Present Box swaps screen time for play

Innovation is aimed at parents looking to swap video games for old-fashioned play

Jenny McGrath with daughters Jessica and Jenny.

Jenny McGrath with daughters Jessica and Jenny.

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A few years ago, Jenny McGrath had a wake-up call when her daughters called her “a phone addict”. Pausing to reflect, she realised they had a point. “I noticed how much of their fun I was missing as I tagged another photo or responded to a ‘vital’ email kidding myself that I’d only be a minute,” she says. “The only solution was to put my phone out of reach. That’s how I came up with the idea for the Present Box, which helps parents and kids to ditch digital distractions and connect with each other in simple, creative ways, tech free.”

McGrath is no stranger to the world of child’s play. For the last 14 years she has run a Gymboree Play and Music franchise which is aimed at children under five. She has a background in performance, teaches yoga to children and adults and is also training to become an art psychotherapist.

The Present Box was set up last February and the idea is that everyone puts their phones and/or tablets away in the box and gets involved in old-fashioned play. Each box comes with an activity book and a 12cm plush toy called Boxie (who likes talking in rhyme) and there are indoor and outdoor activities that range from clean to messy, last different amounts of time and are aimed at different ages. In theory, the cut-off age is eight but McGrath says the activities will work with children up to about 11.

Guilt

“The Present Box is somewhere tangible to put devices and a solution to technology getting in the way of critical bonding time between parent and child. Boxie is also a visible reminder to parents and kids – phones away, let’s play,” McGrath says. “The Present Box also helps parents with the guilt around not spending enough quality time with their kids, often because technology gets in the way.

“The average person will check their smart phone over 150 times a day and will spend an average of six hours a day on their device and families need supports to help them structure their usage if they are to form healthier relationships with technology,” she adds. “Our competition, such as it is, is companies using technology to manage technology usage, which sort of defeats the purpose. It doesn’t help kids get back to basics and begin to play creatively offline again.”

The Present Box is aimed at children aged between two and eight years old and McGrath expects its chief buyers to be parents, grandparents, friends and family members. “It will appeal to anyone with an awareness around how devices are getting in the way of communication, relationships and family time,” she says. “By registering their Present Box online, a subscriber will receive regular emails with lots more play ideas. However, we don’t want people spending too long on their devices so all the instructions are printable.”

McGrath has recently completed the Enterprise Ireland-backed New Frontiers programme at IT Tallaght’s Synergy Centre. This provided a stipend of €15,000 and she has also invested about €55,000 of her own money in the business. The company’s website went live in October and the product will have its official launch later this month. The Present Box is available to buy online and costs €29.99 plus shipping.

McGrath has had the thumbs-up for her product from Gymboree (which has its own retail outlets and more than 700 franchisees in 40 countries) and she is also talking to a number of Irish high-street stores. The company’s revenue stream will be box sales coupled with branded merchandise including phone covers, car stickers and Boxie’s extended family – 14 members in all that kids can collect. McGrath is keeping her cards close to her chest, but says she is also planning an adult version of the Present Box.

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