We talk to Peter Nicholson, CEO of Baobabooks, an easy-to-use and intuitive edtech platform where children, teens and young adults can write, illustrate and publish their own books and then share them with the world.
Baobabooks is part of the 2021-22 WISE Edtech Accelerator Cohort and has worked with more than 15,000+ students around the world at the time of writing.
How did you come up with the idea of Baobabooks?
A proud father of three children, I was becoming increasingly concerned by the amount of time my kids were spending on their digital devices with no productive outcome. I would observe time passing, sometimes more than an hour, while they surfed on their favorite social media sites. Even more, my kids seldom had any “downtime” when they might become bored (as I occasionally experienced at their age) and would need to creatively find things to occupy themselves. Because it started to really concern me, I started to think of how I could change the dynamic. Since my kids like to read, write and draw, I thought it would be nice to create a website where they could write, illustrate and publish their own books.
I was fortunate to know a very talented builder of digital assets. When I discussed the idea with him, he decided to take on the challenge and we spent our first year designing and building the platform. The next year we partnered with one school to pilot the platform. With the support of the headmaster, we worked with two teachers and their 42 students who wrote 83 books over 6 months.
I am not an educator and was honest enough to recognize my shortcomings and engage a very talented education team who has provided the guidance we needed to become increasingly more relevant in the world of education. Through interacting with them, I have come to appreciate the importance of literacy, even in our ever-increasingly digital world. It doesn’t matter if students aspire to become an engineer or an artist, or anything in between, the ability to effectively communicate – to write and express themselves in a structured way – remains a key success factor that will determine their ability to succeed in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world.
Why do you think it is important for children to have a platform to unleash their creative writing skills?
Giving students agency through our platform and providing the ability for them to express themselves is deeply empowering. It provides an important re-enforcement of their value as individuals and gives them the space they need to gain self-confidence and flourish. Providing artists a place where they can showcase their work and gain recognition and appreciation is transformational.
Writing and reading are important life skills. Students who know how to read and write have better chances of getting into college, finding a job, and having opportunities to further their education. Writing fosters our ability to explain and refine our ideas to others and ourselves. The more students read and write, the more they are able to broaden their vocabulary and articulate concepts accurately and more effectively to others. Because literacy skills develop with age, it is important for children and teens to engage with / be exposed to experiences that develop these skills from an early age.
Similarly, art is an important form of expression that allows more rounded development to occur. Art subjects encourage self-expression and creativity and can build confidence as well as a sense of individual identity. Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Being creative or Artistic expression can also improve motivation while enhancing concentration and self-confidence.
What are three lessons you learned from children’s stories on Baobabooks?
The Baobabooks platform supports and encourages writers and artists and allows provides them an inclusive space to work individually or together to create and publish a book. It’s this collaborative connection that we can foster and to enhance understanding and appreciation of the diversity in the world. If children can work across continents, oceans and cultures to learn from each other and create a book that is valued and appreciated, what else can they accomplish? This sense of empowerment stimulates positive thoughts for what might be possible in the future. It’s this optimism that is so important to all of us at Baobabooks; our hope is that we can support and inspire children and teens to “dream big” and then take action, and they just may gain important literacy skills while doing it!