New Ways to Play
February 19, 2020
This week marks the introduction of Sago Mini Boxes, a new service to promote play-based learning at home. It’s a major milestone for our team, and one that is rooted in many of the ideas of innovators such as Joan Ganz Cooney. So how did a team best known for preschool apps come to develop a physical box service?
The Sago Mini apps are really the outcome of two big ideas which underlie all of our work. The first is the power of child ownership of learning. The second is exploring innovative ways to leverage new technologies to promote play.
Maria Montessori demonstrated what preschoolers are capable of when experiences are scaled and adapted to be accessible. Simple things like placing classroom materials within easy reach and offering clear guidance and properly scaled furniture can make a great impact on how young children engage with the world around them. Much of our work focuses around applying the same idea to digital experiences. Even small flaws in usability inhibit children’s ability to engage with digital toys. When spaces, whether virtual or physical, are well-designed, children gain ownership of the experience and learning takes on a new meaning. In this way, children are able to drive their learning experience and gain confidence and the satisfaction of discovery.
New technologies continue to bring tremendous change to every aspect of our lives. Our team has always actively embraced new tools to see how they can be shaped to the needs of children. In the era of early television, Joan Ganz Cooney was a visionary in this respect. At a time when many dismissed television as a “vast wasteland,” she took up the challenge of harnessing this powerful medium to advance early childhood education. The impact of this ambition continues to be felt by millions of kids today.
For today’s generation of parents, the iPad is as revolutionary a medium as television was in the 50s and 60s. Digital distribution makes it easy to reach an audience of millions of children. But as most parents know, we are flooded with a sea of mediocre interactive media—mostly poorly designed, sometimes just inappropriate, and, in rare cases, harmful. But there are also many examples of beautiful, well designed, and thoughtful digital experiences created for children. These have opened up opportunities for even very young children to engage in active, stimulating and beneficial screen time.
So how did these two ideas lead Sago Mini to create a physical subscription service? First of all, we saw an opportunity to create a product that speaks directly to kids and puts them at the center of the experience. Everything started with the question of how to work with children’s natural curiosity and play patterns, and make everything easy and approachable enough for them to take the lead. The result is a kit that transforms any home into a playspace where houseplants become magical fairy gardens, your couch cushions a farmers’ market, and your living room an international airport. And even the shipping box transforms to become a part of the play.
Second, we saw an opportunity to innovate in how the product is delivered. Engaging with customers online makes it possible for us to work directly with the families who use the products, getting continual feedback on the entire experience. It also allows us to step back from many of the constraints of the retail world and focus on delivering play as a service. And combining the physical and digital products makes both experiences stronger. The experience of the apps is strengthened through the physical play and vice versa.
Our team has been hard at work on this new endeavor for over a year. As we prepare to ship out our first set of boxes, it’s a great time to reflect on the those who helped inspire this effort. Joan Ganz Cooney’s early advocacy for children’s television, and the subsequent work of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center certainly has inspired our work and truly deserves to be celebrated.
Jason Krogh is the founder and CEO of Sago Mini, an award-winning company devoted to play. Headquartered in Toronto, Canada, Sago Mini makes apps and toys for preschoolers that seed imagination and grow wonder. Jason has a B.Sc. in Environmental Science from the University of Guelph and made the transition into new media when he began developing educational media for the Vancouver Aquarium and Science World. Jason has more than 20 years of experience developing interactive media for children including the Emmy-award-winning Zimmer Twins and has worked with partners such as Sprout, Disney Jr, National Geographic Kids, Vancouver Olympics, and the Toronto Public Library.