4 Ways to use Technology to get Kids Outside

The school year is almost over! I am looking forward to summer break with its unscheduled hours. But with app store full of 430,000 apps, I worry about our screen time and I am not alone. In a recent survey, parents biggest concern with technology is its impact on their kids physical activity. With new “green time” apps, outside time and screen time do not have to be mutually exclusive.

These new games use the power of the screen to reconnect kids to the outdoors. In March 2013, Outdoor Nation sponsored Game On Challenge Grants to encourage app designers to build real-world games that inspire outdoor play. One of the grant applications is from a team of Wellesley students. These students created Bunny Bolt a game where kids run around the real world and complete virtual challenges to recapture a magician’s bunnies. Bunny Bolt is still in test mode but hopefully it or games like it will be available soon.

Inspired by Bunny Bolt, I went searching for more apps and games that encourage outdoor play. I found some that looked like a fun way to combine screen time and green time. Sadly, I have not had the chance to play all these games and there are probably  others available that I did not list. Please comment if you played any of these games or if you have other “green time” apps to recommend.

Digital scavenger hunt

digital scavengerWith a digital scavenger hunt, kids race around trying to find items on a list and capture it by taking a picture. To get started, kids need a list of items and a digital camera, tablet, or phone. Parents can come up with a list of items found in a park, around the neighborhood or in their own backyard.  If you want to really get them moving, set a time limit. If you need help making a list, the eclectic site has a long list of items for younger and older kids. 

Geocaching

geocachingGeocaching is a free real-world outdoor treasure hunt. Players use their GPS enabled phones or a GPS device to find hidden containers called geocaches.  Geocaching.com lists geocaches hidden around the world. You can find ones in your area by searching your zip code. Once you decide which one to find, you enter the GPS coordinates. If you are using a phone, you can download the geocaching app. Now, you are ready to use your device to track down the hidden geocache. Once you find it, you can either leave it or replace it with something else for the next players to find. To learn more, check out this 2 min intro to geocaching.

Seek ‘n’ Spell

seek n spellSeek ‘n’ Spell is outdoor Word Scramble. This app distributes virtual letters around a large area. Kids run around and collect as many letters as they can within a certain amount of time. They earn points by using their letters to make words. I watched a demo online and it looks entertaining. I downloaded on my phone and will be trying it out this summer.

Zamzee

zamzeeZamzee is designed for kids who would rather be inside playing a video game. The game is free, but does require a Zamzee activity meter ($30). The meter is a fancy pedometer that records the amount and intensity of the players movement. Kids clip it on then run, walk, bike etc. After playing outside, they plug-in the meter into a USB port and download their exercise data. What makes it fun is kids can earn points by completing challenges. For example in “Escape from Alcatraz”, kids have 30 minutes to complete an activity in order to escape from Alcatraz Prison.

Drive until you lose cell coverage

This is not an app but an activity we enjoy during the summer. Well, I enjoy it. These games and apps are a great way to use technology to entice kids outside. I also like days without technology. Once in a while, we throw the kids in the back of the Volvo and head out I-90 until the phone bars disappear. I will admit there is a 20 mile section, when the bars fade away and the teenage attitude increases, where we question our decision. Once we pass through the initial withdrawal stage, we all enjoy (at least for a time) a break from the texting, tweeting and posting. Personally, I like seeing everyone’s eyes looking up.

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