The cognitive development of children is given tremendous importance from a young age – from toys that are geared to spark creative thinking to academic curricula aimed at ensuring that children excel in studies. However, the social and emotional development of children in early childhood is glossed over entirely. If an understanding and awareness of social and emotional needs are not instilled at an early age, it may lead to social awkwardness at best and acute mental health problems at worst. Recognising this as a serious issue, Counsellor and Mental Health Practitioner Drishti Goenka launched Journey Matters – her brand of mental health and social-emotional learning (SEL) products.
In this candid conversation, Drishti shares insight on the important subject of social and emotional development in early childhood, as well as the unique emotion-focussed alphabetical flashcards she has recently launched. Excerpts from the interview:
Hi Drishti, thanks for joining us and congratulations on the launch of your new product line. We would love to know about your journey in this field so far, and how your brand Journey Matters has evolved over the years.
Drishti: Thanks Noor! I’m a trained mental health professional from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Singapore. I’ve been working in the field of mental health and education for 7 years now. I was introduced to social-emotional learning (SEL) as a concept 5 years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. I spearheaded the wellbeing department for a group of educational institutions and designed a nation-wide SEL program with a focus on student suicide prevention. I’m trained in developing a guidance curriculum for international schools, which taught me how to integrate cross-cultural elements in my lessons.
When the world was hit with COVID, due to personal reasons I had to let go of my job so I could be with my family. In that time, I decided to set out on my own and launched Journey Matters. I thought the name was quite apt at the time and something that would resonate with a lot of people. I thought I would set out to do everything that I’m passionate about under one roof. It started out with counselling sessions as the first service. As I went along, I gathered the courage to bring together like-minded people to design our first ever product, which is now launched – these are our alphabetical flashcards called the ‘A to Z of You and Me’.
What according to you is the biggest drawback of the early education system in India? Is there enough focus on social and emotional development in early childhood?
Drishti: I won’t say that a lack of focus on social and emotional development in early childhood is the biggest drawback of the education system in India, but it is definitely a significant one. Managing a class of 3 year olds can be very challenging, and there is a dearth of well-trained teachers. Ages 3-6 are foundational years not only for academics but also social and emotional development. Children learn through observation and modelling. When children don’t understand their own feelings or are unable to express their thoughts, they exhibit behaviours which can become difficult to manage. If teachers build their social-emotional competencies, they would be equipped with the tools needed to foster growth in the classroom.
Do your unique flashcards aim to address this problem?
Drishti: The success of our product, ‘A-Z of You and Me’, depends heavily on how it is facilitated with children. We have designed the content so that it gives an SEL word for every alphabet. This word is defined in a child friendly manner, accompanied by the illustration of a situation where the word is depicted, as well as a reflective prompt the adult can ask the child afterward. With this product in hand, teachers will have all the information they possibly need to ensure that the child has understood the word, which will go a long way in their social and emotional development from early childhood. I also plan to release an open source YouTube channel with more facilitation ideas with an explanation lasting 2-3 minutes for each alphabet.
What is the story of the name of your product? Who came up with it?
Drishti: When we thought of the concept, we played around with many combinations. We were certain that it should have A-Z as it would help people understand what to expect from the product. We started out with A-Z of Me but then realised that our words depict not just the self but also the self in relation to others. This is how ‘A-Z of You and Me’ was finalised.
How can one access your products? Do you plan to tie up with third party retail sites as well?
Drishti: Presently, you can order it directly from my website. I have a pre-order system in place for September and October 2021. Since it’s the first month and my first product, this helps me gauge the demand. Moving forward, I will work on making it available all year around.
