Growing up I had a terrible experience of falling from the bench myself, mum thought I’d broken my ribs, it turns out they were just black and blue. This happens all too often (of no fault of the parents). Many of my friends who now are parents of little ones were constantly stressed during meal preparation times. Their toddlers were always wanting 'up' to get involved. Similar accidents to mine had also occurred. Balancing them on the bench while trying to prepare dinner was a nightmare, standing them on a chair didn't work as they'd get distracted and accidentally step off and holding them simply was too cumbersome. I researched this need and found that there were no safe products on the market that would boost little ones to stand. learn and 'help' at bench height. From this clear need the idea for The Arc Assistant, Learning Tower Collection of Children's Furniture was born. But let's talk about a bit of background first...
My Mum was my key role model growing up. She was and still is a great nurse who is really passionate about helping others. To further her skills, when I was young, she studied remotely for your Bachelor of Nursing and wrote her assignments up on her typewriter each evening, but only after she'd helped me with my homework and I went to bed. (This was well before computers were an everyday household item). It was just her and I when I was growing up and she always put me first.
She taught me the value of hard work. With my first job, cliché as it sounds as a baby sitter then papergirl in the small town of Timaru, I saved over the years and went to university down in Otago. After having the time of my life and making amazing friends, many of whom I moved up to the big smoke with and started my corporate career (back then, with Dunedin being the largest city I’d ever lived in, Auckland seemed huge and rather daunting).
I've had the privilege of having great corporate roles in marketing and product development, innovation, across New Zealand, The United Kingdom and Australia and worked for many great award winning global companies. But underneath it all I was miserable, I felt like I was in ground hog day, not because anything was wrong with the environments I was in, but because from growing up with my mum a community health nurse and seeing her helping people on a daily basis and I wanted to put my product development and marketing skills to work to the benefit of others in the community too. After a year working as an Innovation Manger back in New Zealand, I got made redundant. At the time when this initially occurred I was shell shocked and I had two ways to go. I could either continue to chase the dollars and rise up the corporate ladder and get another corporate roll that was not going to make me happy and not make a difference. Or I could address the need that I experienced first hand when I was little. I could help create a safe place for toddlers in the kitchen that not only helps parents but supports toddler brain development through connected daily activities at bench height.
Here my dream was born and through my research it was abundantly obvious that a product to help toddlers and their parents connect doing every day tasks was needed, and what better place to do this than in the kitchen. Morning, noon and night, meals are prepared and toddlers are excluded, therefore developmental opportunities are lost. For so many parents having their toddlers in the kitchen when preparing meals is a hazard, and at the minimum very frustrating. Through using the Arc Assistant, we're providing a controlled environment for parents and toddlers to engage so that the experience becomes pleasurable rather than a 'freak out' one.
I wanted to create that safe place for toddlers in every New Zealand and Australian kitchen. A place where they could get involved in educational activities at bench height with their parents. A place for little ones that meant parents would experience less stress during meal preparation times. A place that facilitates daily connection (multiple times a day) between adult and child. Connection and educational activities on a daily basis are proven to be crucial during a child's brain development during their first 1000 days of life. The more connected activities little ones experience on a regular consistent basis the better the frontal cortex part of their brain will develop.
After many design iterations. I travelled by myself to Guangzhou in China (perhaps not the smartest move going out further into rural china as a white women by myself) and looked at having my learning towers made there. But after the state of the factories that I personally visited, I couldn't consciously source my products from there. I wouldn't have my friends work in the conditions I came across, so why have my product developed there. I was also very nervous about the quality of the products I would be receiving. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted my business to support 'the man next door'. So I set about getting the Arc Assistant Collection made here in New Zealand. This just felt right. It meant less environmental impact, through not importing products on long haul ships that New Zealand craftsmen could produce to a superior quality. After my stint overseas too, I had become somewhat of a proud Kiwi, only it took this last trip to China to really realise this. Who am I kidding, I love New Zealand, our people, our work ethic and our land and wanted the Arc Assistants to be a product of our beautiful country. Even the water resistant board that they're made of is from New Zealand too.
After many prototyping and safety testing stages we launched last July, only 8 months ago. Many amazing New Zealanders who cook daily with their toddlers, such as Nadia Lim and Carly Flynn really enjoy that their little ones can now safely get involved with them. Even Nathan Wallis, international expert in toddler brain development endorses the Arc Assistant, he loves that little ones in our learning towers have the freedom to get involved in educational bench activities and are not restricted in baby traps (what he fondly calls highchairs). Perhaps though the best piece of feedback was from a mother in the central north island who shared that her two year old daughter (who suffers from a bone disorder) through using the Arc Assistant learning tower has not only developed more in her fine motor skills through regular bench activities, but also in her confidence in standing in general. My favourite part of my day is hearing stories from parents and childcare workers around New Zealand and across the ditch about their experiences with toddlers in their Arc Assistants. It's these grateful adults and their toddlers that I get out of bed each day for to continue spreading the Arc Assistant story.