I founded Infinut and started building kids learning apps, less than 2 years ago. Before that, I was a corporate something or the other who occasionally did some useful work. Building my own company is a learning experience… for the whole family. I started Infinut to build STEM learning apps for my kids. But, we all ended up learning life lessons too.
I have often talked about my failures in blog posts such as this one. But, it never occurred to me to talk about failure with my kids. For my kids, I wanted to be the mom that doesn’t fail. The mom who’s on time to pick them up. The mom who knows the mistakes in the homework. The mom who’s right. The mom who’s cooking is always great. The mom who doesn’t make mistakes. Kids like to emulate us. My daughter tries to be like me – trying to be perfect.
Last year her teacher mentioned that she gets very flustered when she makes a mistake – tears drop. Her confusion ends up causing her to make more mistakes. The more she tries to do things perfectly, the tougher the task becomes. She is very capable, but, her perfection was holding her back. I did not know quite how to help her. In summer, I watched her play the First Grade Math game. She would miss a bubble that she was supposed to get, then get emotional, then fail to pop even the simplest bubble for the rest of the game. She wanted it to be perfect or nothing.
Was it me that had implicitly asked for perfection every time I corrected her homework? Had I made it worse for her by trying to project a perfect image of myself? I decided to talk to her about failure. I told her about my own failures. I told her when I was in elementary school and was tested when applying to a new school, I failed the math exam. But, they let me join the school anyway. I practiced when I started school so I could improve. Failures and mistakes are not a full stop. Their purpose is to tell us where we need some improvement. If you make a few mistakes in the bubble game, that is OK. Mistakes are just part of learning. She is less worried about making errors when she plays the games now, and her math is improving much faster as a result.
We started building Phonics and Reading games last year when Katherine joined the company. Reading games are a particular interest of hers. To teach words, we needed images. Both Katherine and I started doodling with Inkscape to build the images. We’ve both gotten pretty good at it now. I need a more relaxed state of mind to create images. So, I tend to do the images at night, when my mind is too tired for coding. The girls will often cuddle up next to me on the sofa while I build an image. They will pick the colors, and tell me how to improve it – robots head should be square mommy, train must have chimney and so on. It helps me build images that they will understand in the game. For things that have random shapes like clouds, etc. I let my 7 year old draw them. The result of that is that my older one understands how to manipulate gradients and bezier curves. The one thing that she wanted on an old laptop my husband got for her was inkscape. She makes images of cakes, stars and asteroids – whatever takes her fancy. I started out trying to teach her math concepts. I never expected that I’d be teaching her computer graphics.
Both Katherine’s and My kids have been helping us with testing the apps we build. Kids have a different, sort of unrestricted way of interacting with the apps that is hard for us to foresee as adults. The kids find lots of problems. Katherine came up with the idea of paying her kids pocket money for bugs they find. I admit to stealing her idea. Trying to get them to test a full app within 2 days, I needed to provide incentives. They get a quarter per bug they find. For final pre-release testing, they get a quarter for every reward they get in the game. It works very well for me to get the testing done on time. Unexpectedly, it is also teaching them about being responsible. They have to take care of their quarters, exchange them for dollars when they have enough, make sure they keep them in a safe place, and use them wisely. They do. End of last year, my 7 year old used her dollars to buy trinkets at a school fund-raiser. She bought a few things for her little sister too. She was being responsible, but not greedy. It was great to see.
Two years ago, if you asked my daughters what mommy and daddy do – they would’ve said we work in an office. Now, when I ask my daughters what mommy does – they know I build games for them to play. When you ask what daddy does – he still just works in an office. Offices are meant to keep the family and kids out. It is not a surprise even college kids I teach don’t understand what working means. Thanks to me working on something I can share with them, our kids know, understand and respect what I do.
The respect goes both ways. Because of what we do, we have learnt to respect how they think, what their interests are. Many a times when we are stuck and need ideas, the kids come up with them. We were brainstorming what color scheme to use for the phonics game we are building, and couldn’t decide. The kids said they wanted rainbow colors. So, I build buttons that went from red, orange, yellow to green, blue, purple. When I scroll the buttons fast, it does look like a rainbow. They have vastly superior creativity compared to us and we respect them for it.