With more and more being learnt about the earliest days of a child’s life and how important they are as the foundation for all that comes later, primary school teacher, education researcher and mum-of-three Clare Stead created the Oliiki app after seeing too many children struggle when they get to school. She wants to help every child arrive at school ready to thrive and for parents to feel confident too. Oliiki focuses on the first 1000 days: the most critical days when a child’s brain is developing rapidly and mums and dads are finding their way on their parenting journey. Here Clare talks to The Natural Parent Magazine about what inspired her to start her business, how she balances work and family time, and her hopes and dreams for the future.
The passion: What inspired you to set up your business?
I was a primary school teacher, and I was sick of seeing too many children arrive at school and not thrive.
I worked on three continents and in every classroom I taught in, it was the same. There was always a group of children who arrived and just loved learning and wanted to crack on with whatever work they were given. Then there was a group of children who did everything in their power to avoid working and learning. Very often, behind each of these children, were parents who were feeling lost, anxious about how best to help their children thrive and feeling judged and alone. It was this that I wanted to change.
I wanted to help these children find their passion for learning, help them be excited by finding out new things and having adventures in the learning every day; after all, as toddlers, if they had been shown a snail crawling over a leaf, they all would have been captivated and engaged, asking questions and totally focused on the activity.
So, I set off on a journey to find out what made the difference between these two types of children. I wanted to understand what had happened to these two groups to make their school experiences so different.
It was at this time that I found out about the importance of the first 1000 days of life and the learning that takes place, and how fundamental this time is for building the foundations for all of the rest of life – for a child’s academic outcomes, their health, both mental and physical, their relationships and even how much money they will go on to earn! I found out that although what happens later matters, a child’s outcomes at 22 months are a strong predicator of their outcomes at 26 years old!
Finding out this information for me was like switching the light bulb on! I realised that if I wanted to make the impact and help every child arrive and really thrive in school, it was babies and parents in the first 1000 days of life that I needed to work with
It also made sense to me that if new parents and parents-to-be were confident in what they were doing and they understood why they were doing it, then they would do more of the things that made the biggest impact on their child’s outcomes and that would give their child the best start in life, while also helping new parents feel confident and amazing that they were doing the right thing.
So, I built the Oliiki app, an app for parents and parents-to-be to spark their baby’s adventures in learning and build parenting confidence one play activity at a time.
The launch: How did you start out in the beginning?
Initially, I spent a long time doing research (I’m an education researcher, as well as a primary school teacher). I found out as much as I could about the science of the first 1000 days.
I then talked to new parents and parents-to-be to find out what they were looking for in support on a daily basis. What they told me they wanted was something that was really simple to use when they were tired, something that was there when they were breastfeeding, a library of things to do, and activities that would support them in helping their child’s development. They wanted something that was age appropriate for their child, that was usable on a daily basis, and that that worked for them and worked for their partner as well.
And I started talking to professionals – midwives and health visitors and nurseries – to find out what people were wanting.
Armed with this information, I built the first version of the Oliiki app.
I made sure that the activities were easy to do, and that each day was something different and age appropriate. Each of the activities used things from in and around the home to ensure that they used as few resources as possible, firstly to make it easy for parents and secondly, to ensure they caused as little impact on the environment, and finally, cost as little as possible.
The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?
There have been three moments. The first was getting the results back from the randomised control trial that University College London carried out on the Oliiki app that also got featured in Nursery World Magazine in the UK. The research found that parents using the Oliiki app were significantly more confident than those that didn’t after only 4 weeks!
The second moment was the realisation that professionals such as midwives, health visitors and even nurseries were recommending the Oliiki app to the parents in their care as a way of helping support their parental journey and ensure fabulous outcomes for their children.
And the third moment was having my research published in a peer reviewed journal.