9 free nature and wildlife apps for kids

Flikr creative commons: HawkinsSteven

Children today are faced with two competing forces of modernity: a plethora of technology and a dearth of time in nature.

Some think there can be a bridge between these circumstances through thoughtful use of technology that may actually encourage spending time outdoors. The dawn of citizen science has invited all sorts of new opportunities to engage with nature. Educators are also increasingly extending their classroom work into the outdoor environment.

Here's a list of nine apps for kids that are all about exploring nature and wildlife - and they're all free! So the next time your kids ask if they can play a game on your phone, you can take them outside!

  1. Oh, Ranger! Parkfinder. This app helps you locate parks near you that offer your favorite recreation activities, and also provides directions, maps, reviews and activities.
  2. Project NOAH (Networked Organisms and Habitats). This program is for recording wildlife sightings. Take photos of plants and animals, submit the data for use by researchers and earn cool badges. There is also support for classroom-based work on their website.
  3. Leafsnap. A field guide for identifying tree species from photographs of their leaves, which can be uploaded and tagged onto a map. Scientists then use the data to monitor changes. Leafsnap currently includes the trees of the northeast, which may be seen on a map of your area, and will soon expand to include all continental species. It is currently for iOS devices only, but an Android version will be available soon.
  4. What’s Invasive. Created by National Park Service rangers and biologists, this app allows the user to identify and map weeds and pests in their area. Submitted observations allow scientists to locate, study and try to remove the species.
  5. Nature's Notebook. Record observed changes in plants and wildlife at a local site, such as your backyard.
  6. CreekWatch. Track water levels, flow and trash pollution in your neighborhood's creeks to help researchers, farmers and planners understand runoff and water resource management. Currently for iOS devices only.
  7. SciSpy. An app that encourages field observations via mobile devices. Upload photos tagged with date and location so scientists can track migrations, seasonal changes, etc. Currently for iOS devices only.
  8. iNaturalist. A network of naturalists, iNaturalist.org logs observations of plants and animals, helps you identify species, and assists scientists, conservationists and land managers. This app is associated with the Encyclopedia Of Life, an ambitious project to organize and make freely available information about all forms of life on Earth. Currently for iOS devices only.
  9. iBird Lite. Pictures, maps of ranges, details about species and audio files of bird calls help junior ornithologists identify birds in their area. This app may only feature 32 types of birds, but it offers a free sample similar to other more pricey birding apps.