Bringing the outdoors in: Creative nature apps

Bringing the outdoors in: Creative nature apps

It’s become common to ask kids in this day and age to go outside, and then to listen as they beg and plead to stay inside playing video games with your iPhone or iPad. But what if we could make the outdoors as addictive as Flappy Bird or Candy Crush?

Like it or not, times have definitely changed. We spend less time outside than we did 30 or even 10 years ago – and this lack of outdoor time affects our minds and bodies. Several scientific studies have shown that being outdoors and engaging in physical activity is protective against obesity at early ages and into adulthood. An article in the Harvard Health Letter sums up the benefits of being outside. As Vitamin D levels increase in your body, you’ll get more exercise, you’ll be happier, your concentration will improve, and you may heal faster.

We know the importance of getting outside, yet the amount of time we spend outdoors continues to decline. Maybe it’s time to let go of the notion that we will get back to the way it “used to be” with moms ringing a bell at the door to call kids inside for dinner. We’ve longed to get kids outdoors, yet we haven’t brought the outdoors to the next level. It’s time to take a creative approach to encouraging outdoor exploration with the integration of technology. For example, we could bridge old playground games like four-square and new equally-addictive app games like Candy Crush.

There are over a million apps available to download from the Apple App store. Forbes estimates that on average about 25,000-30,000 apps are added every month. Several apps are made for the outdoors but cater to established nature enthusiasts. Field guides, trail finders, and reference apps can help people who are inclined to venture outdoors to better engage with nature.

But isn’t the problem also that we need to encourage the non-outdoor enthusiasts to spend more time in fresh air? We can start when we stop yanking away the technology we all love, and meet people halfway with engaging apps that intertwine nature and technology. It seems we have both pieces to a puzzle, but not the final product. Children are becoming more in tune with technology at a younger age. Your two-year-old can quickly find your iPhone, unlock it, and begin navigating to and opening their favorite games. There must be a way to blend this early sense of technology knowledge with outdoor adventure.

There are several apps for kids to explore the outdoors in the app but never take a step outside. Such as the popular Baby Outdoor Adventures in which parents and kids build a campfire, catch a butterfly, go fishing, and experience five other outdoor adventures. Apps are readily accessible and many youth through their family or school have access to an iPhone or iPad. As of November 2013, Apple has sold over 420 million iPhones worldwide. Imagine the impacts if a small percentage of iPhone owners became addicted to an app that secretively encouraged outdoor exploration.

The future for getting kids and adults outside is integrating their handled technology. Luckily, as the technology grows so do protective covers. Technology doesn’t like to meet nature due to the grime, but now there are cases that are fully waterproof.

The tech and game market is constantly changing, so let’s get on the creative front to combine the best of both worlds. Kids still need a hand in relating online activities to more intensive and adventurous outdoor camping in real life. Technology cannot replace time spent in nature, but apps can make for a more fun and enriching experience if we learn to embrace them.


Dietz WH. Critical periods in childhood for the development of obesity.  Am J Clin Nutr. 1994;59(5):955-959

Reilly JJ. Physical activity, sedentary behaviour and energy balance in the preschool child: opportunities for early obesity prevention.  Proc Nutr Soc. 2008;67(3):317-325

Serdula MK, Ivery D, Coates RJ, Freedman DS, Williamson DF, Byers T. Do obese children become obese adults? a review of the literature.  Prev Med. 1993;22(2):167-177

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