One of the hardest aspects of a deployment is maintaining those all-important lines of communication with your absent soldier. Military families rely on Skype, Facebook, care packages, and phone calls to help stay connected across continents and oceans. Rising in popularity are family friendly apps that provide fun and innovative ways to engage with family members who are scattered across time zones. Family apps such as Keepy, Storytime by Kindoma, and WhatsApp have a specific focus that allows you to draw, read or chat with your geographically dispersed family members. But if you’re looking for an app that does it all, The Family Room might be for you.
The Family Room is an app that allows you to have real time interaction on your favorite device, whereever you are. As explained by co-founder Eliza Leighton, The Family Room allows families to maintain more meaningful connections when deployments, training missions or moves cause periods of separations. “We know the research shows that a strong adult presence is critically important to a child’s development,” said Leighton, a life-long K-12 education specialist. Whether a parent or grandparent, a key adult figure is important to a child’s emotional well-being and their success in school and social settings, she explained. “Separations are difficult for the whole family – spouse or child – and especially for the person who has to leave. You wonder how to stay connected and have real conversations,” said Leighton. Adding, “We’ve developed The Family Room app to allow children and their parents or adult family members to maintain those connections in a way that mimics real-life interactions.” Unlike Skype, Facetime or social networking that offer just one-way sharing, The Family Room is a network space that offers real-time connection. Imagine your child reading a book with their deployed parent, not only being able to see the same page but also to see and hear a loving smile and voice on the simultaneous video stream.
A child can watch the downloaded video championship soccer match or school play together with grandma and grandpa, even pausing the video to talk about how the winning goal was scored. The deployed parent can draw pictures and play games with a child on the site or help with homework assignments that have been scanned and downloaded to The Family Room. “Children like to spend time with the adults in their lives doing things,” noted Leighton. Adding, “The Family Room offers many different activities that parents and children can do together.
We have brought in the types of things children and adults do in physical space – books, games, drawing – and they can move through different activities seamlessly. “You write or draw on the same page, pages of books turn at the same time and the video box is open so you can see each other’s faces, hear reactions, replicating as much as possible what it would be like to be together in real life.” Families create their own “room” on the app, adding in family members who’ll have access. Site managers stock age appropriate videos, books, activities and games that you can choose to add to your profile. Families can also download their own videos, pictures, or school work. Parents always have control over what is added or deleted from their account. The Family Room is currently geared to children ages three to 11. The app is free to download now on Android devices but offers limited features. An IOS version will be available in June. Thanks to the people at The Family Room for creating such a military-friendly program. But as Leighton told me: “A big driver for starting The Family Room was an appreciation for those individuals who are separated from their families, most often in service to our nation. “We are excited to develop a tool that can help these people bridge distances with their families, for the benefit of children and the adults who love them.”
AUSA Spouse Advisory Group