Parents, how confident are you in your ability to direct 5 minutes of undivided attention to your child? If you’ve got a smartphone within reach, staying focused in the face of alerts and reminders and push notifications might be easier said than done. That is, of course, unless you’re using the phone as a reminder to reengage with your child.
That’s the idea behind Starling, a wearable word-counting device for babies that syncs with your phone to turn parental engagement into a trackable, gamified experience based on the number of words your child hears and speaks each day. Think of it like a Fitbit for spoken words instead of steps.
“Imagine I’m sitting here at the breakfast table on my phone reading The New York Times or Charlotte Agenda and I get a little message on my phone that’s like, ‘Hey, here’s an activity you can do with your daughter right now,’ said co-founder Jon Boggiano. “It’s like, oh you know what, let me put this down and be focused on her instead.”
Jon and his brother Chris, both Iraq veterans, fathers and entrepreneurs who already successfully launched and sold their first company Everblue, wanted to look for ways to use technology to impact education. They found the research that sparked the Starling concept while completing a graduate program at Stanford University. That’s also where they met their third co-founder Nicki Boyd. The guys head up the Huntersville-based office here while Nicki oversees operations in their Palo Alto office.
If you scoffed at the idea of relying on a smartphone to encourage interaction with your kid, you might be surprised to find that staying engaged is actually harder for most parents to do than it sounds and is more critical to their child’s development in the first years of life than they realize.
“The number one thing people don’t realize is that words matter,” said Chris. “Parents who talk more to their kids, those kids end up being better at school at age 10, they end up going to college, they’re less likely to go to prison. But it all starts during those first few years.” In fact, research shows that the number of words a child hears before age 4 is one of the biggest predictors of future cognitive, social and emotional success.
While they don’t set an arbitrary word goal (like Fitbit’s 10,000 steps per day), they say 30 minutes of focused interaction will get you to about 3,000 words per day. And rather than get tied up in the content of your interaction or the conflicting advice from other parents, Chris says just focus on doing something. “The short answer,” he said, “is that everybody can do more.”
And when you do more (as in speak more) proactively rather than reactively, your interactions are more likely to be positive. “You can be around a child all day but be silent,” said Jon. “And then the only time you talk to a child is when they’re misbehaving and then it’s a negative interaction. So that’s where the emotional side comes in. If you choose to interact more, it’s almost all positive stuff.”
Starling is currently being beta tested by friends and family and they’re wrapping up an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that’s already racked up triple the original fundraising goal. You have until Thursday to support the campaign and pre-order a Starling for $149 (40% off retail) or purchase one to donate to a nonprofit for $99. Since Starling’s $249 retail price point isn’t accessible to all parents, they’ve partnered with Literacy Lab to distribute the devices to families in need. Purchases and donations will ship in April 2016.