December has a magical quality to it. Apart from bringing the anticipation of the festival holiday and the oncoming New Year, the city of Chennai buzzes with a special tone of its own. As the various Sabhas come alive during the ‘December Music Season,’ the city seems to be wrapped up in the ethereal aura of art and culture.
Even as the Sabhas in Chennai are reverberating with music from seasoned musicians, hundreds of homes seek to nuture young talent in this traditional art form.
While the music is really passed on orally from the Guru(Teacher) to the Shishya(student), the foundation of the art form rests on a framework of sound mathematical principles. Thousands of ragas coming to life with seven simple notes( and some subtle ones in between) is a joy to discover.
And when this discovery happens through an innovative quiet book, it doubles the joy( Check out the video below.)
Harini Srinivasa Rao makes some amazing quiet books explaining this great framework to young students of Carnatic music, especially elucidating on the Ragas and Thalams. Harini’s foray into making these quiet books began with a simple intention of making something exciting for her niece. And like it happens for every awesome piece of work, Harini’s experiment became BusyWings- an entity that soon took wings of its own- quietly bur steadily.
We had a brief chat with Harini on her journey into quiet books and the rise of BusyWings.
Tell us about your journey with BusyWings. How did you start it?
It all started a year and a half back. I thought of taking a break from IT (after 14 years in IT) to spend more time with the kids.
I grew up watching my mom make a lot of creative things like hand work, crochet, rangoli, designing and stitching our dresses. So I have always loved tinkering with creative stuff (pencil shading, crochet, chalk carvings, charcoal paintings etc) and I was always encouraged to explore that side! I saw a video of a fabric based busy book on Facebook and I made one for my niece. However unlike the book that I saw, I tried to personalize the book with activities based on themes that would interest her – like a Ganesha jigsaw puzzle, a rangoli page etc . It took me several months to just source the different elements, plan and put it all together but my niece was thrilled! After I finished it, I shared the video of the book with just friends and relatives and everyone just loved it! I also landed my first order. It was a light bulb moment and Busywings was born – with a FB page and a couple of videos. It was a wonderful feeling to realize that we could create products that could help kids in motor skills development, analytical skills, general knowledge, memory building, creative thinking and a lot more and make it fun for kids at the same time!
We have come a long way from there! Our books are now made very professionally and with the best quality materials. There is a lot of thought that goes into everything , right from the prints we use, the size of the buttons used for activities, the size of the pieces used in the activities to the sensorial materials for touch, feel, sound and at the same time keeping in mind child safety.
We have also launched many other products for kids and new mommies. The journey has been great so far! – with just customer referrals, the business has grown wonderfully!
Busywings has a unique music themed book. I remember seeing the book and going, “Wow! I wish I had this when I was learning music.” How did your come upon that brilliant idea?
Thanks. The ‘Busywings Music book’ has really been well appreciated as people feel it is a very innovative product.
The idea initially came up as a request from one of our customers for a custom music based book for her music-loving kid. Before taking up the project, I did some research, spoke to some musicians and other music enthusiasts. I realized there are no toys/activities for kids in these kind of niche themes. People even asked me – “How can you even make activities on a theme like this!”. It was evident that it would really help kids who are learning music – learning the concepts which form the foundation of Carnatic music and also making it fun for them at the same time. It also felt good to be involved in bringing kids closer to something that is so deep-rooted in our culture.
The book would also help in creative teaching – so great for teachers who like to employ unique, interesting and engaging ways to teach their students!
So I decided to take up the challenge!
You have incorporated the science and precision behind Indian classical music system. Show us more.
Yes. As you must be aware, Carnatic music is an ocean and it took a while to decide what core areas to focus on for the book. I decided it was very important for learners of Carnatic music to be strong in the Foundation. The Basics of carnatic music is in Raga and concept of Ragas and Talas and so I decided to focus on these – i.e. the Talas (and the variations/jatis) , and the Raga system (as per Venkatamakhin system of Ragas). So the activities in the music book currently revolve around these concepts along with a fun card activity to understand and learn how Carnatic and Hindustani music have corelations.
The book definitely needed a lot of research and I got a lot of help from my musician friends to validate the ideas and the concepts. We went through several iterations in the design phase and final outcome has been wonderful. Really thankful to them.
Now that we have done a book to cover the basics of Carnatic music, we are already working on some activities for the next level. We hope to launch this soon so that advanced learners can also benefit!
What other themes have you worked on?
It feels wonderful to have had an opportunity to work on a wide range of themes. We have had some really unique ones like a constellations activity, a rangoli activity, some story pages like fox and crow story, a 2D cum 3D playground activity to name a few.
We believe that each child is different and so we give the option for pages to be mixed and matched based on the interest of the kid. This works very well as people do not need to buy a standard set of activities and can pick and choose only the ones they feel are suited for their kid.
