Best way to track five kids.
July 21, 2009 4:29 AM   Subscribe

One large family get-together, two three-story houses, two swimming pools, and five babies between the ages of one and three. What technical solutions would help us track all the kids...?

Summer vacation at the beach for one week. One LARGE family get-together, two three-story houses, two swimming pools, and seven kids (five between the ages of one and three). All ambulatory. Of course we will have plenty of observant parents, baby gates, pool gates, and other safeguards. But still, I wonder if there is some additional solution that would help us guard against any panics involving missing kids.

As an aunt of one of them, I think of walkie talkies, geotagging, and the Brickhouse Child locator I've seen advertised on TV. I don't know which solutions would work with multiple kids, that are also reasonably priced (since this is only needed for the week). We will have a pretty strong wireless connection, an AT&T signal, lots of iPhones, and laptops.

Because the kids don't have well-developed verbal skills at this point, they are too young to protest any indignity we foist on them. The techie side of me thinks it would be fun to be able to outfit them with wristbands and see their locations in real-time...

Suggestions welcome.
posted by bchaplin to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Not a tech solution, but as a parent of three, I put myself in your situation and one must-do immediately emerged: Limit the kids' play space to one of the houses/pools. Unclear on the actual size of your family, but I'd work to get all of the parents/kids staying in one house, all of the childless people in the other.

Swimming pools are magnets for little kids, and you really don't want your attention divided, IMO.

At any rate, have a great time! Sounds like fun.
posted by jbickers at 4:33 AM on July 21, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks! I don't want to make us sound too naive -- we've had a few young kids on these vacations in previous years, and they are segregated into one living room by baby gates, with each kid monitored by their parents at all times. And there is no scarcity of adults to watch over them. We have never had five little ones at once though!
posted by bchaplin at 4:43 AM on July 21, 2009

The techie side of me thinks it would be fun to be able to outfit them with wristbands and see their locations in real-time...

That sounds fun, but it's probably a bad idea because people will then start to rely on the technology in lieu of simple common sense, and your net result will be decreased vigilance.

Even if you're glued to a computer screen 24/7, when you see a blinking red light waddling toward the open pool, do you really think you'll have time to get there?

Five kids is not very many: day cares manage this every day. I recommend a low-tech solution: laminate a photo of each child and hand it off to a monitor person who should be watching them full-time at that moment. When that monitor need a break, or a bathroom trip, or a nap... they hand the token off to someone else. That way there is always one person completely watching each child. If three of the kids are playing together, bonus: three monitor people can visit and be friendly.

You can not have 3 year olds running around swimming pools without eyes on them at all times. No, no, no.
posted by rokusan at 4:54 AM on July 21, 2009 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Give 'em each a number, and teach 'em all to "count off" on command. "One," "two!" "three" etc. is a fast way to inventory kids in a group, once they "get" it, and it's even fun teaching them to do it. You can even write their number on their backs and chests each day in marker, like a jersey.

If tracking each kid in a radius of up to 450' would be sufficient, and worth $50 per kid, you could use long range RFID tags to attach to their clothing. You'd also need at least 2 tag readers and software to triangulate locations, which would bring the total cost up a bit, but it is technically possible, depending on your definition of "affordable."
posted by paulsc at 5:06 AM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

My primary goal would be to reduce the number of access points between the kids and danger (e.g. pool, outdoors, out of a fenced yard) such that you can be sure that the "escape routes" will always be within an adult's range of sight. With a bunch of kids moving around (or even one fast-moving one), you won't see the kids every second but you can make it so they have to get past you in order to get where they shouldn't go.
posted by winston at 5:16 AM on July 21, 2009

Also, in uncontrolled situations (e.g. poolside, or open field with nearby dangers), each kid should have an adult specifically dedicated to constantly keeping an eye on them (no reading a book, no making eye contact with your conversation partners), no more than two kids per adult and you're in charge of that kid until you explicitly pass it on to someone else (like passing a relay baton or tag-you're-it).
posted by winston at 5:29 AM on July 21, 2009

A tech solution would still require you to monitor the monitors which sounds pretty bizarre. "Oh look at Johnny's blip, isn't it cute!" I think the best solution would be to assign an adult at each "danger" location the responsibility to look after the kids. Then they get the added fun of interacting with the kids instead of a computer or Iphone.
posted by JJ86 at 5:44 AM on July 21, 2009

Best answer: We will have a pretty strong wireless connection, an AT&T signal, lots of iPhones, and laptops.

