We live in a time when A.I.-empowered bots schedule our meetings and we summon autonomous cars from our phones. However, as we highlighted in our conversation with Winnie CEO Sara Mauskopf, the number of technology tools designed for parents, or lack thereof, remains largely the same. Parents need better tools for their most important job: Raising their families.
Stephanie Choi and Marissa Evans Alden heard this calling and are among the new crop of founders who are harnessing their technical experience building consumer products to improve the lives of children and families. While working at Rent the Runway, Stephanie struggled to find play and educational classes for her young daughter. Shortly after, she and Marissa teamed up to launch Sawyer: a discovery tool to streamline the search for other caregivers and parents and grant them access to “the whole wide world of children’s classes.”
We recently sat down with Marissa to discuss the importance of creative and uninhibited play for children, how Sawyer is empowering class providers with the tools they need to spend more time with kids, as well as the team’s future plans to harness their data to equip caregivers with a comprehensive view of their children’s passions.
Can you tell us about Sawyer’s play philosophy and how it influences your work?
Our philosophy at Sawyer is that access to play should be seamless. We believe that critical parts of early child development are fostered through creative and imaginative play. We hope that giving families the ability to access a variety of great children’s classes will have a long-term impact on their lives.
How much variety do you see in families’ class selections? Why is it important for kids to have different types of play experiences?
We see a lot of variety. Some classes people love are: Baby DJ, an amazing science class taught by Carmelo the Science Fellow, and a puppet show called Puppetsburg, where they have an entire group of puppets that star in shows. It’s a whole production.
One of the interesting parts of our Drop-In feature is that it makes experimenting risk free. We receive feedback from families that they end up choosing classes they wouldn’t have normally selected because they didn’t want to make a big commitment to something they weren’t sure their child would enjoy. This way, families can try a jiu-jitsu class or a science class without putting $800 down upfront.
Our goal at Sawyer is to provide the freedom to try new experiences so kids can discover what they love.
Especially during the early years, children’s cognitive and gross motor skills are developing so rapidly that exposure to more types of activities and play can help speed up that development. There is a lot of research around the importance of children being exposed to and interacting with other kids at a young age. Classes are a great way to promote socialization. There are also benefits around testing separation from parents and caregivers; allowing for that in fun and educational environments is great.
During a time where grades and test scores are top of mind for families, what is your team’s take on children having purely fun, non-academic play experiences that they aren’t being graded on?
We believe that having the freedom to play is critical to a well-rounded childhood. Being encouraged to have fun and have unscheduled time is just as important as having more formal education experiences.
Every child deserves the freedom to play.
We’re witnessing a shift to digital learning and play for kids. Despite having a lot of positives, digital learning is very different from the hands-on and social play experiences that a child can glean from a Sawyer class. Why is the physical experience still critical?
The ability to use their imagination and engage in creative play is a wonderful experience for children. The physical world can be scarier but it’s how we experience life. It’s important for kids to be exposed to it and feel capable and comfortable navigating the real world from an early age. Digital learning is an amazing complement to physical learning but the socialization benefits and sensory stimulation that happens when you are experiencing something in the real world is hard to replicate.
Can you tell us one of your favorite Sawyer stories?
A parent shared a really great video with us of her two year old daughter explaining what she learned in science class about condensation. It was so great to see her telling her mom about what happens in a cloud. The way kids retain information is really powerful. We love hearing stories about how things happening in class influence the way parents and caregivers communicate with their kids at home. It’s really meaningful for families to watch their child evolve, grow, and start to think for themselves.
What role do class providers play in your work at Sawyer and in children’s experiences?
Our providers are our partners. They are our central hub for content and they’re really important to our team at Sawyer. We are doing our best to build a community for them by giving them access to tools and resources to continue to build their business and deliver these incredible experiences every week. Many of them have been doing this for years. We really believe in the impact they are making and want to support them as much as possible.
What have you learned from your class providers?
One big learning is on the same theme of the physical experience being irreplaceable. When it comes to kids and parents, there is really something to the high-touch experience where you meet the provider, speak with them on the phone, and then see them in person. Families and providers establish a really special rapport. Children feeling comfortable in an environment is so key to them feeling like they can have fun. Our providers invest a tremendous amount of energy and effort into establishing relationships with families. We really respect that.
In your experiences building Sawyer, what have you learned about the changing needs of the modern family? What do caregivers and parents need today that they didn’t in the past?
Parents and caregivers are demanding flexibility in schedule as well as mobile and easy to use experiences that fit within their life like the other tools they use on a daily basis. Making it seamless for people to browse, shop, and discover is very similar in our space as it is in others. We’ve also seen the desire for more snackable experiences where you can pick and choose without feeling committed. On the other hand, the fundamentals of wanting your child to have the best possible learning experiences hasn’t changed which is very powerful as a foundation for why parents are searching for these classes.
All images credits to Sawyer.