It was Christmas Eve and the house was smelling of mince pies, the log fire was sprinkled with frankincense and the grownups were busy with their last minute Christmas shopping.
Adding to the Christmas mood was a nicely wrapped pre-Christmas present sent to us by the lovely people at Play Shifu. (A Secret Santa of sorts).
Play Shifu is an augmented reality (AR) game for children between two and seven years old. Baby Ro is only 20 months old and my bigger kids are above nine years old now. Having said that, the safari park game kit sent to us attracted all three equally.
The Play Shifu safari park kit came in a box. The box contained 60 animal cards, a handy travel bag for the cards and a stand for your phone or tablet.
AR is really taking off at the moment, and to think that toddlers as young as two can now use this new technology to learn is mind-blowing for me.
So once you download the app on your phone and activate the game (with the code provided on the inside of the box), you are ready to rock and roll.
It is pretty simple and user friendly. You simply have to put the phone on the stand and place the animal card in front of the phone camera. As soon as the phone detects the card, you see a 3D animated version of the animal on your phone screen. You can see the animal in it’s own habitat, you can see what sound it makes and what it eats. You can always use your touch screen to get a 360 degree visual of the animal too.
We have been using this game for about three weeks now and it is still a popular one in the house. All three come running downstairs when I offer them to help little Ro’s play with it.
The two positives for me of the game are:
I like how it brings all my three children together and sit and do an activity together. You can hear them squeak, roar and giggle together and engage not only through technology but with each other.
It may seem silly but my older children were fascinated by some of the animals and to have found their habitat. Little Ro is learning names of different animals and birds and the sounds of the animals. That said, 60 cards can get a bit overwhelming, so the trick I reckon is to take out only a few cards at a time. This way the game will be less overwhelming and more interesting.
A few questions spring to mind though. Is it bringing us close to nature or towards technology?
I am a bit sceptical about screen times and over-exposure of young minds to too much technology. There’s a lot of research out there about the negative impact of too much time on smartphones as well
Augmented reality when applied well like Play Shifu has great potential for educational purposes. There are still many advancements to come I am sure, but even at it’s current stage it is a pretty nifty technology in hand.
My only worry or criticism is the captivating effect augmented reality brings. Having an animal-shaped toy or visiting an animal sanctuary or reading about various animals from books teach the kids exactly the same things that AR games do. But unlike AR games they do not make the child directly associate the animal with a phone or a tablet.
The first few days when I took the cards out for Ro Ro, just to play with or to use as memory cards/flashcards, he kept asking for the phone as if these animals make no sense without the app. This to me is a huge negative. Over time I have almost weaned him off this association. And now we travel with just the cards and talk to him about the animals. We have also limited his time on app to once a week. It is working but it took a while.
Technology is at our disposable. It has the power to backfire, but there is a lot of learning for us as a parent to do in terms of using it to our benefit. Technology in small doses, paired with a lot of old-fashioned activities like making dens and playing imaginary games, actual cards games, colouring, long walks in the woods, making sand castles, reading books etc. can be a huge resource towards educating the future generation.
Just make sure that you augment your augmented reality, with, well; reality!