July 26, 2011

The Mother Company

Two Moms Strive To Bring Emotion And Feeling Back To Children’s Television

By Chandni Rathod

Abbie Schiller and Samantha Kurtzman-Counter are
two mothers on a mission to redefine children’s entertainment. With youngsters spending
as much as 32 hours a week in front of the television (eek!), these moms craved
programming that modeled good behavior (á la friendship and sharing) and had a
gentle, calm pace that didn’t make their kids hyper. —

Enter: The Mother Company. We spoke to founder
Abbie Schiller for the scoop.

Tell me about The Mother Company.

[It's] a children’s media company that focuses on
social and emotional learning. If you’ve never heard of the term before, it’s
really everything except the ABCs, numbers and science—like how to talk about
how you are feeling, how to communicate with people, how to be a good friend,
telling the truth, values and character. You know, all of the things that make
people who they are and have to be taught but aren’t being taught by [the]
media currently.

We have two parts to the company. First, [we
have] our set of products for children, including a DVD for
3-6 year-olds focusing on social and emotional learning. It’s called Ruby’s
Studio: The Feelings Show
. Then, The Mother Co.com is a website for moms to
come and get really well-edited advice from experts about social and emotional
learning for their children.

How did your experience as a parent influence
your decision to create The Mother Company?

When my daughter was three years old, I was in
need of a hero in the media to help me teach her all of the things that every
parent struggles to teach. You know—telling the truth, sharing, “don’t throw
tantrums” and use your words. I also depended on a little bit of television in
the day for her so that I could unwind. I thought that combining the two would
be a great idea since there was no cool role model for her in television world.
So I created The Mother Company and Ruby’s Studio because I needed this
whimsical, yet grounded host to reiterate the social messages that I was trying
to teach her.

So as she started preschool and tried to become
social, make friends, sit still, raise her hand, take turns and share—I really
needed a series for her to love and have fun with and that also reiterated the
messages that I was trying to impart.

On your website, you describe today’s kiddie
entertainment as “over the top.” What do you mean by that?

I found that a lot of children’s television is
very fast-paced [with] a lot of edits. It’s faster than most music videos. Just
to give you an example, a recent study stated that “Mr. Rogers” had an average
of four edits per minute. Sesame Street has 40—so the pace of media has gotten
really fast. Children have become acclimated to this fast pace of imagery. But,
on top of the pace of it, it’s not a gentle form. It’s really loud sounds and crazy
things going on and often, shows are very over the top, silly, or really in
your face, or cloyingly colorful. It just doesn’t make sense to me as a mom
that tries to feed my kid healthy organic food, to then expose her to this kind
of “junk food” of children’s media.

Is it
all terrible?

There are definitely great options in children’s
media. But for me, I really needed a healthy alternative to what was currently
available. I wanted it to have a meaningful lesson and I wanted the content
that it was talking to my kid about to be important to her and her life.

How are your products unique?

We’re often called “the Whole Foods of children’s
entertainment” because our pace is gentle. Our host talks to the kids and the
viewers like they are real people. There are no over-the-top, forced messages.
Unlike in Barney, where the children are really scripted, our kids are
unscripted and they are just speaking from the heart. It comes across as far
more natural and real and less saccharine than what we were able to find. It’s
really a beautiful show. The difference between watching our show and watching
another more manic show is night and day in the reaction of the child. We’ve
seen the difference in that when kids watch TV, they become really hyper-stimulated
and jumping off the walls. It makes them crazier, but when they watch our show,
they are engaged and they are answering the TV and they’re listening. You can
see they are paying attention and it’s really a very different experience
watching a kid watch these shows. And it’s an experience as a mom that I feel
much better about.

What’s up with that tiny red fish inside the DVD case?

In every one of our DVDs we want to include a
little conversation piece–an extra toy that has to do with the theme of
the show. So the feelings fish helps kids talk about their feelings with their
parents. It’s fun and who doesn’t love getting an extra little thing when they
buy something?

Are there more shows to come? What other products
are coming out of your company?

We do. We have three more coming this year and we
have a total of 15 more on the slate for the next few years. So we’ll probably
be launching about three a year plus iPhone apps, books and other related products.
We currently have two handmade plush dolls that are made in the United
States and are safe for all ages. (They
are characters from within the show.) They were designed by the Esty superstar,
she’s the number one selling artist, named Emily Martin
They were designed by her, as were all the characters in this one segment of
the show called “The Garden Theater”.

What is the Garden Theater?

The Garden Theater was my wish for a healthier
princess franchise. You know how all girls become obsessed with princesses and
all boys become obsessed with Star Wars?
I wanted to do something that was more based in nature. So we have something
called the Garden Theater, which is our puppet segment in the show. It’s
beautiful and all the characters are bugs. They are stylish and educational at
the same time.

Tell me a bit about your website.

We launched last May [2010] and have done
virtually no marketing around our site at all. We’ve just spent the past six
months growing our traffic and we’re getting several thousand hits and they are
all new, which is amazing to us. It’s all done by word-of-mouth. We’ve got over
2,000 twitter followers now and tons of celebrities are retweeting us and
extraordinary experts are retweeting us. The website for us is: what answers do
we need as moms currently? For instance, over Christmas, we had an article, “Is
It Ok To Lie About Santa?” Or how do you talk to your kids about nakedness? So
we seek the best experts out there and post once a week [about] this kind of
question that we’re all grappling with. It’s gotten a tremendous response. I
don’t know of another site that is growing faster than ours organically.

What worries you most about parenting today? 

Where to start? Like everyone, I’m trying to
balance the work and family obligations. The pace of today’s work environment
is such that there’s no division between work and family, so I get worried that
I’m not spending enough direct time with my kids and giving them my undivided attention.
Similarly, my concern for this generation of children is that their attention
is also so instant; that they need instant gratification. My concern is that
we’re not teaching our children to connect enough. I guess the two are kind of

That brings me to my next question, what kind of
role should technology play in the lives of young children?

I think technology can play an incredible role in
the lives of young people in terms of how we communicate and connect. But I
fear that it’s taking the place of how we communicate and connect with actual people. It’s a double-edged sword
in that my daughter knows how to operate any computer or handheld device fully,
but still can’t resolve an argument with a friend at school. So the amount of
technology isn’t really helping her become a better person in that sense—would
be amazing if it could. With our iPhone apps and our programs, our mission is to
create a generation of children who are more communicative, more self-aware and
more in touch with themselves and [the] people around them.

more information on The Mother Company, visit here.

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