I am incredibly passionate about encouraging children to have a healthy balanced lifestyle. While I see apps and screens as part of their lives in the modern world, I also see a worrying trend towards excessive screen time for many children. I feel it is the responsibility of the children’s app industry to take this trend seriously and do everything they can to encourage children towards a more healthy play diet. In particular, I feel that the following recommendations are a fantastic step in the right direction to encourage children to become active through apps.
There is no doubt that adults are increasingly using technology to support their healthy lifestyles, whether that’s with a fitbit or similar, or apps that track diet, exercise, running/cycle routes etc. I’ve also seen a huge rise in exercise apps for adults – encouraging ten minutes a day of sit-ups for those perfect abs or whatever it may be. There are also apps out there that help children get active, from those which obviously teach them exercises, to ones that get them moving in other ways. I’ve picked out a few here to inspire you.
Minimum tech approach – If you’re designing an app for pre-schoolers then Charlie & Lola: I’ve Won is a great example of how to incorporate active play for children as a seamless, fun part of the game. The app includes a number of mini-games as part of a board game style activity. Hopping and dancing are included as some of these. From a child development perspective, hopping is a great choice as at the target age, this is a skill they are often still honing. Our user testing showed how much fun children had playing these parts particularly, making it a great example for others in the industry to learn from, particularly as they don’t require complicated approaches to ‘track’ movement, they just assume children will try, which for this age group from our experience is a good approach.
Using music to get kids active – Physical activity also doesn’t have to be restricted to using your legs though. Think about other activities children enjoy which require movement and encourage new skills. Music is a great example and the Happy Studio app from McDonalds is a good one to learn from. The ‘Be a musician’ game challenges children to move their tablet or phone to keep in time with a rhythm or turn their device like the handle of a music box to get the music going at the right speed. This app therefore manages to get children active but teaches them fundamental music principles at the same time, without seeming ‘educational’.
Sport – tracked by camera – It’s surprised us at Fundamentally Children how few apps there are which take the Nintendo Wii / xbox Kinect style approach to getting children moving on apps. The Kurio Tab Motion games, however, are good examples. These apps get children running, jumping, swimming, skiing and more – performing all the actions in front of their tablet. The apps use the camera to track movement. Of course, this doesn’t very accurately check what children are doing, but they can’t get away with doing nothing and in our experience, if anything, they get enthusiastic and do too much rather than too little – definitely ticking the activity box.
Shake and tilt: A number of apps encourage movement of the tablet or device as part of the game, whether that’s to steer around the course (like CotBot City) or feed a Lion (like Virry). While this obviously is no substitute for running around outside, it does help to avoid children being in a fixed, still position and we encourage developers to incorporate this wherever they can. Apps that get children to make these movements also require accuracy and can often require quite careful concentration.
Something very different: Sneak from Made in Me is a wonderful example of using apps a bit differently. Children are challenged to sneak up on their device really quietly so the monster on screen doesn’t hear them coming and take the monster’s photo. Think about unusual use of movement in all games – maybe you can get children looking around their garden, taking photos etc etc. If they are up on their feet moving around, this is definitely better than static play.
There is so much more than could be done in this area. I’ve tested all sorts of apps and games in the area with children and are always delighted to see how much they enjoy the active aspects of them. The world of virtual reality is also opening up endless opportunities here. Take time to think about the physical activities that are valuable to children at your target age.
I challenge you to think of novel, funny ways to get children active in your apps!