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Small Brown Box (www.smallbrownbox.com)

Past life

Futuristic nursery: Sisters Payal (left) and Puja Bhojnagarwala with a sample ‘outer space’-themed box in Mumbai. Photo by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Puja, 27, her sister and business partner, has an undergraduate degree in industrial engineering and economics, also from Northwestern, and acts as SBB adviser. She worked at the management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in Mumbai for two years before she quit in 2010 to join non-profit organization Teach for India as a manager.

Eureka moment

During one long Mumbai taxi commute, the sisters got talking about how incredibly imaginative children are while they are young, and how this is gradually “taught" out of them. “We created SBB to get children to think for themselves by encouraging creativity and curiosity via open-ended learning, as they engage with the one who knows and loves them most—their parents," explains Payal.

Genesis

They followed a three-step process. First, a long list of age-appropriate activities was created with parents around themes such as “outer space" or “underwater". Second, these were shortlisted with professionals and educators in the fields of art, science, education and child development. Lastly, the activities were tested with a focus group to ensure they were enjoyable. “We aim for activities to be child-led, with grown-up assistance, and not the other way round," she says.

The sisters aim to send out their first proper batch of boxes in July—they’re prepared to cater to around 500 registered subscribers for their first batch, and will increase the capacity every month. They’re an all-India service—they have around 50 subscribers now, including subscribers from three cities apart from Mumbai. Their website will be fully functional by June-end.

For 1,000 every month, one fun-filled activity box containing art and craft material (including basics such as scissors and cello tape) and activity sheets, will be delivered home—and it’s planned around a surprise theme. The “outer space" box, for instance, will contain a pair of flip-flops and pieces of sponge to simulate walking on the moon; aluminium foil and coloured paper to create a jet pack; and craft materials such as paper, cardboard and paint to build a toy rocket. Also included: instruction sheets to create the activities and probing questions to teach children about concepts such as gravity and space travel.

Reality check

Finding a good Web developer has been a challenge. Also, they had to change their model. “Parents were asking us for a trial," says Payal, who decided to offer one-, three- and six-month packages as well.

Plan B

“If SBB fails, we will think of an alternative, like opening a centre out of which our activities can operate so that parents can understand the concept better."

Secret sauce

The young entrepreneur asks me to draw a house, tree, mountains, when we meet. As I’m finishing, she fishes out a line drawing that looks similar. “Everyone—child or adult—draws it like this," she says. “It’s because we’re over-taught." SBB aims to be a learning tool to change this.

Also, Payal thinks SBB will promote the parent-child bond. “We believe parenting should be a fun job," she says. The small brown box is a throwback to the simple joys of a brown paper-wrapped gift—“from us to the parents to the children."

anindita.g@livemint.com

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