Ready, set, go: Fitness trackers motivate kids to get moving
Photo courtesy of Sqord
Ready… steady… go! And go. That’s the goal of the Booster, a wearable fitness technology for kids made by Sqord.
Booster is among a handful of wearable fitness trackers targeted to kids. Kids approach exercise differently than adults. They move in bursts, peppered through their day. They like fun and a bit of competition. And they love rewards. Sqord encourages all of this with an added twist: It combines exercise with a little online socializing and friendly competition. Typically worn as a wristband, the device can also be strapped around an ankle or carried in a pocket.
Sqord is promoting its product with partnerships, including Snohomish County’s Gear Up & Go! program that encourages healthy habits in kids. With financial support from local businesses and nonprofits, select county schools are giving every 5th grader one of the $35 Boosters at the beginning of the school year.
From there, it’s just go, go, go, says Pamela Thain, a physical education teacher at Edmonds’ Sherwood Elementary School. Since the program started three years ago, Thain has watched students explode with activity. She sets weekly competitions based on Booster data: class vs. class, boys vs. girls, or matchups involving other schools.
“The kids have fun figuring out how they can move more,” says Thain. In fact, she says, the first few days can be rough on classroom teachers. “The kids just want to shake their hands and feet to get more points. But they get over that pretty quickly.”
Using the same type of three-way motion tracking technology as the popular Fitbit device, Booster captures the intensity and duration of a wearer’s activity. Running, swimming, biking, raking leaves, making the bed — it all counts.
Photo courtesy of Sqord
Kids get virtual rewards through “activity points.” They score about 3.5 points per step, or 40,000 points in a typical day, and the points are downloaded wirelessly from the wristband into a parent-created account accessible from a computer or smartphone.
Along with tracking their action online, kids create an avatar. They can trade in activity points to personalize their character with sunglasses, funny hair or cool outfits. Nothing like green hair to make exercise fun.
Besides virtual rewards and goal-setting, Sqord also links kids in a mini social network. Sqord users can send each other cheery pre-set messages, post milestones, give virtual high fives and compete. “Kids love the social aspect of being able to compare points and progress, as well as the friendly competitions,” says Sqord CEO Coleman Greene.
Sqord, founded in Durham, North Carolina, in 2011, is moving to Seattle this spring. The move was motivated by the partnerships with local businesses and school districts, and the region’s pro-fitness atmosphere. “Seattle is a great area,” Greene says. “It’s an active community with a health-oriented family base.”
Do fitness trackers like the Booster really motivate kids? Absolutely, proponents say. Entire families will buy them, Greene says, inspiring them to walk to school instead of drive. Thain tells the story of one girl who was always tardy and disinterested in school. When she began wearing her wristband, her attitude changed and so did her level of activity. “It gave her motivation,” says Thain. “She started getting ‘most improved’ [in the Sqord tracking system] and then she started being on the board for getting so many points. Her grades went up, too.”
Read more articles on kids' health from the May 2015 print edition of Seattle's Child.