A significant body of research shows that engaging and connecting with nature has a positive impact on children’s mental health and wellbeing. It’s been found to reduce stress, is associated with fewer emotional and behavioural problems, provides an opportunity for social development and increase their capacity to focus (watch our webinar with Samantha Friedman to learn more).
Despite all of these amazing benefits, it’s likely that some children and young people know their way around digital environments better than their own outdoor surroundings. Yet, there is so much for children to discover when it comes to our outside world! So why not combine their tech-savvy skills with the exploration of nature?
Apps can be a great way to gamify learning about nature, whether they are set in the garden or faraway places. We’ve done some research and put together a list of some of our favourite apps and websites.
Please note that some of the apps below are free, some have a nominal cost, and others are free but offer in-app purchases. We recommend that you check your parental controls and security settings, and speak to your children about family rules around making purchases on their smartphones. Have a look at our resources on using parental controls and family digital values for more advice.
Audubon Bird Guide (Ages 12+)
The Audubon Bird Guide is a complete field guide for your child to over 800 species of birds, all in one app. Built for all experience levels, it will help children identify birds around them, keep track of any birds that they spot, and get them outside to find new birds near them.
Grow Garden (Ages 4+)
Grow Garden is a fun place to learn about organic gardening and sustainable farming, by feeding animals, harvesting vegetables and more. With the help of Connie the Compost and her friends, the Microorganisms, young children are encouraged to learn about environmental issues in a simple yet entertaining way.
Please note that this app costs $3.99.
iNaturalist (Ages 13+)
This app helps your child to identify the plants and animals around them. Connected to a whole network of different experts, children can contribute to research by recording and sharing their observations, helping them develop an appreciation of the environment around them. Features include discovering new species (both near and far), sharing observations with the community and discussing and helping others identify what they have seen.
It’s important to note that iNaturalist is an online community which allows users aged 13 and over to share pictures and locations and send private messages to other members. We don’t recommend this app for younger users and advise that you have open conversations with teens about keeping themselves safe in online communities.
MarcoPolo Ocean (Ages 4+)
MarcoPolo Ocean allows children to explore the deep sea, build a coral reef or create their own aquarium. It is a playfully narrated and animated app which will help to reinforce scientific vocabulary and knowledge about the ocean.
Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab (Ages 12+)
Merlin Bird ID helps your child to easily identify birds. After entering your location, they will receive personalised results of birds likely to be local to your home, based on the time of year. The app will even listen to the birds near your child and suggest what type of bird is singing! Including a digital field guide with more than 80,000 photos, sounds, and maps, Merlin is a fun and easy to use app.
Nature Cat’s Great Outdoors (Ages 6–8)
Nature Cat’s Great Outdoors is an on-the-go toolset that will inspire your child to explore nature, whether that’s in the backyard, at a local park or simply when looking out of the window. Nature Cat has a set of new daily adventures that enables children to record and share their observations in fun, creative ways with others.
Some of the app’s services allow for children to use the camera on their device’s to take photos. In most instances, these photos are only able to be stored locally on the device, and in the event that they are allowed to be uploaded by children, the photos are moderated.
NatureID – Plant Identification (Ages 10+)
This app is great if your child would like to identify and learn more about the plants around them. Whether they see a leaf, flower or tree, this app will help them to find out more. If your child keeps their own plants, the app can even plant care tips, care reminders or diagnose a plant that might look a little bit sad.
Picture Insect: Bug Identifier (Ages 4+)
This app makes identifying insects easier and more fun for your child. They can simply take or upload a picture of the insect, and get accurate and instantaneous results. Children are able to learn about various insects, receive friendly tips and keep track of identified species in their very own personal collection.
Plants by Tinybop (Ages 4+)
A STEM-aligned digital sandbox: Children can explore biomes around the world in an immersive, and engaging interface. They can further play with seasons, rain, and wildlife or discover interactive dioramas of the forest, desert, and grasslands.
Please not that this app costs $1.99.
Google Earth (Ages 6+)
Google Earth can be a fantastic opportunity for anyone to explore our planet from above. With satellite imagery and 3D terrain of the entire globe, children can zoom in and out to develop geographical knowledge or discover nearby areas of interest. They can see the world from a new point of view with Voyager, a collection of guided tours from BBC Earth, NASA, National Geographic, and more. Children can also visualise the immersive maps and stories that they’ve created with Google Earth all on their own devices.
Toca Nature (Ages 6-8)
Shape nature and watch it develop: In Toca Nature your child is able to plant trees and grow a forest, collect berries, mushrooms or nuts, and feed different animals. They will learn who eats what, discover what it takes to bring out a bear, and walk through different landscapes.
Please note that this app costs £3.99.
Tree ID – British trees (Ages 6+)
The Woodland Trust (the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity) created this interactive tree identification app which your child can use to identify native and common non-native trees in the UK, throughout all the seasons. Your child can further learn about interesting facts, history, uses and even folklore when it comes to identifying a tree.
WWF Amazing Planet (Ages 9-12)
On WWF’s Amazing Planet, children can explore the world and wildlife through new content each week, it contains augmented reality features, fun facts, videos, photos, maps, quizzes and even animal noises. The app is a completely closed environment so you can let your children explore it in complete safety.
WWF Together (Ages 4+)
This free to use app brings children closer to amazing and endangered species, letting them discover the animals’ lives and the work WWF does for them. As part of each story, kids get to bring an animal into their world by taking a selfie with its augmented reality origami or placing it in a scene in their environment.
- Children Nature Network – A network which seeks to promote the wellbeing benefits of nature, featuring resources and advice.
- Gardening with Children – A website designed as an interactive classroom, allotment plot and hobby garden.
- iNaturalist – Every observation can contribute to biodiversity science, from the rarest butterfly to the most common backyard weed.
- National Parks UK – Discover incredible landscapes, wildlife, lifestyles and adventures.
- Project Noah – A global community of nature enthusiasts photographing and learning about wildlife.
- WWF Garden Safari – A garden safari is a fun way for families and young people to explore their gardens – or other outdoor spaces – and learn more about local flora and fauna.