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 post is part of Blogchatter’s CauseAChatter Gender Talks where I highlight women entrepreneurs doing interesting things
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