“Be a good girl and eat your peas.”
“Be a good boy and clean up your room.”
“Be a good kid and wash behind your ears.”
These are the mantras of our childhoods — and lest you think that as a parent you graduate and are somehow free from these types of admonitions, think again. The “isms” just morph slightly in our adult lives:
“Be a good mom and feed your kids peas.”
“Be a good dad and make your kids clean up their rooms.”
“Be a good parent and wash behind your kid’s ears.”
These are the most basic ones, but sometimes I feel as I go about my day, I hear them being whispered inside my head at every turn, ranging from things like buying only organic fruit and vegetables, not allowing my kids to drink soda, making sure they get books read to them each night, and not tipping their chairs at the dinner table.
The biggest one of all for me, however, is making sure my kids spend enough time in nature and not too much time on their handheld devices. I hear this, feel this, know this on some visceral level, and if my kids are playing outside, hiking, swimming, or climbing a tree, something inside me feels calm.
I don’t think I’m alone in that I feel a battle for my kid’s time and attention pitted by technology v. nature. But it’s different than wanting my kids to suffer through their broccoli before they eat dessert. I want my kids to feel that nature IS the dessert. I feel frustrated that there even IS a battle. And to a really big extent, my kids do love nature. We spend about as much time outdoors as anyone could, swimming in lakes, hiking, skiing, gardening. But still — they do love those devices as well.
When I heard about the new app called Disneynature Explore, I at first furled my brow in doubt, then thought — hey, maybe this is sort of a exceptionally clever idea. The idea of connecting nature and technology might just turn the whole struggle on its head.
The app, compatible with iOS devices, is free. And rather than being a typical game that takes your child’s mind captive in a virtual world, this is an “augmented reality” app — in other words it encourages kids to connect with their real world surroundings. It’s geared toward fairly young kids, but is clever in its use of the device’s built-in camera to connect real and virtual elements which ultimately drive kids imaginations toward the planet around them.
I wanted to see what other parents thought about the idea, so I went to a place where I thought I’d find the toughest customers for something like this. I contacted the Mountain Road School in the mountains of New Lebanon, New York, a very progressive school with a very strong nature curriculum in which for much of the school year, one entire day per week is spent outdoors in the woods. Kids at this preschool through 8th school are veritable experts on native plant life, tracking animals, what’s edible in their wilderness, and feeling at home spending hours and hours outside.
Surprisingly, the parents I spoke to at Mountain Road had much the same exact reaction that I had. They may be some of the most nature-connected families anywhere, but they still live in the real world, and their kids, like everyone else’s, are very connected with technology. I heard the same things from them that went through my own head: They don’t spend as much time outdoors as they think they should, they strive and struggle to achieve balance, and are generally intrigued with the possibility of connecting what we all think of as antonyms: technology and nature.
Anne Undeland, Director of Outreach at the school, said this: “I love it that even Disney is thinking about ways of getting kids back into nature — such a basic idea that it’s revolutionary.”
Top image: Thinkstock.com, all others ©Disney.