If you lined up all the words written about keeping your kid off screens and laid them end to end, they would likely circle the Earth a few dozen times. Even in an 8 point font. Sure, there are plenty of mind-numbing time sucks available for every version of smartphone and tablet, but there are also amazing resources that get kids and grown ups alike off the couch and out into the great big world. These super handy apps can make anyone an adventurer, and weigh a whole lot less than a stack of books. (They also make a decent case for swapping Angry Birds for the real thing. Like geese. Although, geese are always angry.)
The Best Bird Guides
Who better to call on for information than one of the world's oldest and most respected environmental organizations? Audubon guides- Birds, Trees, Wildflowers, Mammals, Reptiles & Amphibians, Butterflies, Insects & Spiders- Some available in bundles. ($4.99-$14.99) Developed by birders for birders, the Birdseye Bird Finding Guide (Free, in-app purchases totalling $124.00) has packages that cover almost every inch of the globe. Find out what birds have been spotted nearby, and learn their sounds to make it easier to spot them yourself. A simple guide, for even the casual bird watcher. Complete with gorgeous illustrations and photos of their nests. Create and maintain Life Lists of the birds you hope to see. Goal oriented birding sounds like something I should really get into. Wild Lab Bird(Free!) Another great app for birdwatching, but this one connects with other "citizen scientists" to share your findings.
If you plan to spend a stretch of time at the ocean, downloadMarine debris tracker (Free!). Kids seem naturally predisposed toward picking up trash. And since I have a rule that the last person who touches something is responsible for disposing of it, my kids have thrown away a lot of other people's litter. I'd be proud if I weren't thoroughly grossed out. This app enables environmentalists of all ages to conduct their own scientific marine debris collection data work. Project Noah(Free!) is the perfect tool for nature lovers to explore and document wildlife. Because findings are tagged with geo-locations, you'll likely want to use this alongside your kid.
Digital Field Guides
TreeBook (free!) iTunes only. The authoritative guide to 100 North American trees. Critter Trax($1.99) Identify animal tracks and scat (what kid wouldn't want to focus an entire nature adventure on looking for poop?)
Earth A primer ($9.99) Although built for iPad only, this is the science book of the future. Star Walk Kids($2.99) A quality app built with no ads and great animations. Hold your phone up to the night sky and map constellations and planets overhead using the built in gyroscope. So cool it's almost sorcery. Exoplanet (Free, with in app purchases totalling $7) Nasa (free!)
Geocaching (Free!) As a person who grew up watching the Goonies 400 times, treasure hunting has always been my holy grail of adventure. Geocaching is sort of like that. Get your older kids excited about learning to use a compass and GPS to locate objects hidden by other geocachers. Animated knots ($4.99) Any survivalist worth their salt can tie a variety of useful knots. The perfect app for a Bear Grylls in training.
Each new experience and tradition we shared with one another went off without a hitch. In fact, we soon learned our differences as a Jewish man and a Irish Catholic woman actually helped to bring us closer.