Learning out of the box

For child education expert Julie Stockdale, doing fun activities with children was part of her full-time job as a kindergarten teacher five years ago. But now, it’s the core of her family-run startup.

Stockdale, who is qualified to teach children ages three to 10, chose to teach in kindergarten as she felt that with her knowledge, she could make the greatest impact on kids in that age range.

“Children at that age are open to new ideas and very enthusiastic,” she said. “They absorb new concepts and techniques like sponges.”

After the birth of her daughter Kelly, Stockdale took some time off from teaching to spend time with her, using her own educational background to do activities with Kelly, developing her daughter’s core learning skills.

Her friends saw Kelly had good concentration and fine motor skills for her age and asked Stockdale for ideas on what they could do with their kids at home, as they didn’t know where to start. “This gave me the idea that there must be more parents in Hong Kong facing the same problem,” said Stockdale.

After doing extensive research, parent interviews and experiments with children, Stockdale quit her job and launched ActivityBox, a company producing monthly subscription boxes for children aged three to eight.

Each box includes four hands-on educational crafts, along with instructions and a calendar suggesting daily activities for parents to do with their children to improve their motor, language and math skills.

The packs are addressed to subscribers’ homes in the child’s name, and parents can choose from different subscription plans, ranging from one month to one year, priced at between HK$238 to HK$298 per month.

The former kindergarten teacher believes that doing arts and crafts is a fun way to help children develop core skills – including motor skills, literacy, math, creativity, self-esteem and parental bonding.

Each ActivityBox has a new theme every month, ranging from dinosaurs and superheroes to chefs and pets, through which kids get to explore new ideas and concepts.

For example, in one of the boxes themed “the little chef,” children are instructed to make pizzas in a craft activity that requires grasping, holding and manipulating small items with their hands.

Another activity in the same box requires them to count the french fries and peas they make and divide them between their customers, providing a fun way to practice math.

The step-by-step instructions include both text and pictures explaining each step. Parents can read them aloud as the kids look at the pictures, training their ability to follow instructions and allowing them to learn new vocabulary.

“The materials and instructions included in the box provide structure, but no two kids will end up with the same creation,” said Stockdale, referring to how children will choose different colors and patterns for their crafted items and make up their own stories to go along with their superhero action figures.

Rather than having to search for ideas and purchase supplies, the ActivityBox provides instructions for each step and the preplanned materials are convenient and reduce waste. New themes every month keep kids entertained and excited.

Apart from the design in place, Stockdale said her secret weapons in designing and improving the activities are her daughter and husband.

All activities have to pass the “Kelly test.” In the process of doing activities with Kelly, Stockdale continually observes and asks herself: did the activity excite her? Did she maintain interest during each step? Did something frustrate her? Was she happy to play with the creation she made?

She also enlists her husband, who is a “regular dad” with no background in teaching or child development, to do the activities with Kelly by looking at the instructions, testing the product as regular customers would use it.

Stockdale then adjusts and fine-tunes the instructions and materials to ensure it is fun and easy to follow, inspired by the “valuable insight” of her family.

Over the years of doing craft activities together at home, Stockdale has seen her husband’s confidence grow and his abilities improve along with Kelly’s.

“This told me I was doing the right thing,” Stockdale said. “It’s great hearing that dads find the ActivityBox easy to use and how much they love doing it with their kids.”

After helping out in the early days by testing activities, creating the website and preparing ActivityBoxes for shipping, Stockdale’s husband, who has a background in IT and business, later joined ActivityBox full time, focusing on building the infrastructure to support the growing family business.

Over the last five years, ActivityBox has helped thousands of families in Hong Kong and it continues to grow.

“Starting ActivityBox has been a fantastic experience for my family and me,” said Stockdale. “It has been great working together.”

“And we are proud to be a family-run business supporting families in Hong Kong,” she added.

(This article was published at The Standard on April 14, 2020: Education: Learning out of the box )

200414 Learning out of the box

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