Seedling’s Design Your Own Butterfly Wings Kit

Transforming Play with Technology: A Conversation with Seedling

At Collab+Sesame, we believe play is a core driver in whole child development. We’re excited to share a new interview series as the first part of an upcoming project showcasing startups that are pioneering a new frontier of interactive learning. This project and interview series will include startups outside our portfolio, like Seedling, along with companies we’ve invested in directly.

Phoebe Hayman, CEO at Seedling

For our first interview, Phoebe Hayman joins us to share the strides her company Seedling is making to transcend the boundaries of traditional play.

Phoebe launched Seedling at a New Zealand farmer’s market in 2007 to answer the question: Why do we give kids plastic imitations to play with instead of equipping them with real things to have real experiences? She’s spent the last decade creating kits like Design Your Own Superhero Cape and Seedling’s latest virtual reality product Maze to bring that vision to life. Along the way, her team pioneered a new paradigm for children’s play that empowers kids to make themselves the story. Today, Phoebe shares Seedling’s play philosophy, why they believe that the creative process is more important than the outcome, and their work raising mini-entrepreneurs.

Learning to garden with Seedling’s Grow App

Can you tell us about Seedling’s play philosophy and how it influences the way you create your products?

We believe in empowering kids to experience the power of play. There are two sides of our creation process: What do kids see value in making and gets them excited about the experience he or she is about to have? At the same time, what is really good, nourishing content that we can deliver in the experience? This is where we work hard to create vegetables that tastes like ice cream. Parents obviously want great content for their kids. They are putting a lot of time and effort into raising these amazing human beings. We celebrate and support the parenting journey in a big way at Seedling. At the same time, we also want kids to be super excited about what they’re doing and celebrating their own story, not our story.

That’s such an important representation of your team’s work. You really believe in the whole experience for the child so it’s more about process versus outcome. Why is that so important to you?

We deeply believe in respecting kids’ process. Generosity of time and opportunity allow creativity to flourish in really interesting ways. When kids are deep in the process, they are solving problems, resolving feelings and creating new journeys. We like to think about everything Seedling makes as a form of free play. We believe the strongest engagement happens when a child is making the choice to participate and choose their level of engagement. Each kid is different so we get excited when we capture their interest and they think ‘Oh my god! I want to go really deep into this!’. Quality creative time isn’t about keeping their time filled or a pressurized event to produce an end result. It’s about giving kids creative quality time that they have for themselves.

How do you view children’s creative time at Seedling?

We have seven rules of play at Seedling that are based on Boston College Professor Dr.Peter Gray, who is an advocate of play and how it influences building character in children.

  1. I choose how and when I play. I am free to walk away.
  2. I play for the process, for my curiosity, and for the exploration.
  3. I’m free to make mistakes, make discoveries, and make my own judgments about my work.
  4. My play has rules but I make them. I challenge them, and I’m free to change them.
  5. My play is about my world. Whatever I choose it to be, it is a world created by my imagination.
  6. My play is fun to me in my own way.
  7. Play is the freedom and magic of my childhood and I value these.

One of Seedling’s goals is to raise mini entrepreneurs. How and why do you design experiences that expose children to real world problems and solutions?

We believe that play itself is a manifestation of practicing problem-solving. Nothing is more akin to that than the world of the entrepreneur where the quality of your decisions predicates your success. If you haven’t made a lot of decisions where you know whether you’re happy or not as a child it’s pretty challenging to break down a problem. We don’t want to dumb down our products for kids. They’re totally capable and willing to take risks.

What have you learned about communicating that entrepreneurial philosophy and the freedom to experiment to kids and parents?

We believe that a lot of families want this. It’s more about giving themselves permission to allow their kids to experiment without the results being judged or measured. I think that is the hardest challenge of childhood currently. It has become a test of measures whether at school, in your extracurricular activities, or even in a parent’s Instagram feed. There are so many ways that you are being judged for what you’re creating with your children. It’s really hard to let go and say: ‘You know what? We are going to spend time together where the outcome doesn’t matter, what we are doing matters.’ There should, of course, be high-quality content to digest and great things to play with but we shouldn’t be hung up on coming out of an experience with an A or B. That’s a very important piece for us in creating creative and agile entrepreneurs of the future.

Maze by Seedling

Stay tuned for the second half of our conversation with Phoebe where we discuss Maze and children’s intuitive ability to navigate the digital and physical worlds.

All image credits to Seedling & Seedling Studio.