The business owners I respect the most set out to solve a problem and work against prevailing winds to fashion a solution.
This might be why I’m so drawn to the NPR-produced podcast, “How I Built This." The show dives into the fascinating stories behind some of the world’s best known companies and weaves a narrative journey about innovators, entrepreneurs and idealists — and the movements they built. My take-away: Big things often start from one small, practical idea.
And so goes the story of local business owner Kailan Carr. A mother of two and former educator, Carr is passionate about creating screen-free activities for her children. She knows that kids are inundated with technology at a very young age. And it’s hard not to use tech gadgets as babysitters when they work so well. But the idea always made her nervous. Children are easily glued to a game or show on a television, iPhone or iPad.
“Ever tried to get the attention of a screen-connected kid?” Carr asks.
In the early years, an overabundance of exposure to technology — sometimes described as a “digital drug” for young children — has long been studied and proved as damaging for children's brains, destroying their imagination and ruining their capacity to handle healthy amounts of boredom.
So Carr set out to find a solution. She began organizing swaps so that parents could put together felt “quiet books” filled with tactile activities for their children. For a swap, participants make enough copies of one page to share with an entire group and come away from “swap day” with a complete quiet book of their own. Quiet books are felt activity books designed to engage young children. Children develop motor skills, learn to count and spell and let their imagination run wild while flipping through the pages. The demand was so great that she found herself launching a business. She now has a quickly growing company, Quiet Book Queen & Crafts in Between, with clients all across the country.
I asked the “queen” of quiet books about the process and purpose behind her business. Read on if you’d like to learn more.
What led you to start your business, Quiet Book Queen & Crafts in Between?
I had a 3-year-old, a 16-month-old and a pile of quiet book templates that I had collected from the Internet. I never could seem to start working on them. I had such fond memories of my childhood quiet book, and I wanted my kids to have one. But the task of making an entire quiet book was so daunting. I saw the idea of a swap, and posted on Facebook if anyone would be interested in participating. Twenty-two people said yes! So I organized everything, and it was a huge success.
Tell us a little bit about the mission behind your business.
I believe in screen-free activities for young kids in this digitally driven world. I'm all about helping parents keep little ones busy at restaurants, doctor appointments, church and while traveling without the use of technology. Kids will hop on the technology train soon enough. First, let’s teach them other ways to be entertained.
What sets your business apart?
I think my business is extremely unique, and I’m proud of it! Although I like to sew and create quiet books, I also like to help people. My business gives people a little nudge and the guidance they need to create their own tech-free entertainment. I break it down so it’s not overwhelming, it’s a lot more affordable and it’s so much more rewarding to have a hand in making it.
I also organize a donation swap once a year where 20 volunteers make pages, and we end up with 40 quiet books that I get to give to children at Memorial Hospital, Jamison Center, and the Bakersfield Homeless Shelter. It’s wonderful to be able to give back, and I couldn’t do it without amazing volunteers.
Why did you decide to open a business here? Are you from Bakersfield?
I was born and raised here! I went away to college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo but moved back here for a teaching job. Bakersfield is home!
What are your thoughts on the Montessori approach? Does it inform your work? You seem to follow a similar philosophy.
Both the Montessori and Waldorf philosophies of education do not incorporate technology into learning and instead focus on the natural environment and materials (wood, cloth, etc.) I support this wholeheartedly for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. While Montessori focuses more on self-guided learning and practical applications, Waldorf emphasizes the importance of imaginative play and fantasy. I combine a little of both while raising my kids, and so does my work. My Quiet Books promote life skills such as zipping, buckling, lacing and snapping, as well as pretend play with pages such as the doctor kit, baking, making a sandwich and building a sand castle. My felt story sets are also perfect for sparking imaginative play and storytelling.
Do you feel like you’re part of something bigger with the new awareness of the effects of technology on children and the current movement away from tech/tv for young children?
Yes. So much has changed even in the six years since my oldest was a baby. There is a screen-free movement happening, and I’m excited to be in the middle of it. The list of research out there about the negative effects of screen-time is piling up. Sleeping issues because of the blue light, fine motor skill deficits because kids are swiping screens more often than picking up crayons, and language delays because watching a screen is a passive event that replaces interaction between child and caretaker. We have also come to realize that technology is addicting, and that social media can be detrimental to an older child’s emotional well-being. The benefits are just not worth it to me, and I think more and more parents are becoming aware of this as well.
What would you like to see added to the local scene for children?
Of course, I am always open to more local, hands-on activities for children, but I think Bakersfield has a lot to offer already! We love visiting our local library for their free events, especially during the summer! We also use our family pass to go to CALM, Lori Brock Museum and Buena Vista Natural History Museum. Story time with Miss Lynn at the Marketplace and Smitten Kids at Cafe Smitten are also free, and so is GoodSamariTots that gets very young children involved in community service. Some paid activities that are totally worth it are music class at Yellow House Music Together, art classes at the Bakersfield Museum of Art, My Gym for gross motor skills, and classes and camps through NOR and private businesses such as Rigatoni & Robots.
Do you have any future hopes/plans for your business to grow and reach more families?
Anyone in the United States can participate in a swap by mailing their pages. I have had swap group members from 23 states so far, and I’d love to get participation in all 50!
And just for fun, what is your greatest extravagance?
Pilates/Barre class. I could definitely do a video at home for free, but I need a class to motivate me to actually set aside the time to do it. Plus, the workout varies, and I’m never bored. Oh, another one: the $7 yogurt at our farmer’s market. It is so good!
What is your most treasured possession?
My kids. But if we are talking about material things, I would say my wedding ring.
Coffee or tea?
What is your personal motto?
Be kind. Also, comparison is the thief of joy.
If you’d like to check out Kailan’s online shop, visit quietbookqueen.com.
Anna Smith writes a weekly column about Bakersfield. She can be reached at email@example.com. The opinions expressed are her own.