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Play by Spark trial suggests 'promising impact'

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A ten-week national trial of a technology that aims to help families balance screen time with playtime finished this week with promising results. Ten families from around New Zealand tested Play by Spark, a Bluetooth-enabled smart ball and app that tracks minutes of active play and balances this with screen use; sending an alert to parents when screen time limits are met.

Developed with consultation from leading New Zealand child psychologist Dr Emma Woodward, the trial was designed to gain insight into how families are using technology and aimed to help them create more purposeful digital habits in the home. While the ball and app is currently a protype and not yet available to the public, the trial has helped Spark to gather information that will shape its future development.

During the trial, all of the families met and, in some cases, exceeded their individual goal for screen use over the course of the trial. While each family had differing starting points and goals, all reduced their screen time to be in line with the World Health Organisation guidelines of no more than two hours a day.

All families in the Play by Spark trial also reported an increase in their children playing away from devices, and an increased amount of time spent playing together as a family.

Dr Woodward says the results can be attributed to parents modelling behaviour such as shifting from ‘policing screen time’ to becoming avid ‘cheerleaders’ for other activities, encouraging their children away from their screens through positive interactions and the introduction of other fun non-screen related play, together as a family. The ball and app provided data-driven information about screen-time versus playtime and gave a good baseline from which to set goals for each family to achieve an appropriate balance.

Some families also reported improved sleep and development of better social skills.

Excessive screen time has been directly linked with an increase in behavioural and mental wellbeing issues, such as increase in anxiety, poor attention span, acting out behaviours and reduction in quality sleep [1].

Dr Woodward says devices don’t provide all of the experiences or stimulation that our children need. "With non-tech play, you’re moving around, you’re exercising your body and improving co-ordination and balance. When you interact face-to-face, you’re using real-time communicative feedback. Real-world experiences are also slower paced and allow kids to learn how to tolerate feelings such as frustration and boredom. All of these elements are extremely important for developing resilience and good social skills, which are fundamental to our wellbeing."

While the prototype is currently a rugby ball, Spark is looking into other objects that the technology can be integrated into.

Spark’s Brand Experience Tribe Lead Sarah Williams says, "We are encouraged by the positive impacts the families experienced by taking part in the Play by Spark trial. We set out to develop a tool for parents to help educate their children on self-regulation and screen usage and this has been used effectively by the families.

"We are excited about the possibilities and different ways that Play by Spark could evolve to help Kiwis engage in positive conversations around digital wellbeing."

Although it’s not currently available to the public, Kiwis are encouraged to register their interest in Play by Spark at spark.co.nz/play. Spark is seeking input from the public to shape this exciting project which is due to enter the next stage of research and development.

[1] According to research conducted by the Ministry of Health   

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