The Best Nature Apps for Kids
Some of us remember when the pinnacle of childhood technology was having our own chunky Nokia to play snake, but these days, lots of kids have their own smartphone or iPad. Between playing on their personal gadgets, doing homework on a computer, and watching TV, they barely manage to step beyond wi-fi range, let alone get into the great outdoors. Luckily, a multitude of apps take advantage of kids’ screen addictions to pique their interest in nature. Here are five of our favorites:
Audubon Owls (Free)
This app is great for older children or for parents to use with younger kids, and is one of several Audubon apps available for free. It provides a solid introduction to 19 different species of owls with descriptions, range maps, and audio of different vocalizations to help your budding birder identify the owls in your area. You can also report sightings and look to see where other users have done the same. It’s an easy way to get your child excited about local wildlife. The best part? It encourages them to actually go outside and see these fascinating birds for themselves.
Meet the Insects: Forest Edition ($4.99, iPad only)
This comprehensive insect guide is as much fun for adults as for the younger set. It avoids creepy-crawly or anthropomorphized tropes, presenting the bugs realistically and elegantly, alongside a wealth of information that includes photos and videos for different species. Unfortunately, Meet the Insects is for iPad only, but it provides an enormous amount of content for your dollar in multimedia visuals, fun facts, and quizzes on many types of insects, all available offline (perfect for road trips). Features like layered sound beds and subtle animations elevate the app from good to excellent. It also includes a sightings reporting feature, motivating kids to bring their buggy enthusiasm outside, and is a great resource for entomologists of any age.
MarcoPolo Ocean ($2.99, Free for 7 days starting on January 21st)
This animated app dives into three ocean zones: surface, coral reefs, and deep ocean. Fish, dolphins, octopuses, and more respond to touch and swim around, and your child can pick more animals to put into the virtual environment, or add food and watch them gather. Different levels explore different elements of marine life. For example, users can ‘build’ an orca and learn about a selection of marine mammals, or build a submersible and move around the deep sea. Since it has narration and the app is text-free, it’s perfect for pre-readers and is recommended for ages 5 and under. However, the educational content is limited, and only certain animals have explanations. There are fun and brightly-colored jellies, corals, and marine plants, but no information to accompany them. The different ocean zones are not explained either, making the vast and diverse ocean look more like a compact aquarium. For an inquisitive kid, this app might leave a lot of questions unanswered; but it is an easy and fun introduction to sea life that could spark a deeper interest.
Star Walk Kids ($2.99)
This astronomy app will have your kids reaching for the stars. It’s simpler than some of the more complex sky-gazing tools (like the original Star Walk) but still retains a wealth of educational content. The horizon view and constellation designs are drawn cartoon-style, and both the written and narrated information is simplified. It is easy to navigate and pleasantly hypnotic—parents are just as likely to become engrossed in the night sky. It’s a pleasure to use, and you can go at your own pace. There are no levels or confusing menus—just click and observe as you please. Star Walk Kids is a great way for the family to experience astronomy together and a helpful platform for kids to explore the skies on their own.
Nature Maestro: Rainforest Day ($1.99, iPad only)
Rainforest Day features animal and ambient sounds that can be manipulated to create a custom jungle symphony. A sound engineer recorded the nature sounds in Costa Rica, and they include the calls of mantled howler monkeys, several bird species, poison dart frogs, rainstorms, and more. Optional melody and rhythm tracks give compositions a more musical flair. When the new masterpiece is finished, your aspiring David Attenborough can choose to add narration and share it with others. After just a few minutes of play, parents and children will create a richly layered soundscape that transports listeners into the heart of the tropics. The app is recommended for children 6 and up to use alongside parents and teachers, but could also be used alone by older kids. Nature Maestro comes with educational material on each of animals and lesson plan recommendations.