While looking for a carer for their first child, Jon Ming and his wife, Q-Pei were introduced to a different way of raising kids.
It’s called the play exploration method, and upon further research, Q-Pei came across the Montessori approach.
Dictionary time: The Montessori method is one that stimulates a child’s learning by encouraging them to experiment and develop their fine motor skills. The toy should also give them the opportunity to work independently at their own pace and use their creativity.Whitby School
Childcare services or schools that use this method tend to be very expensive because the toys supplied are usually imported and difficult to sustain.
So they decided to go into carpentry full time and quit their jobs as financial auditors at PwC to start Modle.play, where they built their own open-ended play and furniture products.
“Also, it’s a good way to promote local carpentry skills, which is still underrated today,” said Jon to Vulcan Post.
Stacking The Blocks
As neither Q-Pei nor Jon came from design backgrounds, they’re mainly inspired by European toymakers and Pinterest when building Modle.play’s products.
Jon’s carpentry skills came from his grandfather and father who had a passion for fixing and building things.
As a scout back in school, constructing campsite equipment and making scouting gadgets in district competitions had nurtured his building skills.
The couple’s production process begins with a rough prototype of the toys which are then tested by their own kids.
It then goes back to the drawing board for additional tweaking and inspection for potential hazards like loose pieces of wood chips and sharp splinters before putting it out into the market.
Modle.play currently uses nyatoh and meranti plywood for its durability but hopes to find more sustainably sourced wood that’s FSC certified.
Dictionary time: FSC certified means that the wood used in the product and the manufacturer that made it met the requirements of the Forest Stewardship Council.The Spruce
“But currently in Malaysia, such material will come at a premium, and is not readily available just anywhere,” he said.
The toys and playsets must also be safe and have structural integrity as they’re meant for children as young as 6 months old.
To do this, food-grade finishings are used in the wooden pieces.
It’s also coated with oil and non-toxic polyurethane/acrylic finishing to prevent absorption by the wood.
So if food or drinks get spilled on them (as they’re bound to with kids), it can all be wiped off with a damp cloth.
A Good Learning Investment
To me, the toys seem rather expensive. Larger ones like Klymb and Kiub—a collapsible playground set—are priced at RM560 and RM350 respectively.
While Blokks (building blocks) costs RM199 and RM349 for its Junior and Large sets.
This led me to assume that Modle.play’s clients are mostly made up of daycare centres with large influxes of young kids who’d always play with the toys.
It would be a bad ROI for parents who buy it for their kids to play at home, only to have them become neglected once they grow up in a few years.
But Jon told Vulcan Post that it’s on the contrary, actually. Most of their customers are stay at home moms who believe in open-ended learning.
He explained, “For one, open-ended learning requires some guidance at the beginning by playing with the child, not for the child.”
Progressively, kids also learn that there is more than one way to play and they’ll start extending their play materials with other accessories like figurines.
“This makes the open-ended toys such as building blocks last for years as it is open-ended enough for different stages of play,” he said.
“So if you compare with other toys, the ROI is pretty worth it.”
The playground set is also collapsible and can be transported from one’s home to the park if a family wants to host a picnic, for example.
This makes it more convenient than a regular plastic playground set in the market.
But Jon isn’t ostracising daycares either. In the future, the couple hopes to make Modle.play affordable for both daycares and stay home moms.
“More importantly, we also hope to continue to use this platform to provide job opportunities to the local Malaysians and inspire them to work with their hands as well as bring their ideas to come alive,” he said.
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Featured Image Credit: Q-Pei and Jon Ming, co-founders of Modle.play