Can an app get kids off their mobile devices and help create deeper family connections? The creator of 'Time to Roam' thinks so.
The irony of using a smartphone app to get kids off their mobile devices is strong, but bear with me here.
While the mass explosion of mobile apps has opened up a lot of doors for people, in the sense that sometimes really useful apps can allow us to do things we've never dreamed of before, and can give us vital information and tools right at our fingertips, the argument has been made that the widespread adoption of smartphones and tablets and apps has also helped to close many others. For example, if we always have a calculator app right at hand, or a spellcheck feature, working on our basic math and spelling skills isn't exactly a high priority for us, and if we always have access to a game or our newsfeeds, or basically the entire internet all the time, we don't ever have to just sit there and look at the scenery, or connect with other humans, because we have an instant distraction device right in our pocket.
While we as adults might struggle with finding a balance between being 'wired in' to the digital world and being fully present and paying attention to the 'real world' right in front of us, it's even more difficult for kids, because they're not fully capable of making the best choices in general, and when it comes to screen time, they don't self-regulate well. Our kids learn a lot of their behavior from watching us, and if mom and dad are glued to their phones or tablets or other screens for a big chunk of the time, especially around the home and family, that habit and desire to be plugged in can be mimicked by their children. And if they then have easy access to their own devices, or that of their parents, their 'screen time' can rapidly grow to fill nearly all their time, or take the place of other activities, such as getting outside or making something or playing LEGO or what have you.
I'm not against screens in general, or smartphones and tablets in particular, and I'm not against kids using them for apps and games, but I do think that all too often these days, it becomes a convenient way to occupy time that might be better spent interacting with people and the physical world, and deepening our connections to our friends and family. My personal belief is that the strongest form of teaching our children is through setting an example for them, and even if we repeat ourselves over and over until we're hoarse, they really won't get it if we don't 'walk the talk'.
All of which is a very long way of saying that sometimes there is 'screen time' that takes away from the quality of our lives, and sometimes there are ways to use apps and devices that can actually help us get offline and have more meaningful experiences, which is the intent of the Time to Roam app. If we follow its prescription of taking tiny adventures together, we may be able to create quality experiences more often with our children and spouses, because it's not necessarily all about the length of time we spend together, but about how engaged we are with each other.
The free Time to Roam app, for both Android and iOS, aims to give busy families ideas and inspiration for creative adventures "that will fit snugly into 15 minutes," in effect acting as an app to help guide you and your children on tiny field trips throughout the week. Created by Anne Armstrong, former middle school teacher and founder of the My Gnome on the Roam educational toys line, the app offers daily prompts for building quality family time and meaningful experiences in the midst of our busy schedules, and has different themes on different days (Make It Monday, Tell Me Tuesday, Wanderlust Wednesday, Throwback Thursday, Freaky Friday, Saturday Dazzle Day, Soul Food Sunday).
"As a working mom, I wanted to create more meaningful, creative experiences with my son but struggled with what many families do these days … not enough time. Tired of feeling guilty, I needed a reasonable solution so I created an app that provides both education and family fun in 15 minutes a day." - Armstrong
The app includes ideas for crafts, conversation starters, recipes, random acts of kindness, local neighborhood adventure outings, and games, all designed to help create "genuine moments of family engagement," and has an integrated journal feature for saving ideas or taking notes on activities. According to its creator, Time to Roam can allow you to easily:
• find the inspiration for a creative adventure that will fit snugly into 15 minutes
• slow down long enough to spend real, quality time with your kids
• strengthen your child's creativity and sense of adventure
• buoy your child's sense of worth/esteem/well-being
• actually build new neural pathways in your child's brain (and yours as well)