At first glance, “Tech on the Trails: Engaging Kids on Hiking Trails Using Technology” seems like a real contradiction. Don’t we head out to natural areas to get away from our cell phones and computers? We do, but as writer and educator Wendy Gorton explained in a recent American Trails webinar, technology can enhance a child’s experience of nature while also helping parents create opportunities for learning away from the classroom.
Speaking to an audience that included park rangers, trail planners, state park naturalists, city park managers, trail interpreters, and other leaders from around the country, including SMGA board member Susan Hanson, Gorton argued that using technology can be a great way to encourage a child’s natural curiosity.
One of her favorite activities, she said, is creating a scavenger hunt. “This is such a wonderful way to give kids something to think of on their hike and milestones to hit,” she observed.
Myriad smart phone features—the compass, maps, the camera, and a host of identification and orienteering apps—can be used to create activities that increase a child’s knowledge of basic science and geography.
“A lot of parents are nervous about asking ‘What questions do you have?’ but that’s the biggest prompt any naturalist can give,” said Gorton. “Don’t be afraid of ‘I don’t know.’ I try to model that inquiry mindset, that growth mindset, and say ‘Let’s find out.’”
Gorton also described ways that technology can be used to encourage writing and to build communication skills. “Maybe you want to start a journal where you’re documenting wanderings and findings as a family together,” she suggested. She also recommended sharing photos and comments on Instagram or hiking sites, as well as writing reports or rating trails. Posting on trail sites, she noted, helps kids see themselves as part of a larger hiking community.
Because the webinar participants came from different locales, many of the apps and websites they shared are not directly relevant to hiking in San Marcos. Nevertheless, parents and other hikers may find them useful when they venture farther afield.
Challenges and quizzes:
- Seek by iNaturalist
- Plantsnap ID by iNaturalist
- Picture This—Plant Identifier
- Song Sleuth
- Raptor ID
- Butterfly Collection
Find a Park (outside of Texas):
Maps and orienteering
Night sky viewing:
- SkyView app