Educational App Takes the Stress Out of Increased Screen Time
By May of 2020, children between ages 4 and 15 were spending almost twice as much time in front of screens as they had the year before, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When The New York Times reported this finding by Qustodio in January 2021, many parents were not surprised by this disconcerting data because it reflected their realities.
Pulling children away from electronic devices is often not as simple as taking away the tablet, though — especially not in the world of working and learning from home. Instead of panicking, an Orlando couple seized the opportunity to create WizUp, an app focused on turning screen time into learning time.
“In the last year, it became obvious that it wasn’t just us experiencing this concern,” said father Aleem Kanji, who co-founded WizUp with his wife, Natasha. “Everyone was at home, and screen-time usage among kids skyrocketed. Parents had to be on the phone or computer all day working, and they needed a tool to get through the day.”
Natasha explained how the pandemic lockdown affected their family: “We have two wildly active boys, and the only thing that seemed to get them to sit down was YouTube. We realized our youngest, who was turning 2, already knew his ABCs, could count to 10, and could count in Spanish. All of that was from learning on YouTube, so we didn’t want to take it away, but we did want to make it more intentional.”
A Smart Solution
On July 14, after months of development, the two launched WizUp for Apple and Android products. The app integrates education into children’s content, adding pop-up screens that feature age-specific, customizable questions appearing periodically during videos.
Parents can select which shows their children can watch from thousands of videos available on the platform, including content from PBS Kids, Netflix Jr. and Nick Jr. They can also select the age range for the questions along with how frequently the questions pop up and the length of time for each session. Additionally, parents can set up customizable rewards that deliver encouragement in the form of an audio or video recording from a parent.
“We knew there were a lot of apps where the kids get coins and can go into these ‘in-game’ shops, but we wanted it to be focused on unity within the family,” Natasha said. “We wanted rewards to be customizable so that parents could be creative. For instance, you can set it up so that after 10 questions you might take them for ice cream and after 50 you might plan a movie night. We wanted to engage families to use that reward system to spend some time together.”
A Startup Community
When WizUp began, neither of its founders had experience in tech. Aleem is a real estate broker and owner at Crown Realty Co. and managing member at Financial Accounting Services, and Natasha is a teacher in early education. What they did have was plenty of experience with the relationship between parenting and screen time.
“We used to walk around the house asking, ‘Where’s the babysitter?’ while looking for the iPad,” Natasha said with a laugh.
“I know that screen time is a pain point, but it’s part of life in this day and age,” her husband said. “If anything, having screen time helped us get through working at home. But we wanted to know we could give it to them freely without worry and guilt. We wanted that freedom and peace of mind.”
To do that, they reached out to their community to help them navigate the tech world, finding a developer who understood their vision for WizUp. Then they began navigating the world of startup options. They pitched the idea to the StarterStudio, a leader in Orlando’s tech startup world, and were accepted into the accelerator program.
“They provided such great mentorship and helpful contacts,” Aleem said. “You’d be surprised how big the startup community here is and how welcoming everyone is. It opened so many doors.”
It was the teachers and parents in their network, however, who became their most trusted partners. In helping to create and curate the questions, the educators in their network really solidified and shaped the concept for the app.
Meanwhile, every show was vetted by real parents, including the founders themselves. “We reached out to people in our network with kids from 2 to 11 to ask if there were any videos they would want to include, and we reviewed that content carefully,” Natasha said.
And while watching countless hours of children’s television may have pushed them close to the verge of insanity once or twice, both agreed it was more than worth it to present a final product that takes the worry out of watch time for others navigating the intersection of technology and parenting.
New versions of the app are in the works, with upgrades that will include additional question sets and customizations. In the meantime, both Aleem and Natasha are embracing every opportunity to continue their own education.
“I’ve enjoyed the learning process throughout,” he said. “It’s a great time because I feel like we can set an example for our boys. They can see how much work we put into the app and what it takes to start a business.”