Sixty minutes a day. That’s the minimum amount of physical activity recommended for children, ages 6 to17, by the Centers for Disease Control. Some kids meet that goal effortlessly. They can’t wait to walk the dog, belong to a team that practices every afternoon, or nag their parents to go on long hikes and bike rides.
Other kids need a little encouragement to step away from their electronic devices so they can get active. Thankfully, some of that encouragement now comes from the devices themselves. Some very innovative programmers have designed gadgets and apps that promise to make family fitness fun. Which one will be motivating in your household? Look for an app that intersects with things your family cares about. Here are some suggestions.
Just the Facts. Eat-And-Move-O-Matic is a very simple app that answers one question: How many minutes of Activity X will burn the calories in Food Y? This colorful app is easy enough for elementary school kids to understand and use. (Free from the App Store.)
Move for Good. Charity Miles has arranged for up to a million dollars to be donated to good causes—if people use their app to exercise. Simply download the program, choose a charity, tuck your phone in your pocket, and get going. The corporate sponsors kick in a dime for every mile of biking and a quarter for every mile of running. If you exercise together, every phone in the family can donate to a different cause. (Free from the App Store and Google Play.)
Tangible Rewards. Zamzee is a tiny accelerometer that records motion. When the device, which looks like a flash drive, is clipped onto shoes or slipped into a pocket, your child earns points for any physical activity—sweeping the floor, climbing stairs, jumping rope, dancing, etc. Plug Zamzee into a USB port and kids can see graphic evidence of how active they’ve been. They also earn points that can be donated to charity or used to purchase virtual or real rewards including apps and games. ($29.95 from Zamzee.com.)
Batting Balls (or Bugs). Ballstrike and Bugylon turn iPads and Windows 8 tablets into something that resembles a Kinect, at a fraction of the price. Just set the tablet upright on a flat surface, step back, and use your body to pop balls (or smash bugs). The app which has six levels tracks calories burned, and allows your child to share photos of their best moves. (Free from the App Store and Windows.)
What Do The Kids Think?
Before apps even existed, video game creators started mixing movement into gaming. The technology to track your movement quickly moved from pads on the floor, to controllers you held while playing the game, to cameras in the gaming console. Local youngsters, Connor and Skye, have an Xbox Kinect, and were excited to talk about it.
Kinect: Skye: I think it’s fun because you really get to have fun and dance.
Connor: You get to spend a lot of energy.
Skye: You get to have a lot of exercise.
Eat-and-Move-o-Matic: Kamia: In this app, you select a food and an activity. Then you see how long you would have to do that activity to burn the food’s calories. It’s a good app because it helps people make better food choices.
Charity Miles: Brogan: I liked this one. You put your phone in your pocket and then your charity gets a dime for every mile you bike and a quarter for every mile you walk. I chose Special Olympics. It was weird, though. I know I did a mile and it would only say I did 1/10 mile.
Run for Your Life. Zombies, Run! isn’t for little kids, but teens who want to stay fit may find this immersive app very motivating. The user maps the course they plan to run, and then the program devises a story about finding supplies for a community besieged by the undead. Periodically, the app announces that zombies are in the vicinity and their noisy breathing makes most runners pick up the pace. The app includes 33 missions and players can also incorporate their favorite music. ($3.99 at the App Store and Google Play.)
Walk for the World. The Walk is a better choice for teens (and adults) who don’t care to jog. The game, designed in the UK, starts with the premise that a bomb has exploded in the London underground. The only way to save the world is to carry a package from one end of the British Isles to the other, encountering misadventures along the way. The game is intended to cover three months of walking, long enough for most people to get a good habit established. ($2.99 at the App Store and Google Play.)
Football Fanatics. NFL Play 60 encourages children to get their 60 minutes of activity by running, turning, and jumping over virtual obstacles. Kids control the character in the game by holding a phone or tablet that detects their movements. As they progress, they collect hearts from the American Heart Association that make the character invincible, and coins that buy virtual gear from the NFL. Both organizations cooperated to create the game which gives young football fans a fix without risking a concussion. (Free from the App Store and Google Play.)
Good Form for Athletes. IronKids was developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics to minimize the risk of injuries in young athletes. The 45-minute workout emphasizes the correct way to do exercises that build strength, balance, and endurance, so it’s ideal for teens and pre-teens who want to be in good shape for team tryouts. ($3.99 from the App Store.)
Peer Encouragement—and Competition. Fitocracy makes it very easy to keep track of a fitness routine, especially if it includes repetitive exercises such as weightlifting. Users set goals and earn points by achieving them. More important, Fitocracy taps into the power of social media, making it easy to find other people who enjoy the same kind of workout. Teens can learn from those who are more experienced, exchange encouraging words, and even challenge others to friendly competition. (Basic level free from the App Store and Google Play.)
Of course, sometimes the very best way to get everyone up and moving is to put on the right music. You may already have a playlist of favorites, but if you need some inspiration, check out kidbeatz.com where you can find family-friendly hip-hop renditions of childhood standards. Buzzle has a list of classic dance tunes suitable for kids (buzzle.com/articles/dance-songs-for-kids.html) and Common Sense Media screens contemporary songs so unexpected lyrics won’t bring your dance party to a screeching halt (commonsensemedia.org/lists/dance-tracks).
Carolyn Jabs, M.A., raised three computer savvy kids including one with special needs. She has been writing Growing Up Online for 10 years and is working on a book about constructive responses to conflict. Visit www.growing-up-online.com to read other columns.
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