Trying to eliminate screen time for a screen-free week seems terribly unrealistic, to me. As the mom of two techie boys, I have doubts about how taking away screens benefits children's high-tech lives. There was a time when I attempted to limit screen time, just like my own mom did. But, that time passed long ago as advancements in technology make it possible to bring our devices out into the great outdoors.
Now, I offer opportunities for self-regulation and ideas for incorporating bits of technology into other activities. My oldest son is a total geek for screens. Many of his passions are contained in this digital world and by taking that away, I'm not teaching him how to self-regulate his screen time OR giving him ways to incorporate his passion for high-tech gadgetry into his great outdoor adventures.
My son just happens to be very knowledgeable about the creepy crawlies of this world. He loves the animals that make other people cringe.. snakes, ugly deep sea critters, and insects. Many of these freaks of nature are inaccessible to him. But, he's got that Crocodile Hunter attitude about these monster-like critters that suddenly makes them seem kind of lovable.
He owes a lot of that knowledge to streaming documentaries, YouTube clips and google searches. Without his screens, his extensive knowledge of these creatures simply wouldn't exist. So, there you have number one - Explore websites, documentaries, and youtube clips that feature the creatures of your child's interest. There's a lot to learn and a lot of people are out there video clipping it and bringing it to YouTube, these days. Instead of taking that away, I think it's more important to show them how to sift through the unlimited amounts of information and misinformation, how to double-verify data, how to choose reputable sources, and bust myths. You're raising a critical thinker!
There are also hundreds of species identification websites that I use almost on a daily basis. When we're outside and stumble upon some funky looking bug or want to know more about the habits of a certain lizard, we look it up! It's not always possible to search for it immediately. So, I take photos or video and we spend some time browsing identification websites to learn more about what we saw. It's easy! Here are a few websites to get you started.
1. Insect Identification - This website includes a bug finder, photos, and information about tons of ants, flies, water bugs, butterflies, even spiders, and more.
2. What Bird? This site offers a huge database of birds and allows us to search by colors, size, location, and more. It comes in really handy.
3. Salamander Identification - A great site that allows visitors to input characteristics of salamanders to learn more about what they saw.
4. Plant Identification - Here's a whole host of websites dedicated to helping folks identify the plants they find.
Bringing Technology Outside
I'm a big fan of field guides. They help me identify plants, insects, and animals that I encounter along the trail. So, I've downloaded several field guide apps to reduce the weight I carry around. I currently have Audubon Birds, Trees, and Butterflies installed on my phone. These apps offer full-color photographs and recordings of animal sounds, easy-to-use questionnaires that guide the user toward identification by encouraging observation skills, and a variety of information about species from what they eat to where they live. The Audubon Birds app includes recordings of bird songs and calls that real birds will interact with. I've used the recordings to bring birds to the branches directly over our head to get a closer look. The Audubon apps are even linked to NatureShare, a project that allows users to snap photos of their sightings and report them to the community. The practice of logging bird and insect sightings has helped scientists gather information, locate communities of endangered species and even discover new ones! [Click here]
Project Noah is a mobile tool to explore and document wildlife, as well as harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere. From the website, "Project Noah is mobilizing a new generation of nature explorers and helping people from around the world appreciate their local wildlife. Our community is harnessing the power and popularity of new mobile technologies to collect important ecological data and help preserve global biodiversity." [Click here]
There are a few high-tech games out there, now. People use their phones and/or GPS devices to locate hidden, "treasure boxes," in Geocaching. Geocaching has led us to find some pretty neat places to explore, right around the corner from our home - and, local secrets when away on trips.
Players compete against other teams for world domination, in a game called Ingress, that requires team members to actually visit destinations.
I've only recently been made aware of another nature+tech game called, "Agents of Nature," and haven't been able to fully explore it. But, it's designed to connect people with the environment and explore parks while solving nature challenges.
Many National and State Parks have their own special apps! These apps offer lots of information about our favorite places to explore from trail maps to upcoming events and even camping reservations, in some places. Some of these specific park apps include information about common animals found in the area, glimpses into the history of the park and more. [Click here for a list of 50 State Parks Apps]
Use your phone as a magnifying camera to get up close and personal with the tiny world. I own a Samsung Note and the camera is fantastic. I zoom in as close as I can to get a magnified look at the little bugs we run across. Yes, a standard magnifying glass can also accomplish this.. But, I can also snap magnified photos and video of them. I do it all the time because it's fascinating. I probably have hundreds of photos and videos of ants, damselflies, snails, and bees. You can see some of them by following me on instagram.
Take nature notes. Honestly, kids keeping up with a notepad and pencil on a long hike or an overnight camp is unlikely to gain a lot of enthusiastic support. But, keeping their notes and observations via high-tech devices and an app like Evernote suddenly makes nature journaling worth their while. It also gives them access to their notes from the computer and other devices for future purposes and prevents the pages from being lost or damaged. Phones like my Samsung Note or tablets even give them the opportunity to sketch observations.
Protect your mobile devices from damage in the great outdoors
It can be scary to take your high-tech devices out into the natural world and use them as tools. But, today's technology is advancing and it's not as likely for your devices to be destroyed by water damage. I dropped a Samsung Galaxy s2 in the Atlantic Ocean, where it was completely submerged, and my kids still use it to play! There are some important steps I took to ensure it's survival, though. Immediately after retrieving the phone from the Ocean, I popped out the battery, memory card and sim card. I set them all out to dry in a safe place for the duration of our camping trip. It took a couple of days to recover, but it worked. My kids have never dropped or broke anything important out on the trail, but I have. They're more trustworthy with our precious technology than meets the eye. Of course, it doesn't hurt to take precautions like using a protective cover, wrist strap, or neck strap and having waterproof bags ready for changes in the weather.
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