A dose of physical play can help kids learn, Tiggly CEO Phyl Georgiou says.
In our rush to digitize everything, from books to games, he believes connections to the real world remain important. “There’s a question about how kids use their time,” Georgiou says. “They’re busier and use digital devices more and more. Those two trends result in less physical playtime.”
Counting numbers is a core curriculum for kids, he says, that can be taught more effectively in the real world than with an app on a tablet alone. “If you incorporate physical play with a tablet, you get a powerful way to learn numbers,” Georgiou says.
His New York-based company, born at the Harvard Business School, just introduced its latest product for the education-technology arena. Tiggly Counts, due on shelves at Apple Stores on November 11, is already available through Amazon and other e-tailers.
Georgiou spoke with me in advance of Monday’sNew York Tech Meetup (NYTM), a large monthly gathering that showcases new technology, where he would demo Tiggly Counts. His company develops other apps and physical objects, such as Tiggly Shapes, used in tandem with tablets to help educate children as they play games.
Tiggly Shapes, which debuted last year, teaches shapes and motor skills to preschoolers and younger kids. Georgiou says the arrival of Tiggly Counts helps show that his company is not just a one-trick startup. “We want to create a learning journey from toddler, age of 18 months, all the way to 6 or 7 years old,” he says. “Those are the age groups where physical play is critical to early child development of motor and spatial skills.”
In September, Tiggly raised $4 million in a Series A round led by Habermaass GMBH, a German toy maker and learning company.
Tiggly’s newest product uses objects similar to Cuisenaire colored rods, which are used in schools to help teach math. For example, if the related app asks for a certain number, a child would place the appropriate piece on the tablet screen.
The demos at NYTM often feature technology that may be at such early stages there is no business model to speak of yet. This month, however, investor-backed startups such as Tiggly; Admittedly, an alum of the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator; and Offerpop, which gathers user-generated content about brands that marketers can use, took the stage as well. (See slideshow above).
Georgiou says competition in the youth edtech space is growing, and there are other math learning apps on the market, but they typically focus on right and wrong answers or feature animated characters that become the center of attention. “They’re not really engaging all the senses of the child,” he says.
With his company’s latest funding, Georgiou says Tiggly could grow its staff of 15 to 20 by mid-2015. The company also plans to scale up production. Furthermore, he says Tiggly is developing new products that he believes can make learning in the real world an integral part of the virtual experience for children. “Tiggly wants to help preserve the idea that physical toys are an important part of the toy box; it’s not just about the app store,” he says.