We talked to Natalia Pereldik of Funexpected and this is what she said about games that teach kids to think.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Natalia Pereldik: All in all, we are doing well. The lockdown in spring was an exciting time for all our family. Though we were anxious about our loved ones and friends, especially elders, this was the time that my husband and I spent much more time with kids. Usually, we are more often in the office than not and haven’t had a chance to witness their daytime activities so much before. As a result, our family became even closer to one another.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Funexpected?
Natalia Pereldik: I completed my university degree in mathematics then spent more than ten years in investment banking as a complex credit products trader. When my elder son was 3, he was obsessed with numbers. That brought back my passion for mathematics. With my co-founder Alexandra Kazilo, my earlier classmate in a mathematical school, we discussed how we wanted to teach our kids math. We decided to make it a go and create our product, which we called Funexpected Math.
How does Funexpected innovate?
Natalia Pereldik: Funexpected Math seeks to transform the latest mathematical education results in an engaging digital product for children aged 3-7. Many interesting scientific results still haven’t found their way to parents and teachers. That is why we seek to collaborate with scientists in math education and cognitive development to create new formats for children to understand mathematical concepts deeply.
What comes to mind when you are told about math learning for kids aged 3-7?
Natalia Pereldik: Most adults think about numbers and counting. This is unsurprising, as standard curriculums focus on numeracy skills. The Funexpected team decided to change this attitude towards math for early age children. The Funexpected Math app helps children progress in geometric and spatial skills, train their understanding of patterning, use logical thinking, create algorithms and play with flowcharts, acquire a deep number sense, and understand the basics of division, practice numeracy, and much more.
Every mathematical concept within Funexpected Math is presented via working game mechanics and stunning visuals. Kids become genuinely interested in playing to learn math and become highly comfortable with mathematics from an early age.
We are also keen to use new technologies that can enhance children’s’ understanding. We are working on an Augmented Reality geometry game and using machine learning to adapt our game complexity to every child’s unique needs.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Natalia Pereldik: In these quarantine and lockdown times, people are looking at their home education options. All digital educational products have seen a boost in usage. But people first turn to already well-known brands, the names they have heard but haven’t necessarily tried. We still have a lot to do to build our brand and explain our approach to parents, but we already have a great community of loyal users growing.
Also, every member of the Funexpected team has transitioned to a remote work format, and we definitely needed to enhance our internal processes. Though it was at first a challenge, our team has done great. I am lucky to work with people who are so passionate about what they do.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Natalia Pereldik: The most difficult choices for me were related to people. I was not good at hard conversations and at first delayed them, even understanding that some person was not a good fit for our team or that our company was not the best place for her or him. Not everyone was keen to do work on children’s products. If you are dreaming of creating a new Fortnite and are working on educational games for kids, well, it’s potentially not a good fit! Now I know all parties should recognize and accept this as soon as possible!
It’s also essential to try and be objective about evaluating your product and its new features. Sometimes, it’s tough to give up on a feature into which you have invested heart and sweat. For me, it’s difficult, though looking at the data helps a lot.
All in all, if you are building something new, you will make many mistakes along the way. So, you better get used to them!
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Natalia Pereldik: Sports, reading books aloud with my kids, meditation, and, again, reading books. Sometimes, I become obsessed with thinking about some work problem. When this occurs, I need time to check the data, review the numbers, and form an educated opinion.
I also love to travel with my family. This year is very different when it comes to that, but a change of scenery – however minor – always helps.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Natalia Pereldik: Our company is always competing to take up the time children spend on any form of digital product. Our users are children aged 3-7 and naturally, both their educational time and screen time are limited.
The patterns of education are changing and, as people shift to life-long learning, they want new educational formats for their children. More and more people are interested not in stand-alone skills but in helping their children cultivate various thinking types. And this is precisely what Funexpected Math does.
Our app’s curriculum is much broader than standard curriculums. We aim to teach kids to think, use their logical and algorithmic thinking, develop spatial and patterning skills, experiment, and draw their conclusions. We do this using the latest technology and research results, creating a unique approach in the process.
Your final thoughts?
Natalia Pereldik:2020 was a challenging year but transformed all of us in so many ways. We have stepped back from, assessed, and rebuilt the way we all live and work. And it has made a significant impact in the educational industry in adopting new solutions. I believe that education made a great leap forward that would otherwise have taken years, and it is exciting to see how this industry will continue to evolve.