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A look at OK Play, how it inspires children, and hardships the team encountered along the way
Apps play an integral part in many of our lives. From social media apps to waste the time to productivity apps to get us back on track after we lose an hour (or two) to TikTok videos, there is practically an app for everything.
One sector that is continuing to grow is focus-built apps for parents and their children. Education apps are obviously high on the list, but family-focused games are also growing in popularity. App developers are always searching for new ways that bring the family together on their beloved devices.
One app that is looking to blur the line between education and fun is OK Play, which gives children an app where they can jump into meaningful stories where they play the main actor and director.
Backed by a team of scientists and professors and investors like Obvious Ventures and Dreamers, the company states its apps help kids develop critical social, emotional, and cognitive skills.
I had the chance to interview Chris Ovitz to learn more about the app, plus talk to them about what inspired its creation, and the hardships the team faced during development.
You can find the full interview below.
Hi, I'm Chris Ovitz, I'm a dad, lover of all things startups, food, games, movies, and any sci-fi and fantasy book I can get my hands on. I love passing time building Lego with my 5-year-old son. Besides all that, I'm a serial entrepreneur and Co-founder & President of OK Play.
What is the inspiration behind the company?
The inspiration for OK Play came from two places. The first was the founding team's life-changing journey to becoming parents. And the second was Mr. Rogers. We had watched "Won't you be my Neighbor?" and became inspired to reimagine screen time.
We wanted to reach families with mobile devices the same way Mr. Rogers reached them with Television. That was the beginning of our OK Play journey that led us to want to put kids at the center of the story and creation all while teaching them valuable skills.
In just a couple of sentences, what is OK Play?
At OK Play we are reimagining children's media. Our interactive storytelling app puts kids at the center of meaningful stories with valuable lessons rooted in social-emotional learning. With our app, kids create, star in, and share their own stories.
Using tools for drawing, photography, video, sound, and more, the app puts kids in the director’s chair to ignite creativity, self-expression, and play! Our team of child development experts has designed all of OK Play’s content to support social-emotional learning in kids ages 3-8, teaching life skills like kindness and empathy.
How is your app doing to promote healthy learning behaviors in children?
Our app reimagines what it means to see oneself represented in media content by placing the child's face and voice in the video story. This is more likely to increase children's self-esteem and engagement in the content, which in turn creates an open and positive learning environment for our prosocial messages to come through.
The active component encourages children to engage with the world around them, resulting in more "heads up" than "heads down" behavior typically seen when children engage with technology. With OK Play, kids are truly in the director's chair creating the story.
Do you think the STEM field in regards to children has reached its peak? What else can be done to fully realize its potential?
STEM skills are critical for children, but STEM skills in the 21st century require more creativity than ever (hence the term STEAM which has gained traction, with the Arts piece typing it all together).
OK Play aims to inspire the creative "maker" generation that will be populating STEM fields as young adults. Through our creative-based social and emotional curriculum, we hope to help grow the next generation of creative thinkers & designers who are fueled by kindness and empathy.
For other app developers out there, what type of hardships did you face during the creation process?
Here's a little story to answer this question...
When we first launched OK Play in September 2020, it was a parent-facing app designed to facilitate quality time between parents and children, both on and off the device. After months of beta testing, parents continually told us how they craved more ways to bond with their children, and that our app was filling that need in outstanding ways.
What we did not anticipate, however, was the harsh impact of launching an app that encouraged parents to spend more time with their kids in the middle of a global pandemic, when parents had already spent months isolated at home with their children. What parents were now in desperate need of was quality screen time that their children could engage in independently, as well as with a parent. So we went back to the drawing board and combined our most popular activities into an integrated and upgraded experience that children could do both with or without an adult-- what we now refer to as “stories.”
Stories have ended up being the landmark feature of our app, and best utilize our technology to place children in the center of the action and make them the hero of their story. Parents delight in posing for photos for their children to be integrated into the story, and giggling at the final outcome. With OK Play, parents always know they are invited into the experience and play, but also don’t experience guilt if they can’t be there, knowing their child is engaging with an active, creative, and learning-based app. The lesson for other developers would be, don't expect what you launch with to be the product that people want. Be flexible, nimble, and don't be afraid to pivot as needed to find the right fit.
Have there been any other challenges that your team has faced bringing this to market or since it released?
Where would you like me to start? We're a startup, so I'd be lying if I said no.
We face new challenges every day—whether it's building across several different platforms, supporting tons of legacy devices, or navigating the ever-changing privacy landscape, we're always solving challenging problems.
What are you doing to make sure childrens' information is safe on the platform?
As parents ourselves, the team is uncompromising and proactive in our commitment to safety, security, and privacy. We work with third-party advocates including kidSAFE to ensure we are going above and beyond industry best practices for children’s apps. OK Play is kidSAFE COPPA Certified and is 100% ad-free, and has a 5 out of 5 rating from Common Sense Media, so parents know it's a safe place for kids to spend time.
Anything you'd like to close with?
Yes! We are running a really fun contest for kids until May 31st where they can submit their story idea — we'll pick one that will end up as a fully produced interactive story on OK Play! If you're reading this and have young kids, please send their ideas! Submit here.
I'd like to thank Chris for taking the time to answer some of my questions.
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