19 November 2019 • Arie Verhoef
The exercise floor: a great step towards making toddlers more active throughout the day
Many children don’t exercise as much as they should for their health. To find a solution to this problem, the company Springlab developed an interactive exercise floor with a series of games for toddlers. When the company wanted a scientific foundation for their product, they contacted the Healthy Lifestyle in a Supporting Environment research group. The research group decided to set up a research project. The first results have just been announced.
Playing, discovering, social interaction and learning. All of these come together in this technological innovation: the exercise floor. The Springlab company promotes the exercise floor as a fun solution to encourage children to exercise more. The first research results have just been published and we are talking to professor Sanne de Vries and team member Manon Kessels.
A change in lifestyle
As professor of Healthy Lifestyle in a Supporting Environment, Dr. Sanne de Vries has been the head of a multidisciplinary research group since 2013. The research group is composed of around 15 lecturer-researchers and doctoral candidates of The Hague University of Applied Sciences. Her research group transforms knowledge of exercise and nutrition, behavioural change, interaction, technology, education and healthcare into innovative products, programmes or services that could change the lifestyle of children and youth completely.
Manon is part of her research group. She is also a lecturer in the Human Kinetic Technology degree programme. The researchers feel that the interactive exercise floor fits seamlessly into the research agenda of the research group.
Sanne: “Our research group is looking for ways to teach children and youth how to properly exercise. And to help them make healthy food choices. What are some of the great technological solutions that can contribute to this? We were very curious about the impact of the exercise floor on the daily habits of toddlers. Will this exercise floor really make them more active?”
To answer this question, we set up several sub-projects with our students. We conducted research in four crèches using motion sensors. The students were able to observe and monitor the toddlers all day. It became clear that children don’t exercise enough, even when they play outside twice a day.
Compared to dancing, crafts and playing outside, the exercise floor is ranked as the most intense activity of the toddlers. Manon: “We researched this with toddlers. The next step is to conduct a similar study with children of kindergarten age.”
If it were up to the students, the research will continue. Manon coordinated several sub-projects last year. “I was looking for students who were interested in an internship at Springlab. The internship position was easily filled. Last year, students from the degree programmes of Human Kinetic Technology, HALO and Communication & Multimedia Design assisted with this project.”
Both Sanne and Manon greatly value the multidisciplinary nature of the research. Manon: “I hope that the students will learn a lot from each other. They don’t only come from various degree programmes, but also from different study years. Sometimes they work as a small group on an assignment and other times students work on a graduation project.”
“We also see that Springlab already learned a lot from the students during the research. The project is also a positive experience for the educational staff at the crèches. They often are a bit afraid of technology. Our students can help them overcome this.”
The perfect solution?
Sanne: “Technology should provide children with more than just entertainment. Technological solutions have to be functional, provide a long-term interest and offer added value to the daily routine. We are curious to see which working principles, designers, technicians and content designers will include in future innovations that promote health. That is something that various projects within the research group are researching right now.
The research on the interactive exercise floor has provided us with a better understanding of the intensity of exercise games. But the floor is still not the perfect solution. Manon: “The Health Council guidelines indicate that toddlers require at least an hour of intensive exercise a day. We see that the exercise floor does meet the intensity requirement of the guideline, but the floor is also quite challenging for toddlers.”
Quality of exercise
“Playing outside for half an hour is less exercise than half an hour on the exercise floor. But when the weather is nice, children play outside for more than half an hour. We have now studied the intensity level of exercise. But it’s also important to look at the quality of exercise and other developmental areas, such as children’s social-emotional development. A variety in exercise remains very important.”
This research indicates that toddlers don’t exercise enough. And technological solutions have the potential to encourage children to exercise and keep them active. Springlab’s exercise floor is just one example of this. A great step to encourage more daily activity for toddlers, but it’s still not enough. Educational staff in crèches have to be creative to find ways to keep toddlers active with additional activities.