1492742626074 - Grant Smithies sets his sights on the Wild Eyes project – a nature missions for Kiwi kids

Grant Smithies sets his sights on the Wild Eyes project – a nature missions for Kiwi kids

OPINION: The school holidays are upon us, and we all know what that means. A host of nippers liberated from the classroom, spending their days at home instead, glued to assorted screens – the TV or laptop, their iPads and phones.

Back in the late Victorian era when I was a kid, school holidays were all about books and music. I would lie in an indolent fleshy heap in my bedroom for days on end, reading and playing records.

It drove my mum mental. “Get outside and do something!” she would bellow from the kitchen, even though I was already doing something. “Go and get some bloody exercise!”

So I would reluctantly bike off and visit a mate, only to find them lying on their bed, reading books and playing records and arguing with their own parents about “going outside”.

* New online community ‘Wild Eyes’ aims to get children more connected with nature
* Parents struggle to limit screen time – study
* Julian Dennison’s journey from Naenae to Hunt for the Wilderpeople

With this in mind, I’m rapt to hear about a new digital media project for the school hols, aiming to get NZ pre-teens excited about science and the great outdoors.

How? By exploiting the fact that our 8-12 year olds are digital natives who expect everything to have an online interactive component. It’s an idea so brilliant, I could almost have thought of it myself.

The Wild Eyes project is all about sparking kids’ imaginations by suggesting little nature missions they might undertake in the largely unexplored wilderness of their own back yards.

These pre-teen adventurers might build a backyard “bivvy”, or emulate the cunning camouflage tricks of garden stick insects. They might take staged pics of a fake moa-bone discovery, uploading them to their own profile page via the Wild Eyes website and phone app.

Kids can find instructions and interact with each others’ projects at www.wildeyes.co.nz, a community forum for “liking” pages, sharing knowledge and following friends.

And parents can stop banging on about how screen-ocentric their offspring have become, safe in the knowledge that this screen-time is connected with an outdoor project.

Wild Eyes was the brainchild of Discovery Channel doco writer/producer/bird nerd Paul Ward and feature film producer Vicky Pope (Gardening with Soul; Two Little Boys).

Both have young kids, and wanted to find a way to get the Instagram generation engaged with nature and science, so they wangled some cash out of NZ On Air, the Curious Minds Science Innovation Fund and UNESCO to make that happen.

The Wild Eyes website is crammed with short, funny video clips starring Nova Hewison, who won Best Actress (Short Films) at last year’s NZ Film Awards, and Christian Dennison, twin brother to Julian Dennison of Hunt For The Wilderpeople fame.

As these two switched-on young people build backyard volcanos and fire-pit barbecues and sugar cube caves, insect tracking tunnels and a “wild bird café”, stopping only to release a miniature “science guy” from an ice cream container to explain a few fun facts, you ask yourself – why wouldn’t any bored kid give this a go?

It beats the hell out of mooching around the house and being pestered by your olds.