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Kids, Smartphones and Nature

A Indian Blanket or Firewheel wildflower blooms in Texas

A beautiful Long-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma longirostre) looks out over a watering hole
The Lookout

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According to the Child Mind Institute

“The average American child is said to spend 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors, and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen.” Imagine a world where we will be putting the future of our National Parks, State Parks, wildlife, and all things nature, in the hands of young adults who only spent 4 to 7 minutes a day outdoors. I don’t know about you, but that gives me the heebie-jeebies. If children don’t know about the great outdoors, why should they care about it?

Let’s face it, technology is here to stay. But what if there were ways to use this technology AND teach children about nature at the same time? I want to share with you 5 fun and simple outdoor activities for kids. Easy activities that will ease them into nature while utilizing those blasted cell phones.

Do you remember that song, Beer for My Horses? Willie said it best. “Grandpappy taught my pappy, back in my day son…” Well, that’s how I learned about nature. My grandfather taught my dad who taught me, and I was blessed to teach my kids how wondrous and awe-inspiring the world around us is. Seeing the excitement and joy in their eyes when they caught their first fish or saw their first deer is something I will never forget. It’s moments like those that I look back at and cherish. Of course, back in those days, I wasn’t competing against the World Wide Web!

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Believe it or not, there are ways to get your kids to raise their heads and take a look around, while not straying too far from their beloved mobile appendages. Here are 5 ways I came up with.

1. Take a walk. Start with baby steps. Download an exercise app with GPS. Make sure you download the same app. Create a goal and a reward if the goal is achieved. Remember, it’s got to be fun!

2. Start a small vegetable garden. In the summer I used to help my Grandfather with his garden. There is nothing more rewarding than getting to eat the fruits of your labor (or vegetables in this case). You can have them do the research to decide which veggies they would like to grow. Together, make a simple garden plan. Do you want to plant them in pots, or create a vegetable patch in your backyard? Make sure you let them use their smartphone or tablet to do all the research. I still remember eating tomatoes right off the vine. My grandfather would get so mad!

3. Start a Wildlife/Nature online photo album. That extra appendage I was talking about? Use the camera. While you’re on your walk (hint, hint) you can point out birds, squirrels, and different insects to photograph. After they have a few images, start an online photo album. Flickr and Instagram are probably the easiest. Have them do the research to properly identify each critter. It’s a great way to learn and have a good time!

4. Outdoor Nature Scavenger Hunt. The more the merrier for this one. You can do it as a family or invite your kids’ friends to join in. Create a list of birds, insects, and mammals (don’t make it too easy) that can be found in your neighborhood or at a local park. As you go on your walk, have them check them off the list or make a bingo card. The first one to bingo wins! You can even have them take a photo of the subject to prove that they saw it. This is also a great way to start that photo album.

5. Letterboxing. Letterboxing is a lot like a treasure hunt. You must follow a map or puzzle or riddle to find a small weatherproof box that contains a stamp and a logbook. When you find the “treasure”, you stamp your logbook with their stamp and then you stamp their logbook with your stamp. The stamps are preferably hand-carved or custom-made. We used to do this with the kids. It’s a lot of fun but I warn you, it can be addicting. Just look up letterboxing in your neck of the woods. Break out the stamp and GPS and you are on your way!

I know if you think about it you could come up with a lot more ways to get your child outside and not completely tear them away from their new electronic twin. Technology isn’t going away, so let’s use it to our advantage. Make sure you use every opportunity to teach children about nature. Share stories of your childhood like the time your brother was attacked by Blue Jays and ran screaming like his hair was on fire. Yep, that happened.

All too soon, we will be turning this land over to our children for safekeeping. Think of all the protected wetlands, state parks, and even your city parks that will go unprotected if we don’t teach our kids how and why they make the world a better place. It won’t take much exposure to make them fall in love with the great outdoors, but it does take a little effort on your part. So, grab your kid, and their smartphone and get them outside and back into nature. Before you know it, they will spend more time looking up than staring down.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) is a beautiful, large butterfly.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

If this is your first time visiting my website or reading one of my blog posts, welcome, and thank you for joining us. Please subscribe here so you can receive updates on the next blog posts on Backyard Birding. You will also receive occasional discounts and newsletters. Please share my blog and galleries with family and friends! Remember to follow the Nature First and Leave No Trace principles and always strive to leave places better than you found them.

Until next time, keep the sun behind you and the birds in view


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