Nat’l Wildlife Federation’s Ubooly Toy Deal + New Digital Kids Report

Jan. 2, 2014 From the amazing livestream media and National Geographic critter cams to the gaming immersion into the world of wildlife via Animal Jam I’ve been thinking a lot about the co-existence of nature and kid’s digital media lately.

So much so, that I’d like your views on this broad-based statement:

“Technology Brings Us Closer Than Ever to Wildlife”

Agree or Disagree? Hmn…

As an outdoor enthusiast and digital media maven, I’ve written a lot about integration of nature and kids media embracing online to offline bridges of exploration.

From geocaching to citizen science apps and eco-games like TiltWorld putting emotion into game play and bringing about a better understanding of our interconnectedness, I’ve tried to frame fresh ways to Discover the Forest and Share Nature with Children that add to instead of subtract from knowledge using a media lens.

I regularly use mass media blockbusters like Frozen (winter fun) and Catching Fire (archery) to nudge kids outside to try a new sport, or romp outdoors, so one might think I’d be “ebullient about Ubooly,” the stuffed animal powered by a smart phone aiming to get kids outside in nature through their recently launched partnership with the National Wildlife Federation. Well…um, not so fast…

I’ll reserve comment on the new Ubooly toy itself until I can explore more about the design thinking by educators and Kickstarter objectives, along with this interview with the founder at the Launch Festival this past spring.

My focus here is specifically on the Ubooly toy partnership with Ranger Rick and the National Wildlife Federation…And the eco-literacy positioning as a “new app-based learning toy that can turn a walk in the park into an interactive experience.” So here goes…

While I realize the effort to shift kids away from the “10+ hours indoors” cited in the Joan Ganz Cooney Center data is the hard target objective of the NWF…somehow, spending $29.95 on a toy gizmo to turn scavenger hunts, nature hikes, and mindfulness games into an “interactive experience” when it’s all available for FREE via parents participation, engagement and enthusiasm for the planet gives me pause.

Maybe it’s my commodification bias against off-loading hands-on experiences to gizmos that entertain, giving parents a hallpass NOT to parent by enabling the gadget to do the duty, or maybe it’s the trend towards packaging free experiences with pay for play paywalls. See for yourself:

Watching the video above, I kept thinking how weird it is to see a child lugging around a stuffed talking toy with one-hand while trying to run, listen and feel the sensation of a stream, much less take a directive from a munchkin sounding robot voice.

If I were a child toting that $30 toy, I’d probably be focused on not dropping it in the water, leaving it at the trail head or what food I’d have to give up to make room for it in my day pack for hiking.

Look, I want NWF to help kids to “Be Out There”  too, but reading through the brand new NWF report “Friending Fresh Air” I found myself feeling a profoundly melancholy “if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em” wistfulness about this Furby-esque creature that thread through my personal narrative.

I’m certainly not a Luddite and am firmly planted in the ‘whatever works go for it’ camp of naturalists, but I think for now I’ll admit my bias for ‘au naturale’ and stay with the basic tech tips NWF shared in their new report on connecting kids to nature in the digital age:

“1.) Use technology to help plan or inspire your next outdoor adventure. 2.) If they love it, embrace it, and take it outside. 3.) Keep a record of outdoor experiences with the help of electronics photos, videos or an electronic journal of adventures 4.) A technology themed adventure can provide an equal balance between technology and nature.”

As National Wildlife Foundation reminds, spending time outside is good for mental and physical health balancing “screen time with green time” to help kids build a lasting connection to nature.

Again, I love NWF. I’m a huge Ranger Rick supporter and wildly applaud NWF’s forward-thinking commitment to leverage digital opportunities to keep their brand relevant.

I know how hard it is to tiptoe on the balance beam of using media to get kids outside (great video by our friends at Project Wild Thing) while also competing for attention in a media marketplace of apps and toy industry merchandising to instill a strong love of nature.

So yes, let’s all “Be Out There” and “Friend Fresh Air” but let’s also put down the tech toys (or the Ubooly) to FEEL the tactile tree trunk or the sticky sap hands-on, without worrying about getting mud on the screen or the cute critter.

