Increased screen time might not be the most obvious solution for connecting people with the environment, but as the number of gamers worldwide is predicted to reach 2.9 billion at the end of this year, the industry provides ample opportunities to draw attention towards environmental concerns – particularly for younger audiences.
When Toby Hunt was generating ideas for what would eventually become the Earth Cubs app, he wanted children to learn about environmental issues through a positive lens to counter the consistent sense of doom surrounding conversations on climate change.
“There’s a kind of eco-anxiety created by the messaging about how we’re cutting down the rainforests and it’s all a disaster. It can be quite scary. I’d much rather they heard about the wonder and awe of natural environments and learnt how to save them,” said Mr Hunt, the CEO of Earth Cubs.
With over 65,000 downloads, the app, which uses puzzles, videos and games to make protecting the environment fun, dubs its 3–7-year-old players ‘Earth Cubs’.
Children can fashion their Earth Cub avatar in their likeness and journey across the world, visiting different environments around the globe. Valuable lessons about nature and biodiversity are scattered across the Amazon rainforest, the Arctic and the City of London.
What stuck with 6-year-old Oscar after exploring these habitats was that he “should try to cycle and walk instead of going in the car”.
Learning extends beyond the home, as Earth Cubs offers free lesson plans that tie into the National Curriculum. So far 1,500 schools across the country have used these resources to fill their classroom with Earth Cubs, a title children take seriously according to Emma Redgrove, a teacher at Penwortham Primary in Wandsworth.
“They understand their responsibilities as global citizens so much more through becoming an ‘Earth Cub’,” she says.
In Lancaster, Lisa Allan, a nursery teacher at Austwick Primary School says it can often be tricky to engage young children when it comes to complex topics like the environment.
“Earth Cubs captures both children’s attention and imagination, no matter their individual learning styles,” she says.
The app and teacher resources are free, something Mr Hunt intends to continue. “If we’re going to build a brand which has a global impact, we need it to be accessible,” he says.
Through planting trees in Madagascar when children earn badges, Earth Cubs is part of a generation of games which try to use real life results to incentivize children to engage with climate conservation.
Looking ahead, Mr Hunt wants Earth Cub to partner with other environmental organisations to garner fundraising opportunities, as well as create new natural habitats for children to discover.
“We want to expand the number of environments and have had a lot of interest from different places in the UK. But whichever weird and wonderful place we go to, we try and relate it back to what children can do in their local area to make a difference.”
Because of this attitude, Earth Cubs has won the 2021 BETT awards in the free digital content or open educational resources category, beating worthy competitors like BBC Bitesize Daily and Discovery education.