The Rise of Smart Playgrounds: Finding Balance Connecting Real-World Play with Digital Devices

What happens with your family on lazy weekends or summer evenings after dinner? If you’re like many households, kids and parents pick up their smartphones and tablets and tune each other out. We know it’s tough to compete with the distractions of the digital world.

What if there was a way to blend outdoor family fun with the excitement of a kid-friendly mobile game that encourages both imaginative free play and exercise? That’s what’s happening thanks to the smart playground trend. It’s a movement that’s finding ways to bring augmented reality into your neighborhood park. 

One of the leaders in this space is Biba Ventures. The company creates games designed for kids ages three to nine years old to play when visiting playgrounds. There are more than 2,500 Biba-powered playgrounds worldwide, which you can locate using their app, but it’s possible to use the technology in any park with common equipment like ladders, slides, and swings.

Biba Venture’s apps are available on Google Play and in the iTunes store. Every game features colorful characters, including some recognizable friends from Teletubbies and Hotel Transylvania, with more branded games and experiences planned for the future.

More about Biba

How Biba’s Smart Playground Fun Works

If you’re having a hard time imagining kids running like mad and climbing on equipment while carrying your $600 iPhone, don’t worry, this is where the adults come in. Parents and caretakers are the ones guiding the Biba experience. Marketing representative Laura Murphy says that’s something caretakers appreciate.

“At the start of every game, the parent is prompted to keep ahold of the phone for the entirety of the play session while the child runs around the playground completing mini-games and tasks,” she explains.

If you’ve been to a local park recently, you may have noticed some parents sitting on benches or waiting in the cars with their faces glued to a screen. Don’t become one of them! If you’re going to use your device during a trip to the playground, use it to make the experience more fun for your kids.

“Parents and caregivers enjoy that it promotes quality playtime with their children,” Murphy says. “The games get them playing outdoors, alongside their children in an active way, an unconventional concept for most mobile apps.”

In a press release announcing a partnership with PlayPower Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial playground equipment, Biba CEO Matt Toner explained his company’s vision.

“Our mission is to transform the current playground landscape – to alter the screen-fixation that has taken over our youth in today’s digital age, and get them back outdoors and active. Our research has shown that kids in a Biba-powered playground will play longer, harder and much more often.”

That research, which was published in the Journal of Child Health Care, suggests children maintain an increased heart rate using Biba at the park due to moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). In fact, the study found the measure of MVPA was 42 percent higher than children who were not playing a Biba game on the playground. So, the games made them more active.

Parents can actually see this for themselves using Biba’s app, including an in-game activity tracker.

“All games come equipped with a built-in mini-activity tracker,” Murphy explains. “Accessed from the start screen, the tracker measures how close children are to reaching the daily fitness recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity per day.”

There’s also the parent-centric Play Tracker app from Biba, which helps you balance screen time with physical activity time.

“Play tracker give parents full access to their child’s in-game progress in every Biba game, lets them locate the nearest playground or park, and acts as a one-stop shop for all newly released Biba games,” Murphy says. “It uses easy-to-understand metrics that keep parents informed of their kids’ daily activity levels.”

Biba playground systems even collect data for parks departments and municipalities to better understand things such as how playgrounds are being utilized, peak times for visitors, and who is using the park. Yet, Biba makes user privacy a priority and is 100% COPPA compliant.

Another innovator in the smart playground space is KOMPAN. It combines themed play equipment, such as fairy tales and pirate ships, with physical challenges, storytelling, and educational digital content.

Using augmented reality, kids watch on a phone or tablet as characters come to life in the playground. KOMPAN apps are available for iOS in iTunes and for Android in the Google Play Store.

More About KOMPAN

Digitally connected features in parks are on the way for older kids, teens, and adults as well. The National Parks System is working on plans to introduce innovative ways to improve the experiences for visitors.

According to an article on the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) website, an in-depth report exploring smart park technology revealed opportunities to enhance parks for visitors by providing more information, convenience, and engagement through the use of digital devices. Furthermore, this technology can be used to support better park management, delivering data to park officials that relates to conservation, park activity, and visitor feedback.

Whether you’re climbing the monkey bars or the Rocky Mountains, the future of parks is looking smart!

How is Your Family Balancing Screen Time and Family Time?

At TechDen, we’re excited about the ways smart parks and playgrounds are creating opportunities for families to connect in a digitally-connected world. We believe mobile devices offer a lot of positive possibilities for parents and kids to explore. However, we also understand that creating balance is a challenge.

That’s why we developed the TechDen system. It combines a screen time management app with a charging and storage station we call The Den. Instead of imposing strict rules on screen time, TechDen’s method encourages the development of healthy digital habits, which kids take with them as they grow. Parents set limits, establish boundaries and reinforce the rules; and kids learn early on the importance of balance with technology. The Den takes an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to teach kids healthy habits around device use, promote a positive balance with technology and create more family time.

Find out more about how it works and order TechDen for your family to better habits to your home!