Where screens and summer meet

How smartphones can technically help get families outdoors

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published July 28, 2017

 Geocaching, an activity that uses a smartphone’s GPS capabilities, has been popular for several years.

Geocaching, an activity that uses a smartphone’s GPS capabilities, has been popular for several years.

Photo by Donna Dalziel


The Haugh family makes it a point to limit screen time for their children.

But a few evenings each week, you’ll see all four of their faces glued to a smartphone screen. And that’s OK, said Wendee Haugh, of Southfield.

“Although we use the app for this, it doesn’t count because it’s a family activity that we can do together and be outside,” Haugh said of geocaching.

The outdoor activity utilizes a smartphone’s GPS to navigate a neighborhood in search of hidden treasures, or caches, stashed at certain coordinates.

She and her husband, David Haugh, along with 15-year-old Scott Haugh and 12-year-old Jessica Haugh, got into geocaching just recently. The family tried it a few years ago when Scott was a Boy Scout looking to earn a merit badge, but he just wasn’t into the hunt.

But Wendee Haugh thought it was worth another try.

“I talked the family into running out to see if we could find one after dinner. We went out to look for one at a park near our house, but it was too dark,” she explained. “We went out to a different (park) the next night and found our first cache. As we headed home, our 12-year-old said, ‘This is fun. Can we make this a family activity every night for the rest of the summer?’”

While so many parents are trying to tear their kids off the couch and away from tablets and smartphones, other parents realize the trick to getting their kids outside into the fresh air might lie in that handy handheld device.

When Rachel Klaus, of Clawson, was invited by a pal to join the Facebook page Clawson Rocks, she was quick to jump on board. She thought the growing trend — where participants track down painted rocks in their neighborhood — sounded like a great, not to mention inexpensive, way to spend some time with her three children this summer.

“So basically, you find rocks that are hidden — they’re never super hard to find — take a picture and post it to the respective Facebook page, then rehide it for someone else to find,” Klaus said. “You can also paint your own and hide them to add to the fun. And you don’t have to rehide them in the same place. You can find one in Clawson, then hide it in Royal Oak.”

But even if parents can convince their kiddos to get outside for some app-aided fun in the sun, they themselves might be held up by their own summer vices, like manicuring the yard or manning the grill.

That’s not the case anymore, though, according to Marie Bourlier, of Bourlier’s stores, which has locations in Clinton and Macomb townships. The outdoor power product specialists have been seeing a big shift in what customers want when it comes to buying lawn mowers and grills — and it all has to do with letting an app do the heavy lifting.

“The Husqvarna Automow is a robotic mower,” Bourlier said. “You can program it with an app to cut the grass. While it’s cutting, you can look on the phone to see the progress the mower is making with the cutting. And you’re also able to see where the mower is, in case it’s ever stolen.”

Since the lawn is taken care of, grill gurus can stay near the flames and keep an eye on dinner.

Or, just leave that to the smartphone too.

“The Green Mountain Pellet Grill is a good option, the Davy Crockett model, which has Wi-Fi connectivity, so you’re able to watch the temperature of the meat and the grill,” she said. “The Traeger Timberline will do the same thing.”