You already know that all this technology can be a distraction, and that technology is not a substitute for watching the kids, so I won't tell you that.

However, if you're worried about the pools in particular, you might want to look into something like a pool alarm (I don't know anything about this particular one; it was the top hit on Google; do your research) where the child wears a bracelet and a very loud alarm sounds if the bracelet is submerged. A little more about the types of pool alarms.
posted by anastasiav at 6:02 AM on July 21, 2009

I would consider getting an inflatable shallow kiddie pool for the babies, too. Put it under a shade umbrella with a bunch of bath toys in it. Even if the older kids can swim, it might be fun for the little ones, and also help corral them. My sister-in-law brought one to the beach one year, and it helped to focus the little ones on a smaller amount of water they could play in, with an adult parked nearby, of course.
posted by coevals at 6:02 AM on July 21, 2009

"As an aunt of one of them..."

I mean no offense and am entirely serious when I say that this is the kind of thing that an aunt and not a parent, would come up with. It solves none of a parent's problems and introduces several. Realtime high resolution location data isn't how you manage children's safety and well-being. As a parent of a baby, I don't really care exactly where the baby is on a second-by-second basis so much as that there are sufficient eyes on her to keep her from harm. You're giving me the wrong data at the wrong time.

If you're really married to technical assistance for "where's Baby Adeline?!" panics, offer to be the primary contact at House A throughout the event. Find out who will primarily be hanging around House B. Let the parents of the babies and toddlers (a three, by the way, isn't considered a baby by any stretch of the imagination; you seemed to lump the three year old in with the babies) know that if they are near House A, you will help them with child-finding and coordinate with the designated child-finder at House B.
posted by majick at 6:49 AM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

Here is a low tech solution that I found worked well with my 2 year old on a recent camping trip. I bought a child chest harness and a retractable dog leash. When we were all sitting around the campsite, I put the harness on him with the leash hooked to the back. The I secured the plastic handle of the leash to my chair. That gave him 15 feet of roaming around without me having to jump up and retrieve him every 2 minutes. And the retractable leash kept him from getting tangled up. He had a little freedom and I had a way to keep him close without running ragged. I never used it unless I was out there with him and I agree 1000% with the opinions above that technology is no substitute for human eyes on a child at all times. Absolutely all times.
posted by pearlybob at 7:03 AM on July 21, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks again for the many good suggestions, including the token idea. Neat concept.
I don't know what to say to those who keep insisting that technology is no replacement for due vigilance. I hope I made it pretty clear in my opening explanation that that is a given.
posted by bchaplin at 7:08 AM on July 21, 2009

Pool alarm. Commitment from every adult to keep an eye on the pool. Each parent is responsible for clearly identifying the person who is responsible for their child at every moment. Each adult is responsible for taking care of the kids when they have agreed to do so. The parents will know this stuff. Be a fun auntie; bring pool toys, games and sparklers.
posted by theora55 at 7:08 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

The riskiest situation for little kids is one where there are a lot of adults but no one is specifically responsible. I'm just jumping in to second making sure that some adult is specifically responsible for each kid at all times, and that there's some system for passing on the responsibility as needed. If there's a lot of chaos and back-and-forth, the laminated photos seem like a cool token for that.
posted by not that girl at 7:28 AM on July 21, 2009

there is no scarcity of adults to watch over them

It's been implied in several answers so far, but I wanted to add that this is a danger in itself -- everyone thinking someone has Baby Kaylie, but that person thinks she's handed her off to Auntie bchaplin. rokusan's solution is great for this.