I think this is one of the differentiating factors for our customers to be choosing us over others! We also make our busy books in a way that the pages can be removed and new ones can be added on a later point in time. This gives customers a lot of flexibility in terms of purchasing only select activities later instead of full books and also helps in cleaning individual pages etc.
I loved the calendar-themed book. Can that also be used by older children?
The calendar product has been a real winner. It helps the kids to learn the concept of day,date,month, year, seasons and weather in a very interactive way. It is colourful and perfect for any kid’s room or in playschools.
After seeing the way kids have responded to this product, we are also launching this product in other languages! As someone, who has grown up in a multilingual setup and been exposed to several languages, I think it is important that kids get the opportunity to learn several different languages at a tender age when they have an amazing absorbing power.
We are planning to start with some Indian languages and then also include foreign languages! This is definitely going to benefit older kids too!
What age-groups do you usually make these books for?
We have a variety of products and each product has its alignment with a specific age group.
Lets talk about busy books – We have some standard activities/pages and we also take up custom orders based on the kid’s interest. So, though busy books are more popular for children below the age of 5 years, we have made books for upto 8 years. Apart from this, some books like the music book is suited for much older kids too. We put in a lot of thought and consult with educational experts, child specialists to assess suitability of activities based on age group.
We have baby mobiles –for very small kids, Activity cube for kids from 3 months old – which are sensorial , Crinkle details and rattle for hearing development, bright colours for vision, motor skills development with string pulling and a Child-safe unpainted wooden ring teether. We have the calendar product that I spoke about earlier and also some utility products like pencil pouches, fabric folders, yoga mat covers, colour pencil holders, ipad covers, sling bags etc which will cater to a wide age-group range.
Apart from these, we also have products for new mommies – nursing covers with a open neckline, diaper stackers, receiving blankets, bags to name a few. We have been receiving wonderful feedback on our mommy products. It feels wonderful to be able to help new mommies and we are enthused to launch more products.
Do you see demand from other countries for your products?
Yes, definitely. I keep thinking how the world is shrinking with internet and technology. Our business has predominantly been based on word of mouth and it sure has crossed borders. We have fulfilled orders from a handful of countries in different continents. The key to fulfilling requests from abroad is to find the right channel for logistics & payments. We have now cracked those hurdles and this surely is leading us in the right direction.
How do you usually decide on the themes?
That’s a great question. Once we started with this journey, it was evident that activities could be derived from any topic – the world, sun and beyond is not the limit (quite literally!).There is a lot of thought that goes into the products we make – When we come up with the ideas, we consult with educationists, and people in relevant fields to get advice and assess the suitability of the product to different age groups. And ofcourse we also validate with our real customers – the kids!
The ideas for some of the themes come up through customer requests – though usually this is just a thought about what area/theme they would like to get something done for their kid. When we receive such requests ,we do our research and then get back to the customer with a rough design, then through a few more iterations, we finalise on the details and then start working on the implementation. We also continuously keep taking feedback and suggestions from existing customers and we incorporate changes in our product as required. We love the feedback we get from customers and I think this fine tuning process is what makes our products what they are today!
What is the best way for parents/teachers to reach you?
How do you divide your time between BusyWings and your own family?
As in the case of most startups, this venture needs a lot of time and effort ! So I cannot say that it is easy to find the right way to balance time between Busywings and family. When I started off, I was doing everything on my own – right from sourcing, ideation, marketing, implementation etc! We focus a lot on sourcing the right materials for our products and it really took a while to figure out all the different vendors.
As the business grew, I was short of time to explore new ideas that I had in mind. So, I have now started building a team to work on the actual implementation. This has given me more time to focus on taking new ideas to design, meeting specialists and customers – and the website is also due very soon!
Last but certainly not the least, I could not have moved forward on Busywings without the support and guidance of my husband. I am able to work my schedule around the kids and they have also been very cooperative!
The effort and hard work really feels worthwhile when we receive very personal and heartfelt feedback from customers along with photos and videos!
What surprises do you have for us in the future?
We are always working on coming up with new innovative quality products and improving our existing ones. We have some very interesting stuff that we are working on – such as trying to incorporate actual music (sound) into the music book, story boards, multi-lingual calendars to name a few.
As I mentioned earlier, apart from the kids’ products, we have also launched products for new mommies and we have more products coming up in that line.
Well, I will just say follow our FB page and you will not be disappointed 🙂
What is your vision for the future?
We would like to known for our quality fabric based (handmade) products which gives kids value-based engaged time promoting motor skills, sensorial, imaginary play and educational aspects in a fun way.
We would like to make our products as open-ended as possible to encourage kids to explore on their own.
We would also like to continue to focus on making our products Personalised, customizable, compact and travel friendly.
A word on what you like about Kidskintha.
I was introduced to Kidskintha through a friend and I have been hooked on to it since then. I really like the quality of articles especially on parenting. I also follow the community on social media very closely. It feels good to be part of a community with so many parents. I follow the discussions and really look forward to the live sessions with experts.