Geo Tots QUESTIONS and ANSWERS with Founder Jaynée Howe
Where did the idea for Geo Tots come from?
One of my greatest joys is sharing nature with my family. Every adventure outdoors is an opportunity for learning. The idea for Geo Tots was developed during a brainstorming session around our illustrator Chuck’s kitchen table. We’ve known each other for years; our kids met in preschool. I have been an app producer since 2008, and Chuck is a talented Illustrator. We wanted to collaborate on a specific storyline and realized we shared this passion for nature and learning through outdoor adventures.
We believe the North American Forest is the best place to start with Geo Tots. We both live in California. Right outside our doors, in our backyards, is an abundance of flora, fauna, examples of food webs, and life cycles. The opportunity to explore is always there. The name for our company, Geo Tots, just made sense as it clearly evokes young kids experiencing our wondrous earth and its geography.
Your debut app Bee Amazed! focuses on bees. Why bees? Why bees first?
There were really a few reasons. I wanted to use what’s called the “physics engine” in app development. And I wanted to design a game that let players tilt the phone to move around an object or substance. Honey seemed the natural content - smooth, supple, and rich with learning possibilities. The idea for mazes developed from there. How cool to have honey moving through a set of mazes, especially as Chuck has extensive experience creating mazes. From there, I came up with the idea of using the navigating aspect inherent in mazes (moving to and fro, in and out, this way, that way) to teach the idea of who feeds whom in the hive. Beyond that, bees are getting a lot of buzz these days, so to speak. Honeybees especially have been in peril in recent years, with a series of stresses including pesticide use, parasites, poor management, and even weather. But attention to the issue has been good, and the awareness is exciting to see. This seemed like a good way to help continue that improvement trajectory. Knowledge is power. And parents can learn with this app as well.
What's the long range impact of early eco and science education? How can early eco-education teach kids from the get go about environmental stewardship?
We’re looking to fuel children’s curiosity and interest in the outdoors. So much is out there, with so much to learn. Little kids are impressionable, and statistics show that many of them (38% under age 2*) are using devices at an early age. We know parents have concerns about how much media their children are watching, and what they’re watching. Given that, we’re interested in creating high quality content with good, science-backed information that sets a solid base for understanding the connections between organisms, the life cycle, the many types of food webs. We hope they’ll go out in the world with a little better understanding of how all things are ultimately related.
*Common Sense Media White Paper - Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013
What do you bring to the table that distinguishes you from other app designers?
I believe in customer-centric product development. Having spent my career in entertainment product development, I understand the importance of using the latest and greatest technology. I know how to design engaging interactive games to take advantage of this realization. In 2008 I managed a team to produce a successful 3D mobile app that reached 30th top selling over that first iTunes App Store holiday season. We were early to market - built with Unity 3D Development tool. I have solid experience delivering.
At Geo Tots, we are a content company, not a technology company. We'll use existing tech in a smart way to engage and educate. I'll let other bigger companies with deep pockets test the tech. We’ll use that understanding in a smart way. We brainstorm ideas, run focus groups to get feedback, and incorporate real wants and needs from potential users into the app design.
What does the eco-education game market look like? How does Geo Tots fill a clear visible need? What's the big vision?
It's a fairly new market growing from the need for real quality content for children. We've identified a few other recent apps that focus on early childhood development in science, recycling and environmental issues. We think a series of apps focused on eco-education has enormous potential, and can incorporate extensive learning in the game experience. We’ll offer learning apps focused around as many habitats as there are in the world. That means diving deep into the ocean, peeking under rocks, and scrambling up trees. Our first app will focus on the North American Forest, with Brown Bear as a friendly, informative guide. From within this app, rich with eight separate learning activities, players will discover a portal to the next app - the Arctic, with Polar Bear as their guide. Our intent is to build an array of apps representing habitats across the planet. From there, we move into learning about the stars and microbes.
What about young children and device use?
At Geo Tots we realize parents need to have access to quality content. They need to feel comfortable with the content their kids are viewing and need to feel the time their kids do devote to media is time well spent. This is not about putting tots in front of twirling graphics just for the sake of keeping kids distracted. This is about empowering children with information that will entice curiosity about the natural world. It’s knowledge that will lift them up and lay the groundwork to see the myriad of ways the natural world is interconnected.
Ways to Tell This Story:
1. Bees are the Buzzzzzzz.
2. Young children using technology:
How to do it right.
3. Science education apps for young children.
4. Gamification: Learning through games
5. Women entrepreneurs