Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Kids Closer to Nature - Nature Adventure Club Website


Arla Foods - distributors of well-known dairy products including Anchor, Cravendale and Lurpak - are backing a brilliant new campaign that launched last month and that aims to get kids back out into the great outdoors. According to a recent report, this has to be a good thing. The research reveals that :

- A quarter of youngsters spend all their spare time slumped in front of the TV or staring at a computer screen.

 - The average member of the “Indoor Generation” spends twice as much leisure time indoors than outside, according to parents.

- TV and the cinema top the list of interests of youngsters aged five to 16, followed by gaming and spending time online.

- Seven in 10 parents blamed the weather for their youngsters spending hours in front of screens – but 45 per cent said safety concerns were a key factor.

Well, we were invited to join the Nature Adventure Club and take up some of the fun challenges. Signing up is fairly easy but you need to get your hands on a Nature Adventure Club Pass to unlock special bonus content as you go. You can download your pack or (while stocks last) wait to receive one through the post. This will take a few days to arrive but Sophie loves wearing her funky laminated information cards on the lanyard around her neck as we do the challenges and go on the computer together.

The challenges are really interesting and educational, with lots of interesting information on the website to discover when you come back from your challenges to upload your information. Sophie learnt lots about the birds and animals in the garden and the surrounding countryside and the challenges made her more attentive to the nature around her. It actually reminds me a bit of the I-Spy books (which I reviewed here) but in a more high-tech, online version that will surely appeal to today's kids.

The challenges are great fun and really appeal to Sophie, although some of them are impossible for kids to do by themselves - for example, freezing bits of nature like pine cones or leaves in containers of water in the freezer overnight then making a sculpture outside and seeing how long it takes to melt. I also think it's a shame that almost all of the challenges require a photo to be uploaded or a drawing to be scanned in order to be validated and the points awarded. I often allow Sophie to go on the computer while I prepare dinner, and she doesn't know how to use the scanner or upload photos by herself so she's totally blocked. My other gripe is that you can only upload your challenge data once, then the challenge is marked as completed and you can't add extra data. So, for example, for the first challenge, spotting the animals around you, if you tick the "easy" animals like a rabbit and a squirrel and "complete" the challenge, there is no way for you to come back and update this information if you happen to spot one of the rarer animals like a badger or a fox at a later date. As another example of this, we had some teething problems uploading photos and the kept getting error messages. I therefore told Sophie that we'd try to upload our "five senses" photos one at a time. But once we'd "completed" the challenge, having uploaded one photo out of the five, we now can't go back and add more. Sophie is gutted because she had all the photos ready and now can't get the points she should have earned (and blames me because I chose to upload one photo at a time !)

There are currently nine challenges, combining nature exploration with arts and crafts, mainly based on
winter, so I presume the site will be updated with additional seasonal activities throughout the year. Sophie loves the fact that you can work your way up through the ranks and the leaderboard, unlocking hidden items as you go - a concept that will be familiar to fans of Club Penguin or other similar online worlds.

All in all, it's an interesting, fun and educational website that Sophie enjoys going on and, all importantly, which encourages her to get outside and discover the natural world around her. The concept reminds me of the kids TV programme in the 70's - Why Don't You (switch off the television set and go out and do something less boring instead !). It has a few techniocal teething problems and a few software issues which could be improved, but it literally only started a few weeks ago so I'm sure things will be sorted out as they go along.

Now I just have to work out how to explain to the Madhouse Daddy why I'm going to be freezing pine cones and conkers in ice cream tubs of water in the school holidays - he'll think I've gone mad ! (Well, even madder than usual anyway !!)

star rating : 4/5

RRP : absolutely free !


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