When Manisha Shah started taking her premature baby–born at 28 weeks–to see an occupational therapist, her eyes were opened to the importance of play.
“A few minutes with her was so transformational.”
As the therapist played games with Manisha’s daughter, she would explain how one action leads to another. Early smiles pave the way for emotional expression. Hand gestures during songs matter.
“In three sentences, she had completely changed how I interpreted what my daughter was doing,” she says.
Manisha says it was then that she realized there are people out there that have this knowledge, that work with kids day in and day out, and yet “the only reason we got access to it is because we were in this special situation.”
She began thinking about how to make it accessible to other parents. Her “aha moment” eventually led to the creation of Playfully, an app that helps parents connect the dots between playtime, milestones and development.
Inspired by apps like Headspace, Manisha tapped her software development background and assembled a team of advisors to create “little lessons in the moment that you need it.”
“We give you five activity ideas that you can play and some of them are going to be things that you’ve probably done before, or heard of before. And some of them will feel new and different,” she says.
The app is accompanied by personalized emails for each child. For example, this week’s message explained the significance of my nearly 3-year-old son reciting books from memory, like when he recently wowed me with all the words to Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site.
Women Helping Women Succeed
“I’m the kind of person that likes guidance before jumping in,” says Manisha. “I enjoy people explaining things to me and showing me the way.”
And she pays it forward. In fact, Manisha reached out to me to offer support after I posted in a moms group we’re both part of about having a late pre-term infant. (When I downloaded the app for the first time, it even adjusted my son’s current and upcoming milestones based on his due date, to better match his early arrival.)
It’s no surprise that Manisha pioneered a maternity leave policy at the company she worked for before starting Playfully. But what impressed me most of all, is that she continued working remotely while her daughter was in the NICU–spending mornings at the hospital two time zones ahead of her colleagues, then returning home to work at lunchtime.
“It gave me a little bit of community during that time,” she says. “Like a little bit of normalcy in what was such a crazy time. So it actually ended up being helpful.”
A similar spirit is demonstrated by the team of experts she’s assembled. As moms themselves in most cases, they even offered to help while she went back out on maternity leave again earlier this year.
“They not only bring their professional expertise to this, they’re also thinking about it from a parent lens, which makes a big difference.”
How this Mompreneur Makes it Work
Manisha says she never imagined she would become an entrepreneur. Now that she’s a mother of two, she’s finding that the more fluid schedule suits her.
“I feel like I’ve been lucky that I’ve done this in this phase of my life, even though it is hard to be doing something on your own,” she says. “The flip side is you have so much flexibility. So I could really craft something that felt right for for me and my family.”
This includes driving her almost 4-year-old daughter to school, and then returning home to her dining room to begin working while her nanny watches her son.
A typical workday involves “juggling between coding and email and customer support, and just doing a little bit of content planning,” social media–and of course, taking breaks to play with her son.
Later in the day, Manisha carves out time for her daughter, “usually from the time that she’s leaving her school until her bedtime. It’s all about getting the family through the routine.”
Manisha wants other busy parents to know that the time they spend interacting with their kids each day has meaning, no matter how short on time they are.
“You still are putting into practice, probably, a lot of the stuff we have in Playfully.”
So next time you sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or play Peekaboo after a long workday, rest assured you’re helping your child reach their next milestone.