By Megan Lack and Raelee Heath
An organisation aiming to encourage kids to explore and play outdoors has embraced technology instead of fighting it.
Nature Play WA teamed up with Islandwood, a non-profit environmental education center, to create an app which was launched on Thursday.
The Nature Passport app was aimed at children under the age of 10 and included activities designed like games to show kids how to play outdoors while letting them record what they were doing.
A hunting safari game which encouraged children to find different species and take photos to record their discoveries was a major feature of the app.
Nature Play chief executive Griffin Longley said their goal was to get kids away from technology.
“There is irony that we are trying to use technology to do that, what we hope is that people use it and in the process of using it they discover nature and they don’t need it anymore,” he said.
“The end [goal] is people engaging with the outdoors, being psychically active and being creative.”
Early Childhood Australia media spokesperson Carolin Wenzel said it was a great idea because apps were a part of everyday life.
“The ECA doesn’t believe there is a fast and firm line between technology and playing outside and… Nature Passport is a fantastic demonstration of how you can use technology to encourage children to play outside,” she said.
“People judge apps by how useful they are, how well they work and how fun they are and if this app actually works and it helps to get children to play outside, it’s not encouraging inclusive screen time at all.
“The thinking around how children work with technology is evolving and we’re not just wedded to looking at screen time guidelines anymore.
“It’s much more about how a particular program or app encourages children to learn and interact with other children and stimulate their imagination.”
Mr Longley said the idea of using technology to encourage outdoor time may contradict some parental beliefs about screen time.
“A lot of parents, quite rightly, are worried about the amount of screen time their children are getting, it’s about 30 per cent of their waking hours in Australia,” he said.
“Kids grow up in a technological world and to ask them to opt out of the culture is an unfair and unrealistic request.
“Our challenge, as we see it, is not a prohibitionist one. It’s how do you make that culture work better for good childhood development, so we talk about a strategy of reduce, replace, balance.”
He said one of the challenges with technology was it tended to be a isolating experience.
“The app is designed to be used by teachers [as well] so they can build it into their lesson plans.
“We’ve just had our first Australian school start using it in Jolimont Primary School and it’s going great… it will be an ongoing evolution.”
Perth mother Jessica Howard said she would not let her children use an app outside the classroom.
“Whilst I would prefer them to explore on their own accord and through social networks, I appreciate that technology and apps are a part of our society.”