Brain Break is a Firefox browser plugin and mobile app designed to teach children healthy digital habits. It was developed at the 2020 T9Hacks Hackathon and won Best Project in Early Childhood Education. You can see the full hackathon submission here.
It is almost impossible to avoid technology in this day and age. Personal computers and smart phones have become accessible to almost every rung of the socio-economic ladder. While there are a number of positives that stem from technology being integrated into our society and culture, it is important that we do not overlook the impact technology can have on users' mental and physical health. It has been found that the overuse of technology can lead to psychological issues such as distraction, narcissism, expectation of instant gratification, and even depression. While these issues can effect everyone, a particularly vulnerable demographic is children.
According to Google's Digital Wellbeing site for families, healthy digital habits include discussing technology as a family, setting screen time limits, discovering and curating 'good' content, and spending time together without technology. Based on these healthy habits, BrainBreak decided to target screen time limits given the ease of implementation and positive effects of taking mental breaks.
It is imperative to learn healthy habits at a young age. In fact, a study from Brown University recently concluded that routines and habits like household chores and responsibilities, are unlikely to change after the age of 9. Assuming this study applies to digital habits, teaching children from a young age healthy digital habits like taking mental breaks to move their bodies or be creative, can make lifelong impact on their mental and physical health. To help form these healthy digital habits, BrainBreak, provides a fun and creative way to take breaks and limit screen time.
BrainBreak is a web plug-in and mobile application that encourages healthy digital habits by interspersing content consumption with fun, creative, and educational activities. BrainBreak offers five mini-activities including: Yogi You, Breathing Buddy, Word Wizard, Painting Pal, and Memory Master. While these activities are targeted towards 6-8 year olds, future iterations of BrainBreak can scale the difficulty of mini activities to fit any age group. In addition to the plug-in and mobile application, BrainBreak includes a corresponding online portal that guardians (parents, teachers, etc.) can access to set break time limit, targeted age range and track usage statistics.
When the BrainBreak plug-in is installed, a small banner is shown on the top of the webpage that has a timer (the time limit of which is set by parental controls). When the timer runs out, a pop-up comes up, blurring out the content currently being viewed. Set to stay open for a set amount of time (also determined by parental controls), the pop-up has 6 different activity options that the user can choose from. The pop-up will not go away until its time has run out.
The web portal is the corresponding online site for the plug-in. It allows parents, guardians, teachers, and children to access their usage statistics, including hours of content consumed daily and weekly, and how frequently each activity is chosen. The portal also has a separate parent login to set the targeted age group, content time limit, and break time duration.
The BrainBreak mobile application acts very similarly to the web plug-in. Once downloaded and opened, the app tells the user how much time they have to consume content (watch videos, use social media, play games, etc.) before they need to take a break. At this point the app can be exited, but left running, while other apps are used. When time runs out, the app notifies the user with a pop-up that blocks content until the set break time has run out. On top of the mini-activities, the app includes usage statistics and a parent portal to select age group, content time limit, and break time duration.