Ever since I was a child I have loved playing outdoors and going on long adventures with my dog to discover and explore new places. My fondest childhood memories are of these adventures where I had the unstructured freedom to play and learn joyfully by following my curiosity.

As an adult, I’ve drawn from my love of nature to create an ecological awareness organized called Animist Ecology where I lead nature immersion workshops and retreats. I’m a strong believer in the need to rewild ourselves and the use of meditative practices to immerse oneself in what mystics and monks call the “felt presence of immediate experience.”

In a world dominated by glaring TV screens and our Internet-connected devices, many people have lost touch with the sense of awe and wonder we get from being immersed in a rich natural environment. I believe that what many stressed out and distracted children and adults suffer from today is actually a deficit of nature in their lives.

I think the term Nature Deficit Disorder accurately describes this growing epidemic.

Overcoming Nature Deficit Disorder:

Sadly, many children are growing up with a little or no connection to the natural environment that is vital to our existence. To see what I mean, watch this powerful video on how technology is changing out attention spans and this hilarious video on the antidote to nature deficit disorder.

The sedentary lifestyle is literally killing people and leading to an explosion in all kinds of physical and mental illnesses. A recent study found that 80% of adults don’t even get the minimum recommended amount of exercise and there is a growing epidemic of childhood obesity, suggesting that the next generation of adults will likely be even more unhealthy.

Now, I certainly don’t think the answer is to become a luddite and give up your smartphone or even leave it at home. Instead, I recommend creating a routine where you set aside a couple of hours to take a weekly hike with your smartphone on “airplane mode”. For me, this sacred time is Sunday mornings when I spend at least a few hours hiking in nature.

The rest of the time why not use your mobile device to enrich your learning adventures in nature. That’s what I’ve been doing with my iPhone and I am amazed at what I continually discover and learn with these great apps.

I’m a huge believer that we need to think beyond the classroom and gain knowledge through direct experience in real world environments. Here’s how to do it:

1. Use augmented reality to explore the night sky with Star Walk (iPhone and Android).

I find nothing more awe-inspiring than camping under stars.  Ancient civilizations obsessed over the movement of the stars and planetary bodies but today most of us have little knowledge of the wonders of the night sky.

Next time you go camping, use this augmented reality experience to learn about the constellations, stars and planets that are visible to the naked eye. I guarantee you’ll be amazed. If you want to find the best times for stargazing, get reminders of major celestial events with Solaris Sky Calendar.

Star Walk

2. Go on an adventure and search for buried treasure with the Geocaching app (iPhone and Android).

My best adventures result from discovering a new path or something I’ve never seen before. If you want to be guaranteed to discover something new then I’d recommend giving Geocaching a try because it’s the ultimate technology-assisted treasure hunt.

Since President Clinton opened GPS technology to civilians worldwide in the late 1990s, a massive global community of people burying treasures in “geocaches” for other people to find has blossomed. Today, you can find millions of geocaches, all over the world.

Geocaching App

3. Identify plants and flowers with your smartphone’s camera using PlantNet  (iPhone and Android).

Imagine if you could take a photo of any plant or flower and instantly identify it. This isn’t science fiction anymore thanks to PlanetNet’s innovative use of visual recognition technology. After identifying the planet, I like going to Wikipedia to read more and see what part of the world to which it is native.

This app is a great way to learn about the native plants in your ecosystem and impress your friends and family on hikes with your knowledge of planets and flowers. Keep tuned for when someone combines this visual recognition technology with augmented reality.

Another app I’ve been using even more lately is iNaturalist, a community for naturalists that will help you identify hard-to-label plants and mushrooms.


4. Explore and document local wildlife in Project Noah’s community of nature lovers (iPhone and Android).

Project Noah is a tool for exploring and documenting wildlife and a platform that harnesses the collective genius of citizen scientists everywhere. You can view submissions, help identify species, meet other wildlife enthusiasts in your area and discuss your encounters with wildlife.

Their location-based field guide is an excellent resource for seeing what kinds of planets and animals have been spotted near you and learning more about them. Their Field Missions are also great for sparking your curiosity and creating new learning opportunities.

Project Noah

5. Explore local landmarks in the massive location-based multiplayer game Ingress (iPhone and Android).

Ingress is a located-based multiplayer augmented reality game created by team at Google that transforms the real world into the landscape for a global game of mystery, intrigue, and competition.

As an Ingress Agent, you explore the world around you and check in to locations where you make new discoveries. It involves strategically planning your next steps and forming alliances with other game players in your community.

The developers of Ingress recently launched the viral sensation Pokemon Go, which is based on the location-based mapping system they created while at Google.


6. Find the best outdoor adventures near you with The Outbound (iPhone only).

Looking for a new hiking trail or an off-the-beaten-path place to camp in the wilderness? Look no further than The Outbound collective and their amazing iPhone app.

Using the app, you can find nearby adventure opportunities, explore potential new travel destinations and create your own adventure bucket list to see more of the beautiful natural world around you.

The Outbound

7. Learn the self-reliance skills to survive in the wilderness with the SAS Survival Guide (iPhone and Android).

Written by legendary ex-SAS man John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman, the SAS Survival Guide has been the definitive guide to surviving in any environment for over twenty years.

This app is a digital version of the best-selling survival book that includes additional videos, photo galleries and 100+ questions to test if you’ve got what it takes to survive in difficult circumstances. Who knows, the knowledge you gain from this app may save your life someday.

SAS Survival Guide

I hope these apps inspire you and your family to get outdoors to enjoy nature and overcome or avoid Nature Deficit Disorder!