Life can get pretty crazy around here. Typical weekdays start at about six with me rolling out of bed and giving my 12-year old daughter a gentle wakeup nudge. I take the dog for a walk, and 20 minutes later, it’s time for a second nudge—this one somewhat less gentle. Then it’s down to the kitchen where I make breakfast and lunch. At this point, my daughter swoops in, wolfs down a waffle or some eggs, mutters an unintelligible complaint about the lunch menu, and spends a few minutes scrambling around trying to find her shoes and homework, and brush her teeth. Then we slip into the car and it’s off to school. During the ride she’s either frantically trying to finish an assignment that’s due in an hour or snoozing. By the time I drop her off, we’ve probably exchanged 15 words.
Afternoons aren’t much chattier, between picking her up, schlepping her to the extracurricular du jour, driving home (although at least 10 minutes of dad-daughter conversation is mandatory during these after-school rides), and trying to pull something together for dinner while she goes to her room to do her homework. Next thing I know, it’s off to bed.
I know that what I’m describing is pretty typical for today’s busy families—especially the part about the challenge of finding quality (let along quantity) family time. And if it’s this hard to stay connected to kids you see every day, imagine how hard it is to stay connected to children when you’re a parent on a business trip, a military servicemember on deployment, or a grandparent who lives hundreds of miles away.
Having done a lot of work with military families and hearing firsthand how painful it is to be separated from the folks back home for months at a time, I was thrilled when the folks at Panasonic asked me to explore their new HomeTeam app, which is designed to keep families connected across time and distance. In a word, it’s wonderful.
HomeTeam, which was developed by Panasonic Health & Wellness Solutions, gives families three ways to connect, the most obvious being video chat. But anyone who’s ever tried to have an actual conversation with a young child on Skype or some other platform will tell you that the phrase “awkward silence” is more appropriate than “chat.” That’s where HomeTeam’s other features really shine.
With HomeTeam, the kids and mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, or anyone else can read stories or play games together—and by together I actually mean together. (It’s possible for people in up to five locations to be online at the same time.) The HomeTeam app includes nearly 2,000 classic and new digital books, including a number of recently added ones from Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, and Marvel. Books are sorted by age group or category (adventure, animals, biography, fiction, non-fiction, folk tales, sports, and more). Pick a story, figure out who’s doing the reading, and you’re off.
There are also more than a dozen interactive games, again, sorted by age or category. These include matching games, puzzles, classics like Go Fish and chess, and even educational selections that focus on word play, math, and science.
Whether reading a story or playing a game, kids and adults are doing it together, with the game or book on part of the screen, and the smiling faces on another part. Of course, there’s nothing like snuggling up on the couch together and reading or playing a game while sitting at the same table. But when that’s not possible, HomeTeam gets you about as close as possible.
The service is aimed at kids 3-12, and the interface is sleek, attractive, and extremely easy to use. You can download HomeTeam in the App Store, Google Play, or at MyHomeTeam.com. Give it a whirl for 30 days for free (you don’t even need a credit card to get started). After that, HomeTeam costs $8.99 per month and can be shared with up to five family members.
Disclosure: I received an extended trial and some compensation to facilitate this review. However, it would take a lot more that that to make me give something a thumbs up that I don’t honestly believe it deserves.