Like our friends at Children and Nature Network, part of the New Nature Movement, NWF is striving to engage kids with nature on multiple channels including social media contests and digital appeal.

NWF has just launched a fun “Winter Wonderland Photo Contest” through Jan. 31, 2014 to inspire snap happy kids to get outdoors too. Here’s more about the NWF photo contest caveats and cool prizes (pun intended) as well as their pledge to “get 10 million kids outside, running and playing”…I’m definitely in. Signed. Done. Will share.

That said, I’d be remiss in my media literacy and critical thinking skills if I didn’t add a few cautionary caveats to all of the Instagram/FB/Pinterest style visual contests about documenting our lives instead of living them…

Sherry Turkle’s December NYT op-ed reminds that documenting life should never interrupt it. Fast Company adds a surprising, whiplash-inducing doubletake with a similar headline: “If You Want to Remember Something, Do NOT Snap a Photo”

Does this mean kids shouldn’t make memories through photos? Nah. The article instead pragmatically suggests we:

“Use technology as an instrument of concentration instead of interruption.”

I like that. There’s a big difference between a “Lookie here, I’m in the snowy redwoods mugging for the camera” selfie and a “wow, look at how that spiderweb glistens with the melted snow clinging to it” photo contest approach.

In other words, zero in on in-depth details or see through a different lens of perspective rather than losing memories by multitasking, missing moments due to mobile media’s intrusiveness…

That framing captures the vast difference between cheesy ‘stop everything and strike a pose’ narcissism and a reflective, observational way to ‘zoom in’ on life.

As a strong NWF, Nature Rocks, C&NN supporter, I’ve been thinking a lot about some of these digital balance quandaries that are everpresent as the calendar turns over to 2014.

Rich Louv’s The Nature Principle is a north star for me personally, and a guiding path for me in my daily digital environs, reminding:

“The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need”

With that in mind, it’s time to get outdoors, walk the dog on the Bay Trail, reset my mind and body to take in the beauty of the Bay Area seabirds and wildlife…And maybe take a photo in the spirit of “” to capture nature’s splendor.

Kids, “Be Out There.” The Winter Wonderland beckons…

And you don’t need an Ubooly to see it…

Related Nature and Digital Eco-Kids Resources by Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth

Experience The Earth Beyond Instagram

Media Netiquette + Nature Apps in a Totally Wired World

Toys R Us Throws Mother Nature Under the School Bus

Will Kids Reconnect With Nature…At School?

How To Turn People Green

Inspiring Kids As Stewards of the Planet

Inspiring Kids With Green Media

Get ‘Em Outside!

Nature Rocks: Reconnecting Families with Planet Earth!

Shaping Youth Joins Eco-Literacy Coalition: NCLI

The Great Turtle Race

When Art Meets Earth: Wyland’s Murals Inspire Kids to Care Edu & Eco Activism for Int’l Climate Change

Kids Bring Home the Message to Cool the Earth

Spring Break Sanctuary-Media Unplugged on Catalina

Hope Is On The Horizon When Movements Go Mainstream

Green Teen Videos On Climate Change: Global Challenge

Climate Change Chocolate, TerraPass E-Cause Animation…

Teen Scene: Eco-Concerts

Coen Brothers Ad For Clean Coal Air Freshener (kids faves!)

Disney Nature’s EARTH movie: Our Teen Team’s Take

International Day of Peace to Reach and Teach

Green Grades Report Cards: Forest Ethics

One Teen’s View: Use Eco As An Equalizer

Project Green Dorm: Engaging Youth Via Teens Turning Green

S.F. Oil Spill Prompts Altruism & Activism in Kids

Planting Earthseeds Via The Magic School Bus

New Media Worldometers Help Data Click With Kids

Media Savvy Kids and Nature Deficit Disorder

Tons more archived on sidebar (Shaping Youth’s Eco-Kids & Environment Category)

A few FREE nature apps via  and

WildObs Observer

Project NOAH



What’s Invasive

What’s nearby? Trailhead by The North Face Oh, Ranger! Parkfinder  NatureFind

Identifying:  TreeBook  Leafsnap   iBird Lite  WildLab

Recording/Observing: CreekWatch  Nature’s Notebook


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