Yes, I do plan to tie up with third party retailers and I’m in the process of getting all the formalities and documents in place for it.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
Drishti: There are some great learning products out there, but the most unique thing about my product is the sheer simplicity of the concept. Every child learns the alphabet. All this while, educators and parents have been teaching ‘A for Apple’ without much thought. All over the world, in small towns and villages, when a child is introduced to the English language, they are taken through ‘A for Apple’ and ‘B for Ball’. Why can’t we capitalise on this basic educational structure and make it a more meaningful learning experience for children? It builds on the child’s social and emotional vocabulary right from early childhood, and will help them understand themselves better and connect with people as well.
Do you ship pan-India and abroad?
Drishti: Currently, we ship pan-India. I’m working on getting my EIC License, after which I will be able to ship internationally as well.
With mental health being the biggest buzzword today, are your products also aimed at raising awareness from a young age?
Drishti: Absolutely! The product focuses on normalising talking about our feelings, it makes children more empathetic and more compassionate. It helps them in forming healthy relationships by focussing on their social and emotional development from early childhood. There is definitive research today that shows that when SEL is introduced at an early childhood level and continues all through a child’s schooling, it significantly reduces the possibility of future mental-health related concerns.
What age group have you targeted with this product?
Drishti: This product is best-suited for children of ages 4 and above. I haven’t given an upper limit because in many schools, the age when the child is introduced to English can be different, although the illustrations and language used are appropriate for our youngest learners.
What have been the biggest challenges you have faced in setting up Journey Matters so far? How have you overcome them?
Drishti: I’m new to the business world, more specifically, I’m new to the product business world. I have had to learn on the go. In so many meetings, I have gone blank especially when people use business acronyms and I secretly need to google them. Haha!
It is in these challenges that I learn the most. I have always thrived when I’m out of my comfort zone, but I do go through moments of self-doubt. I thoroughly enjoyed the design process of the product and believe very strongly in our concept. However, I doubt my ability to market the product well and do justice to it. I am trying every day to read up on best practices and talk to people in the field. I don’t shy away from sharing my insecurities. I get a lot of advice and I take what feels right and leave the rest to fate.
What are you working on next?
Drishti: I have a couple of projects in mind. I want to expand on this product by curating it in regional languages. I believe that social and emotional learning shouldn’t be limited to the English language. In fact, the NEP 2020 states that early childhood education should be focusing on native languages. In addition to regional languages, I will also work on a few foreign languages.
I’m also designing an interactive app version of this product which would help the product reach more people, hopefully reducing the need to manufacture a physical product.
Another project is a letter writing initiative which will begin next month. I can’t really share too much about it at this stage, but it’s also a project that’s very close to my heart and I’m looking forward to it.
How did you select the words and emotions? Since it’s impossible to address all emotions through the alphabet, how do you plan to expand and include more in the future?
Drishti: My illustrator, content head and I, went through a ‘word dump’ exercise, where for each alphabet we brainstormed all the SEL related words we could possibly find. Based on the complexity of the words, we shortlisted 3-4 words for each alphabet. We then sent out a google form to educators and parents with young children asking them which would be most suitable for our target age group and which words they would want their child to learn.
Based on those responses we finalised all the words. Of course, parents and educators can certainly go ahead with more words for each letter. It needn’t be restricted to what we have chosen. The idea is to kickstart conversations on the subject of social and emotional development in early childhood between the adult and child. When our app is developed, there will be an option to add as many SEL words to their repository as and when they are exposed to them.
Thank you Drishti and wish you all the luck for your new venture!
BUY DRISHTI GOENKA’S ALPHABETICAL FLASHCARDS EXPLAINING EMOTIONS HERE:
This post is in collaboration with Drishti Goenka of Journey Matters
This blog post is part of the blog challenge ‘Blogaberry Dazzle’ hosted by Cindy D’Silva and Noor Anand Chawla in collaboration with Deyga.
This post is part of Blogchatter’s CauseAChatter Gender Talks where I highlight women entrepreneurs doing interesting things
*This is a sponsored post.
**Copyright in pictures and content belongs to nooranandchawla.com and cannot be republished or repurposed without express permission of the author. As I am a copyright lawyer by profession, infringement of any kind will invite strict legal action.
