Family Health Goes Mobile

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Credit: WGBH 2014
Credit: WGBH 2014

So I’m a geek dad with two great daughters and an adequate dog. And I make games and digital gizmos for kids at WGBH in Boston. You might have seen our Curious George and Arthur web sites at PBS Kids, or the dozen apps we’ve made for Peep and the Big Wide World. It’s unlikely, but you might have stumbled on the Fin, Fur and Feather Bureau of Investigation at FFFBI.com or an enviro-animation series I produced called The Greens. So with twenty years under my belt of doing this kind of thing, I’m jumping into GeekDad.com with occasional updates from the digital kitchen where we’re always cooking up something new for your kids. Sometimes it’s ok to see how the sausage is made. Sometimes.

Although most of what we do is on the lighter side, I’d like to share a new digital project around health that we just launched at pbskids.org/arthur/health. It features a major piece called “Resilience” which helps families cope with crisis. As the anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings is fast approaching we’re hoping this site will be a resource for parents or teachers who want to talk about the images and issues which will soon be flooding our media again. Arthur‘s April 9th episode is the cornerstone of the resilience feature. An analogy for the events of September 11, 2001, this episode shows the impact of a fire at Arthur’s school. The resilience feature includes a read-aloud story, with conversation-starter questions for adults to discuss with children, and an interview with the programs’ adviser on this difficult topic, Dr. Paula Rauch, the director of PACT, Parenting at a Challenging Time, at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital.

There’s been much talk of resilience lately, with words like grit, moxy and zest appearing as something of a rebranding of skills described in the Little Engine That Could in 1930, but now front and center in books like How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough. Resilience is finding its way into definitions of so-called 21st-century skills that include media literacy, another interest of mine.

For us, having been making Arthur for eighteen years, and having tackled issues from cancer to head lice to bullying, a new curation and reimagining of our extensive public health resources seemed to be a priority, and with foundation funding we were able to start this health hub with five spokes. Each spoke features videos, stories, interactive features, games and quizzes. For our asthma spoke we have built an arcade game, Lung Defender, that puts the player inside the lungs to zap asthma triggers. For our fitness and nutrition spokes we have games to get kids up and moving and learning about different foods.

For our spoke on peanut allergies I drew on my own experience of traveling with a daughter with a life-threatening condition, one that makes eating where we don’t speak English a real challenge: so the site includes a digital translator for “I have a peanut allergy” in 14 languages.

Our increasing push to mobile has guided us to making this a responsively-design site with a new HTML5 video player and a number of mobile-friendly interactives. The explosion of mobile has made my work both more challenging and more rewarding in the past year than in any of my previous years.

And as I look at the horizon I see the so-called “Internet of Things” taking kids gaming into every device. Maybe I should be pitching Google some games for their newly-acquired Nest thermostats. Meanwhile, we’re focusing on desktop, apps, mobile and interactive whiteboards to deliver meaningful content to kids and their families. If you made it all the way down here, thanks for letting me jump into GeekDad. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

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