Mapping the Wild with Smart Devices



Today’s parents have many concerns that where unknown even a generation ago.  They worry about obesity, too much time in front of screens, safety of their kids in the neighborhood from cars and predators.   It’s no wonder that they often restrict their children’s free movement to their own block and sometimes just the front yard.

One of the results of this has been dubbed “Nature Deficient Disorder.”  Richard Louv not only coined the term but campaigns tirelessly to increase the awareness of its impact on children. Richard’s efforts have resulted in formation of many local advocacy groups around the States and the world.

What more can be done?  During the past five years another body of research has established that using game-like mechanisms can be a powerful tool to increase engagement and incentivize positive behaviors. “Gamification” is often reliant on the interactivity available through the use of smart devices; phones, tablets and computers.  In other words, “there’s an app for that.”

Mapping the Wild is a proposal to use gamification to address the Nature Deficient Disorder.  The concept is to create a tool that provides support and rewards for people, and kids in particular, to discover and map the nature that is all around them.  Not only will this raise the awareness of nature for kids and families but, over time, will also become a valuable tool that will inform the community about these resources so that they can be factored into planning and development decisions.


  • To use smart devices to engage children in learning about the plants and animals in their environment.
  • To document the extent and value of “unused” spaces within communities.
  • To expand the area where children are allowed to roam.


Mapping Wild Things (MWT) is an educational system consisting of:

  • A smart device application (iOS & Android)
  • Database
  • Cloud Storage
  • Website with
    • Program fundamentals
    • Instructor and Parent Guides
    • Plant and animal identification links
    • Social network support, calendar, help forum, etc.


MWT will be co-developed by interested stakeholders. The goal is to provide these organizations with a tool to advance their missions.  Suggested stakeholders could include, but not be limited to:

  • Native Plant Society
  • Audubon
  • Boys & Girls Clubs
  • Nature Conservancy
  • Children & Nature Network
  • Code for America
  • Students for the Environment – EPA
  • EekoWorld
  • Climate Reality Project

5 thoughts on “Mapping the Wild with Smart Devices

  1. Hey Jay. The first thing that came to mind was the activity/hobby/game of geocaching. There might be some nuggets here that support your concept;

    I’m also working on a project in Africa right now where we are arming students (college, not children) with off-the-shelf tablet devices and cloud storage to survey/map a downtown historic district and surrounding environment.


  2. Yes, I’m up on geocaching. Mike Lanza and I have a possible project with Groundspeak, the folks that run the primary geocache site. Geocaching is the only really successful location based game.

    I think that taking smart devices outdoors will be incredibly empowering and disruptive to traditional ways of relating to our communities.


  3. I think it is a great idea. I have actually gotten to this point with a few of my clients. But, developing an app for their specific location is out the budget possibilities so far for single parks districts. If it was something that could be used universally it would be really interesting and could show us a lot about how and where kids play outside.

    – Could smaller local agencies some how buy into it later and make it available to their users?
    – Could users provide feedback to a local agency as to what they saw or found? For example kids photos of their creek adventure and the animals they saw.
    – Could kids map parts of their school grounds?

    Keep us posting on how it goes.


  4. I’ve been looking into Code for America. Creating this sort of app is right up their alley. My next step is to see if my hometown of Healdsburg is interested in being the sponsor. I’d like to get a few other townships to endorse the idea as well. I’ll write up the idea in my next Play and Playgrounds column and see what support I get.


  5. I love the idea, and know personally that my kids would find it fun and engaging. It reminds me a bit of the work we did with KaBOOM! for A Park a Day. While it was geared toward parents (visiting and rating playgrounds, adding them to their Map of Play, and uploading photos), it could definitely be modified for use by older kids. Keep us posted!


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