I had typed up a friend's story of her 4-year-old's near-drowning a couple of months ago, but I decided it's too scary in advance of your trip and better I should just tell you the things that I took from it: (1) no distractions -- if a child gets a minor injury, get the others out of the pool and safely away before you go to treat it; (2) someone should know CPR (her husband's Eagle Scout training saved her boy's life); (3) even if a small child has had swim lessons and can traverse some distance in the water, they can still get disoriented underwater and need to be watched.
posted by palliser at 7:40 AM on July 21, 2009

In case it's not getting through, here's the Coach version:

A zone defense will not work. The kids are too fast and too small, they'll pick it apart by halftime. You need to play a tight man-to-man, never forget your assignments, and stay focused.
posted by rokusan at 7:49 AM on July 21, 2009 [10 favorites]

rokusan and palliser are right on- more adults means more opportunity for decreased vigilance, and kids find a way to wreck the best laid plans/assumptions. They are wired that way.

1, work with the parents so they can communicate with you clearly about when you are actually "in charge". Aunt Jane is playing with the cousins, and mom tells her kids to go over and play with them so she can go out back and hang with the adults. But Aunt Jane doesn't know that now she's The Adult for those kids, and lets them go loose.

2, absolutely, positively, make sure that when the kids change locations, the parents know, or will know, what's going on. If mom leaves the kids with Aunt Jane in the house, and they aren't there when she comes back, panic strikes.

3, all adults are absolutely responsible for high-level kid monitoring. If they see kids but no adult, they need to go make sure everything is OK and they are supervised. And they are absolutely responsible with making sure the pool access points are closed. If the kids are playing in the pool, and one of them wants to go inside to pee (as if...), an adult goes with them, or at least watches them, so they don't accidentally go to the other pool or get distracted. Even if uncle bob gets up at dawn to swim laps, he has to make sure the pool gate is closed behind him.

4, Yeah, when the adult is with the kids at the pool, they need to be the Lifeguard, not the play facilitator.
posted by gjc at 8:33 AM on July 21, 2009

I think your basic theory is fun. I just don't see it working in practice. I don't doubt that all the parents will be super vigilant and all the other adults will be lending in hands when necessary, so the best case scenario would be you not even using anything you've bought because all the kids are always accounted for.

Super low-tech, quick-spot technique I've used every time I would take my two kids to a crowded park or the zoo or Disney World: bright, same-colored t-shirts. That way, in a 'spot the kid QUICK' moment, you're looking for a BRIGHT RED SHIRT instead of a little brown-haired short person. So if you're thinking of leaving the houses and braving the outside world at all, dress all the little ones in the same color.
posted by cooker girl at 8:44 AM on July 21, 2009

Well, you can hire several unemployed IT guys to watch the kids.
posted by bz at 9:43 AM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

The riskiest situation for little kids is one where there are a lot of adults but no one is specifically responsible.

This this this and this. I am forever appalled when I go to friend's homes and get-togethers - since there are so many adults, everyone assumes SOMEONE is watching their kid. I can't tell you how many times I've been at a friend's house swimming and have plucked children (not my own) out of the pool because they got in over their heads (literally) - and no one (except me) was paying attention. I would make it very very very very clear at each situation/activity who is responsible for whom - whatever method you use (the picture idea is good), make sure the adults know who they are responsible for.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:44 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

God, Sassyfras reminds me -- last summer my then-21-month-old was plucked out of a wading pool by a friend when my back was turned getting my then-2-month-old out of her bucket seat. He'd bent down to get a ball, lost his footing, and was so disoriented he couldn't right himself. Just a little spluttering and he was fine, but it's really true that they can drown in any depth of water.

They'd be safer roaming around a state game preserve. With furry brown jackets and white gloves.
posted by palliser at 11:00 AM on July 21, 2009

Response by poster: Well, again, I appreciate the well-intentioned responses, and no doubt they are all true, but not not really applicable to our situation. The parents of the kids (not me) well know these things and they've already been discussed amongst ourselves. I was looking for an answer to a very specific question, and it's apparent that I will not find it here. That is OK, though, because this info might benefit someone else who happens to read this thread.
posted by bchaplin at 11:06 AM on July 21, 2009

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