In an effort to increase the engagement of their audience, traditional media outlets such as television and cinema are increasingly incorporating augmented reality in their offerings. The concept goes back to Star Trek, but it’s already becoming a staple of many kid’s games. Imagine being able to instantly display a scene from a particular game or movie within the scope of your own home. By linking together your iPhone or iPad to a video camera or a gaming system through your local cable or wireless provider, augmented reality is no longer just the stuff of science fiction.
But although video games and consoles are the obvious choice when discussing augmented reality for children, don’t forget about contact lenses and glasses. Kids also get an added thrill from being able to manipulate the real world around them with the use of specially designed items. While computer games will have us playing and moving our fingers on controllers endlessly, a hands-on approach to creating a virtual world with items found at your local grocery store, school, or library can help kids enjoy their experience and learn skills they’ll be able to take with them into the real world. Using everyday objects, like playing cards or popsicle sticks, they can learn math, art, music, physical therapy, and a host of other subjects that are related to everything from first grade classrooms to rocket science.
Augmented reality doesn’t mean fooling kids into thinking they’re actually inside a virtual world; it simply means making it possible for them to experience things in the context of their real world environment. It can be fun, engaging, and even educational at the same time. A great example is Virtual Learning Technologies’ Card Games: Core Suite that teaches kids the essential reading, writing, and arithmetic skills through a variety of popular card games.
When the game starts, kids are shown a simple card deck. Two types of cards are featured: normal cards and power cards. The trick is in locating the missing power card, which is hidden among the regular cards on the bottom of the deck. As the card’s location is revealed to the player, a grid on the screen gradually becomes filled with various squares, and the exact location of the missing card is also revealed. This allows kids to find the card by guessing where it is located, and the winning point is based on the exact location of the card.
Another popular augmented reality game for kids is Jobstown. This game involves building a simple brick wall in the real world to reach a certain number of bricks without falling. Kids must then use their saw and pry bars to cut their way to the brick wall. The tricky part of this game isn’t the actual cutting of the bricks – the tricky part is learning how to combine the right amount of sawing and prying to make the wall to reach the level of the actual brick.
A newer application developed specifically for young children is Leapfroid. This device is designed to help kids master activities found in the virtual world by responding to specific movements or sounds made by the child. For example, if a child rubs his hands along a virtual mouse pad, the device will react to that motion, which means that the kid can build up his virtual arm by putting his hands on the right trigger and pulling the trigger all the way to the base of the pad.
However, augmented reality doesn’t always involve playing games on a computer or mobile device. One exciting example of augmented reality is Google’s effort with Android, which lets users see their own phone screen projected on their glasses. This way, the user can see all of the incoming calls, take a look at their email, even browse the web by looking at the screen of their phone. With more augmented reality devices like this coming out, the ability to use your real-world environment to accomplish things is only getting easier and more advanced.
Of course, there is still lots of work to be done before augmented reality becomes a common thing in kids’ lives. Manufacturers are making great strides in developing new augmented reality applications for phones and mobile devices. Kids can certainly get a lot out of these devices, but they also need to be taught why and how they are using them. By the time they are five years old, they should already be curious about the technology behind these new items. After that, however, they should already be ready to accept augmented reality as a way of life. Only then will phones and mobile devices be truly useful tools for kids to utilize.