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Very true. We have to teach them how to listen and how to talk to someone too. It’s very important as this is mostly ignored here in India at least.
It certainly is very important, Cindy! I believe it is high time these skills are focused on.
Social and emotional development is the need of the hour. This will go a long way. All the best for the future endevours.
So happy to read that you agree! Thank you
Social and emotional learning is crucial in the early stages of development. Glad someone brought forward the urgency of introducing it to the majority of the people.
Social and emotional development is so important but sadly neglected. These flash cards seems so good for young kids . Nice interview 🙂
Glad you liked it!
I could not agree more with you that social and emotional developments are very important to be a grown up mature. In India we have started now to implement these factors but yes it is still long way to go. Nice write up.
I enjoyed reading the interview. The concept of more meaningful flash cards is really good. People think that developing empathy is a child is not important. But we need to start young.
I’d be interested to know which other words are in the pack. The product description on the website is too brief.
I like the idea about helping children manage their emotions. Parents and teachers tend to focus on academics and sports and assume that children will figure out feelings and emotions on their own.
Mostly, we tell children not to misbehave but we don’t teach them to work through their feelings. It requires immense patience and I have been guilty of being too impatient with my child.
I assume the reason they didn’t put too much detail on the website is to make people buy the flashcards 🙂 If more information was shared – perhaps people would just use the information to teach the concepts without the cards?! I’m guilty of losing patience too… So are all moms!
The most neglected part of life is emotional development…sad but a bitter truth…I must say Drishti is doing amazing work.
Something new and innovative. Emotions through alphabets. Love the concept and it is really important to have an emotional development at an early stage.
Thanks for sharing this, Noor. I am going t purchase these cards when I go to Mexico. My grandsons are emotionally shattered. Just dunno how to relate to their loss.
Awww hugs to you and to them…
I always enjoy reading your interviews, Noor. It is good to see academicians finally implementing a more well-rounded method instead of rote learning.
Thank you Ritu!
As I come to terms with my own shortcomings, I realize that I hid myself behind a veil of masculinity wherein I claimed that I don’t need anyone to be be happy/socialize etc. Deep inside, I know that it’s mainly because I am socially awkward. Though I’m working on it, but learning it as a kid would’ve been a different experience altogether. This is a great post and so close to home!
I’m glad it inspired you to open up! Great going 🙂
The seeds of Social and Emotional Development are best sown when kids are very young. Glad it is gaining importance in India too.
It is important first for parents to identify the problem. Many choose to ignore or take it personally when something is highlighted. Kids must be taught how to talk to others – the difference between talking to family, friends, elders etc. Words and body language that are acceptable socially.
Acceptability again depends on the society we live in and that needs to be instilled in the kids. I feel that we are so keen to embrace the western / modern culture that we forget to instill what works Indian society. In fact many of us belittle it also. Many find faults or criticize the society that we actually live in – but in actually you are choosing to be part of it. Kids see this and build their habits accordingly. However, this attitude is only with family / friends. In a work culture, if the requirement is to confirm we all tow the line because it influences money, growth etc.
I know many many disagree with this point of view of mine.
I agree… You’ve hit the nail on the head!
I really liked this idea of social emotional vocabulary flash cards. It’s really important to teach our kids about these words and their importance. All the best Drishti for all your future projects. I am sure they are going to be great.
Even I advocate the same. Life skills are far important than coding skills at young age.
I’m so happy to read all the comments here. It is extremely validating 🙂
Some of you feel that perhaps knowing what the other chosen words are could help you in understanding if this is going to be a helpful resource.
I have shared close to 10 alphabets on my official Instagram page @journeymatters.official
Do go through them and if you still feel you need more info, feel free to DM me and I’ll ensure that I personally respond to all your questions.
Thank you so much everyone for your support and especially Noor for giving me this platform to share.
Thanks Drishti for taking the time to respond to personal queries!