Salma Jawhar had got tired of all the shouting. Every time she tried to get her two little boys Noah (4) and Sam (2) to switch off their games it was the same old struggle, which she was already painfully familiar with from having two teenage sisters aged 11 and 13. Getting them to put down their phones and tablets was just a losing battle.
Being a stubborn woman and an entrepreneur to boot, however, Salma started thinking there must be some way to turn this addictive power the electronic devices had over the kids towards something more productive than just playing videogames or chatting to their friends. She went on to develop Play My Way together with her Co-founder Dr Ahmad Hammoud (who immediately “got” the idea as he has five children of his own).
The app is brilliantly simple, and works on the “if you can’t beat them, join them” principle. Once installed – It’s free, and works on Android and iOS – it doesn’t ask your kids to stop using the devices at all. Instead, it periodically interrupts whatever they’re doing and asks them some educational questions.
If they want to get back to their gaming, Facebook or whatever else they’re engrossed in, they need to first answer the quiz correctly. Parents can adjust the difficulty (there are over 25,000 questions separated by grade level) and frequency of the interruption, and also get sent reports on how their children are progressing.
It’s surprisingly effective. Kids don’t often try to cheat – as that just causes the app to keep popping up and making annoying noises that alert the parents to their skiving. It’s just easier to get through the quiz so they can get on with Minecraft in peace.
“The design works really well, because all these games and activities are already designed to be paused and go to the background when other applications like an incoming call, for example, intrude themselves. So they can just pick up where they left off when they finish the quiz.”
But now Salma is missing her own children; They’re staying with her husband in Beirut while she’s embarked on a 3-month accelerator to launch her start-up in London as part of the UK Lebanon Tech Hub. Things are going well so far though, as Play.My.Way is currently ranked number 2 in the UK app store for education, has over 50,000 registered users, and won a Best Mobile App for children award, not to mention attracting US$1M investment.
And for any parents worried about the children getting a rough deal here, Salma reassures them that it’s actually a rather healthy compromise for them too:
“We conducted an experiment with 40 kids, where three doctors monitored the anxiety levels of children as they played their favourite games with and without the app interrupting. We found out that kids that were interrupted by Play.My.Way had a significantly minimized effect on their anxiety levels,” she says.
One of those users, Muna Sultan, says that she used to have to limit her 3 boys’ videogame playing to weekends only, as she couldn’t get them to stick to agreed time limits during the week, and their studies were suffering.
“But now they can play through the whole week, even during study time as they go over the questions and review so that they have the feeling that they are enjoying their videogames and I’m satisfied because I know they’re reviewing and going over their studies.”
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.
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