Blogger Children and Technology Committee

Using Apps to Explore the Natural World

I love nature and the outdoors, and like to build on children’s natural curiosity and sense of wonder in library programming. Technology is part of our world today, and even more so, part of our children’s world. I’m excited about some of  the ways that technology can encourage and enhance exploration of the natural world. Here are six apps that you can share with children and families. All require users to do something in the world, beyond the device itself. Most can be used by preschool children, with parent/caregiver assistance, and by elementary age and older children more independently.

Merlin Bird ID

(free, iPad, iPhone, Android)
I’m a big fan of citizen science11708506813_1a7185bc68_m projects and have participated in Project Feederwatch with my own children for close to ten years. A few years ago I starting sharing information about The Great Backyard Bird Count in a storytime on birds and birdwatching. I was delighted when the Cornell Lab of Ornithology developed the Merlin Bird ID app. The question and answer format is easy enough for preschoolers to use (with an adults help, at least initially, as it involves reading).  It asks where the bird was seen (on the ground, in a tree, flying, etc.), what three main colors it was, and what size using a comparison chart that preschoolers can relate to. Then it comes up with possibilities for that bird. We identified one bird as a group from a picture of a Northern Cardinal, the state bird of Ohio, that I had seen at my feeder that day. Then children explored on their own using the three ipads we have for use in programming. The Merlin app also has a bird guide for browsing and playing different bird calls, an aspect that the children were particularly drawn to. Just listen to the Wild Turkey and you’ll see what I mean!

Other apps that build on children’s interest in the natural world include:

Out-A-Bout

(free, iPhone, iPad)

btree

Developed by the Fred Rogers Center, this app for preschoolers encourages movement, physical activity, and early literacy. It requires interactivity, as you take a photo of your child doing different activities like pretending to climb a tree, to jump, to squat like a frog.  Then the app creates a storybook from the images, that can be read multiple times, saved, and shared.

Nature’s Notebook

(free, iPhone, iPad, Android)

From the USA National Phenology Network, Nature’s Notebook is a citizen science project focused on recording seasonal changes in plants and animals. You register with the website, and then use the app to record observations. Lesson plans are provided for students from elementary to high school.  I already do programs on hibernation (getting ready for winter), the frog and butterfly life cycle, and trees, so I’m looking forward to suggesting this app to parents and teachers.

Trees Pro HD

(free, iPhone, iPad; two additional tree packs for $2.99; Android: $12.99)

This app can help identify trees by leaf type, bark, and fruit, flower or nut. Take a quiz to test your tree knowledge.

Project Noah

(free, iPhone, iPad, Android)

Another citizen science opportunity that is very kid-friendly and encourages closer observation of the natural world. A child, or family together, can choose missions, local or global, to participate in. Earn patches as you record nature spottings along the way, from the initial Tadpole patch to Bug Lover (50 arthropods) or Reptile Specialist (20 reptile spotting). The field guide includes photos from other Project Noah participants with a map of where the plant or animal was spotted.

Night Sky Lite

(free, iPhone, iPad, Android)

Just hold your de9684969716_411c2d9bb4_mvice up to the sky and this app identifies stars, constellations, and planets overhead. Great for budding stargazers. For those who want to learn more, upgrades provide additional information about the wonders overhead (and eliminate the ads at the bottom.)

What are some of your favorite apps for nature or outdoor exploration?

Robin L. Gibson is a Youth Services Librarian at the Westerville Public Library in Westerville Ohio and member of the Children and Technology Committee.

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