Nov 19

Using digital technology for outdoor exploration with PBS KIDS’ PLUM LANDING

By Brianne Keith, outreach project manager at WGBH Education.

For out-of-school time program leaders looking to get students outside more, it might seem counterintuitive to introduce digital media into their programming. After all, don’t kids already spend too much time in front of screens? Why use digital media when what you really want to do is get kids outdoors?

PLUM LANDING, the innovative PBS KIDS multimedia project that encourages children to explore the outdoors, has an answer to that question: Because digital media can actually enhance kids’ exploration of nature! The trick is creating media that actively engages kids, and harnesses the unique power of technology to inspire, teach, foster engagement, and turn it towards outdoor learning experiences.

WGBH, a leader in developing educational media for children, developed PLUM LANDING to help kids learn about the environment and inspire them to become caretakers of the planet. The project includes hands-on outdoor learning activities, games, videos, apps, and an online drawing tool and gallery where kids can share their ideas about nature—all designed to promote children’s active investigation of the world around them. The resources are NGSS-standards aligned and available for free on the PLUM LANDING website. Independent evaluation of the project showed that children who used PLUM LANDING were significantly more likely than those in a control group to show growth in their environmental science knowledge and interest in exploring the natural world.

​Building on the success of the program, WGBH has just released the PLUM LANDING Explore Outdoors Toolkit, a new set of materials designed to help kids and families in urban environments get outside, get moving, and get into nature. 

Researched and developed by WGBH and Education Development Center in partnership with outdoor health and education programs across the country, the resources help get out the message that nature is everywhere—even in the city—and spending time outside is important part of health. WGBH drew on its 20 years of experience discovering and developing effective approaches to hands-on science learning in out-of-school time settings to make the resources as accessible as possible for informal educators (many of whom who don’t have a science background).

Take a look:

PLUM LANDING Explore Outdoors Toolkit: The toolkit provides advice and guidance about starting your own PLUM LANDING program at your afterschool center and includes links to digital and hands-on resources, support materials that enhance their use in afterschool environments, promotional materials to help you attract kids to your programming, and relevant research on the health benefits of being outdoors and the role of digital media in enhancing outdoor exploration. Watch the promotional video for an overview of the full suite of resources!

Afterschool Program Activities: There are three options for educators who work with kids in afterschool settings: one-hour afterschool sessions, week-long afterschool clubs, and week-long afterschool camps. In each case, an activity begins with an optional animated video that introduces a science concept. Then children participate in a hands-on, outdoor exploration that blends physical activity and fun with science learning. Activities are one hour long and focus on a specific environmental topic or question aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards.

Outdoor Adventure Badging Program: In this online feature, kids receive an outdoor “mission” from Plum, then go outside to complete it. Afterwards, they draw and describe what they did using the PLUM LANDING online drawing tool, and submit their drawings for publication on the website. Each time a child or afterschool group does so, they earn a digital badge they can save and display on their profile page. There are 24 badges in total, including Go on a Leaf Hunt, Walk in Shady Spots, Be an Animal Tracker, and Follow the Wandering Water. 

Outdoor Family Fun with Plum: This free app offers daily activities to get kids and families outside, exploring their neighborhoods, and learning about nature. Each activity includes a call to action (for example: Walk around a town center or city block and count the water drains), a tool for completing the mission (like a counter), and additional tips and rewards.

Tips for Educators: Seven short videos provide tips on leading outdoor science activities in informal learning settings, hosted by longtime outdoor educator Jessie Scott of the U.S. Forest Service. There are tips on preparing for outdoor science activities, promoting science skills, and troubleshooting common issues like unexpected weather.

Check out WGBH’s other curriculum for more out-of-school time resources.