My 5-year-old, Decker, is very active. This makes me very happy. He gets a good amount of time outdoors both at school and in the afternoon after I pick him up. He loves riding his bike and he scored five points during the final soccer game of the season this last weekend. While he loves the iPad, he’s not one to sit around for hours on end playing games (although this is likely to change) and I’m doing my best to show him by example how important it is to exercise.
He’s quite fascinated with my BodyMedia device, and I’ve shown him how I sync it with my computer. I’ve explained to him some of the values on the screen such as the calories burned and the MET score using language he could understand. I knew what was coming next, and sure enough… he asked if he could wear the device for a while. The armband simply doesn’t tighten down enough to stay on his arm and it won’t work without two points of contact on your body so wearing it around his neck or clipping it to his pants simply won’t work. He was disappointed. But not for long…
The folks over at GeoPalz kindly provided me with a new and improved test unit for the GeoPalz.com online service. This service has been previously reviewed on GeekDad, but they’ve made some improvements and added new features to both the device and the online tools since then. Decker was provided with the soccer ball GeoPalz device, but there are over 25 different themes that include Cutesy, Edgy, Earthy, Peace, Rock Star, Animals, and Sports. The device can be clipped to a shoe, worn on the hip, or around the wrist — you’ll configure the device based on where your child wears it.
The GeoPalz device is a three-axis accelerometer — this is a major improvement over the previous version which was simply a pedometer. This new device is fully capable of recording all movement by your child — running, walking, skipping, biking, jumping, and more. It records these movements and displays the number on the small LCD screen that is protected by a flip-top lid that stays in place when pressed down. The math is easy to do — 2,500 steps = one mile. Decker now frequently comes home from school with 7,500 to 10,000 steps recorded, meaning he’s getting around four miles worth of walking during his day. By the end of the day, he’s been averaging between 10,000 and 13,000 steps… and I’m quite happy with that! He wants to run everywhere now, too! He’s figured out that he gets slightly more points when he runs versus walks.
But what’s the incentive for earning more steps? Why does Decker want to rake in the steps as much as possible during his day? That’s easy — it’s all about the rewards.
At the most basic level are the GeoPalz awards. Every mile recorded earns a child one point. Walk 20 miles, get 20 points. Easy enough. And the website offers a variety of free prizes that can be won by cashing in your points. Items include frisbees, sports water bottles, bike plates, jump ropes, seeds to plant, and much more. There’s also a very interesting Media Coupon that parents can choose to use — it requires 10,000 steps each day in order to obtain the coupon. For parents wanting to limit usage of video game, iPad, mobile phone, and other electronics, this is a great way to have a child earn that privilege by getting some exercise. Decker almost always hits 10,000 steps before he comes home from school, so this incentive doesn’t really work for me (yet), but it’s there for you to use if you need it. But this media coupon and the free prizes aren’t the only thing that kids can try to earn.
Amazon.com prize selections
One of the newest features that GeoPalz offers is the ability for a child to select their own prizes from the Amazon.com website. Parents assign the number of points they wish to these items, and kids can then start banking their points as they exercise towards their goals. Decker has selected a small train from the Thomas the Train collection. I’m still trying to figure out the best point/price ratio, but it’s currently set at 100 points meaning he’ll need to walk or run the equivalent of 100 miles to earn this $12.00 toy. I’m not sure if this point level is too hard or too easy, but he’s earning about 4 points per day so this will take almost a month for him to reach. So I’m now asking myself — Is my son getting 4 miles of walking and running a day for a month worth a $12 toy? He’s actually been asking to go outside and ride his bike and run around just so he can watch the number of steps on his GeoPalz device go up and up… so I’m thinking the answer is a solid Yes. Pretty much anything you can search for and find on Amazon.com can be added to the Prize shelf — and you can click on a custom prize at any time to adjust the points required or to remove it completely from the shelf.
Achievements and GeoTags
In addition to the free awards and the Amazon.com selections, GeoPalz also offers up achievements that appear on your child’s custom page when your child meets certain milestones (25,000 steps, for example). Decker does like the little ribbons that keep appearing as he meets goals, so these are a great way to keep him motivated and show him that his parents are watching and very proud of him. In addition to the achievements, there are also some really nice little GeoTags (you pay a small fee for shipping) that can be attached to backpacks or bike handlebars that let everyone know your child has walked 250,000 steps, for example. (There are also tags for 500,000 steps and 1 million steps!)
Digital Map showing progress
This is a fun little extra on the site — there’s a small map that appears with different values of total steps taken. As your child enters in his daily steps, small footprints appear showing how far you’ve walked. Walk far enough, and you’ll start seeing goals (such as 100,000 steps) and special Amazon.com awards that you’ve selected appear in the distance on the map. Decker was so close to the 50,000 step mark that he wanted to go outside for 20 minutes and walk and run around so he could get those few steps needed to hit the goal. I was more than happy to go outside with him to help him make that goal.
Weekly Email Summary for Parents
Every Monday an email is sent out to parents that contains a nice summary of your child’s progress for the previous week. I love this. As Decker continues to use the device, this is a nice little motivational document that we can print out and keep that will show his progress over time. You can also click the Family button on the child’s homepage to view stats for both child and other family members who might be competing.
Speaking of family members competing, the GeoPalz service also allows users of FitBit, Nike+, and other health monitors to add their steps. Add a new family member (such as another child using a second GeoPalz) and let the friendly family competition begin. (Note: I’ll be reviewing the FitBit Ultra later this week.)
Steps versus Code Entry
The GeoPalz resets to zero at midnight each night (you’ll set the date and time using the simple controls on the GeoPalz device as well as whether it’s worn on the hip, shoe, or hand) so if you forget to enter the number the night before you may have to ask your child if they happened to check for you. If you’ve got a creative child… or a downright devious child (I won’t say dishonest)… there could be some point inflation if you know what I mean. If you’re seriously concerned about this, there’s a setting that uses a code instead of a number value that must be entered by the parent — this means the code must be shown to you instead of having your child simply say I got 12,543 steps today. This is a one-way change that you make — to undo it, you must contact GeoPalz to have them reset it back to allow you to enter step values instead of a code.
Donation — Group/Charity Competition
This is a nice feature that GeoPalz has added. There’s a page where schools or non-profits can sign up to receive GeoPalz that will be provided to participants as they attempt to raise funds for their school or charity. At the end of the event the GeoPalz stay with the kids and the cost of the units is deducted from the total money raised. You can read more about this feature by clicking the Fundraiser link on a child’s homepage or click this link to take you directly there.
Decker goes back and forth between wearing it on his shoe or his hip, but he never lets me forget to attach it. He enjoys putting steps on the device, and I can tell by the smile on his face each night after we enter his steps for the day that he’s quite proud of his activity for the day. It’s my hope that as he grows older he’ll continue to want to exercise and maybe even track it like his daddy does. I just heard on the news tonight that by the year 2030 that 40% of the USA will be considered obese. That’s a frightening statistic, especially given that my son will be 23 years old and out of the house (hopefully) and on his own. If I can get him interested in exercise and staying active at a young age, maybe… hopefully… it’ll carry over into his adult years.
The GeoPalz device is $25.00 (US) and you can view all the various designs on the GeoPalz Store webpage.