With the availability of cheaper smartphones and tablets, children spend up to six hours each day in front of a digital screen either games or watching videos. Access to technology has changed the way children play.
Experts say this growth in screen time has impacted children’s physical and emotional development. Moreover, a recent study has revealed associations between greater screen time and lower scores on developmental screening tests assessing children’s communication, motor, social and problem-solving skills.
According to Deborah A. Cohen, a senior physician and policy researcher at RAND Corporation, the strong correlation between time spent in nature with health and well-being suggests that the growth in digital technology may result in a decrease in children’s physical activity and overall health.
Keeping this in mind, tech companies are now coming up with apps and technologies that merge with nature, which is known as augmented reality (AR). It refers to an interactive experience whereby the real-world environment is enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information by using human senses of sight, hearing and touch. Pokemon Go, is a good example that uses geo-location and directs users to places where virtual Pokemon characters can be collected. Minecraft Earth is another good example that allows the user to build elaborate creations and everyone can see it. Torfi Olafsson, Minecraft game director said they want to offer an experience that the user can play in their immediate environment and out in the world such as parks and cities or wherever they are.
Cohen says early research shows that location-based mobile apps can be beneficial to outdoor fitness, but very few AR apps are specifically geared toward children under the age of nine. She highlights Biba an AR company that has collaborated with playground equipment manufacturers to create playground-based AR games for children aged three to nine. An applauded safety measure is that an adult takes charge of the smartphone. “The adult activates the game and scans augmented reality markers on playground structures to direct the child’s game activities that can range from searching for treasure to driving an imaginary race car,” Cohen said. “Adults holding the phones serve as home base while the children spend most of their time on the playground moving according to the game directives. This keeps the device out of the children’s hands so they can focus on physical activity away from the screen,” she explained.
Experts say AR playground experiences can lead to positive outcomes with regard to heart rate. However, more field work is needed to verify whether and how the play apps are making a difference in the type of activity and the amount of time children spend outdoors.