“Tell the truth.”
“Share your toys.”
“Don’t bite your friend.”
These are some of the most important life lessons that a parent can teach a child, says Abbie Schiller ’94, whose children are ages 1 and 7. “When my daughter was 3 years old, I desperately needed a hero in the media to help me teach those lessons. But without Mister Rogers, who taught things like how to be a good friend, how to use your words to describe feelings, how to tell the truth, and other lessons in a real, non-animated way, there was nothing.”
So the former ABC public relations executive created something—The Mother Company. Her multimedia company seeks to help children ages 3 to 6 become more emotionally communicative, socially confident, and self-aware by offering parents a series of DVDs, iPhone apps, books and plush toys that teach social and emotional skills. Her website also offers expert advice and information.
“Our mission is to help a generation of children and to support a generation of parents with resources and tools because we need the help ourselves as parents, and we feel that our whole society will benefit,” says Schiller. “For many reasons, including the growing number of children under the age of 6, parents feel more pressure to prepare their children academically for kindergarten. Elementary schools are more academically focused—often teaching to the national standardized tests. But if children start school without the ability to sit still, follow directions, be respectful, take turns, share, make friends, and voice their needs, they are not school ready. Social and emotional skills are crucial at this age.”
One skill that she herself has demonstrated well so far is the ability to hold onto her vision, at all costs. When she came up with the idea for The Mother Company in 2008, she lacked the necessary funding. Yet she and her business partner Samantha Kurtzman-Counter turned down millions of dollars offered by three potential investors. They didn’t “get” her concept and they wanted a lot of control, she says. So she said no, and then turned to parents who did “get it” and wanted to invest.
The MSNBC TV program “Your Business” featured a story on the financing strategy. And other national media outlets have paid close attention, including People magazine and the Los Angeles Business Journal.
Working Mother magazine has recommended the company’s first DVD, “Ruby’s Studio: The Feelings Show,” to parents as a good way to entertain children. The 45-minute program is hosted by Ruby, the company’s version of a Mister Rogers-meets-Mary Poppins, who helps young children recognize, articulate and work through their feelings. The show takes viewers through animated segments (narrated by Mel Brooks), musical dance numbers, and interviews with children, who share their insights. DailyCandy, a trendsetting website and email newsletter, called it “edutainment at its best.” And Whole Foods stores now distribute it nationwide.
At Wheaton, Schiller majored in anthropology because she said she wanted to study people around the world and use what she learned each day. Her career so far has revolved around understanding people and how to reach them. Prior to founding The Mother Company, she was vice president at ABC Media Relations in Burbank, Calif.; vice president of public relations at Kiehl’s, a skin products company; and vice president at Nike Communications. Now she focuses on the people closest to her heart—parents and children.
Besides providing healthy media, she says the best advice she has for parents is the advice she also needs to heed: “Put down the cell phone. Listen to what your kid is saying. Play for at least 10 minutes every day. Eat dinner together. Take a deep breath. It’s all going to be OK.”
More Online: Read more about the company at themotherco.com.