app can help them learn more about how the bird sounds and where it lives.
Plum’s Creaturizer, based on Plum Landing, encourages kids to get creative as they create their own creepy, crawly, cool creature. Then, turn screen time into green time by heading outdoors to explore with your new creatures with habitats where you think they might live! Kids can use the app to take photos of their creatures superimposed onto real world scenes. They’ll get a kick out of watching their creations run around their own backyards and favorite playgrounds!
Ready Jet Go! Space Explorer
With expert curriculum backed by NASA, the Ready Jet Go! Space Explorer app gives kids digital tools to explore the wonders of outer space. Little astronomers can browse the Solar Encyclopedia, learning more than 300 fun facts about planets and constellations. Point the device at the sky overhead to see real-world positions of stars, then add color to the night sky by painting the constellations!
Monkey Spot Scavenger Hunt
Want a quick and easy way to beat boredom and get outside? Try Monkey Spot Scavenger Hunt. Different hunts come with different tasks, and many come pre-loaded with the free version. The best part is that you can use this at home or when you’re already out and about. For example, there’s an Art Museum Adventure that will make your family field trip more exciting. Children take a photo to document the completion of a task, whether it was to spot an animal on a walk or find items that start with each letter of the alphabet.
For more fun ideas visit pbskids.org.