A chat with Jill Robertson, writer and co-founder of Wee Society
Tell us about Wee Society.
Wee Society is about raising good little people through happy design. The brand aims to create learning experiences for preschoolers that encourage kindness, spark imaginations, inspire creativity and induce giggles. Our characters and stories currently appear on apps, art prints and toy blocks, in DIY activities and on Tattlys.
What did you do before Wee Society?
I’ve been president of a creative studio called Office since 2007. We do branding and design work for companies like P&G, Google, Whole Foods Market and Wee Society.
When did you first have the idea for Wee Society?
I’m not sure I can pinpoint the exact timing, but I’ve been (semi-secretly) writing children’s stories since college. In 2010 or so, I talked with Office’s creative director, Rob Alexander, and my husband—Office founder Jason Schulte—about creating stories for kids.
Tell us about the process of creating your products—how do you manage your workload?
We try hard to fit Wee Society work into Office’s workload just like any other client—but when things are busy, it often gets pushed to the bottom of the list. But fortunately, it’s incredibly fun … so somehow, it gets done.
How did you come up with the name?
My husband and I were driving down a street in San Francisco when he saw a sign and said, “Oh, Wee Society. Damn, that would have been a great name for our kids’ brand.” Turns out, he misread the sign—it actually said “Wee Scotty” (it was a fashion/sewing shop). So ‘Wee Society’ stuck. It just felt right.
Who was the first person you told about your idea? What was their reaction?
Then developing the apps, we consulted with my sister-in-law, who has a background in child development, and with an early childhood educator. We wanted to make sure the apps were developmentally appropriate, and we wanted to extend the experience into meaningful conversations between parents and kids, so they helped us with our ‘tips for parents’ that are included with each app.
How much did having kids inspire the idea? A thousand per cent. Our own kids, and our nieces and nephews. For example, like many parents, preventing bullying is on our mind—and we’ve learned that it’s important to start early. A 2011 study from the Anti-Defamation League found that when kids as early as three were encouraged to respect differences, they showed less-biased attitudes and behaviours. We believe that’s a first step in helping to avoid potential bullying behaviours down the road.
We developed the Wee You-Things app to encourage our own kids to appreciate differences, in a slightly silly and super-fun way. In it, a quirky crew of characters celebrates “you-things”—those little and big things that, together, make you special and like no one else in the world. Ruth has a purple tooth. Little Dot gets scared a lot. Brad has two dads. Ling pretends that she’s a king. After meeting twenty-two new friends, kids are asked, “What’s your you-thing?” They get to become part of the story.
Wee You-Things sends the message that what makes you different is also what makes you awesome. Because we know that if kids feel good about themselves, they’re less likely to put others down. It also provides a vocabulary for teaching young kids about differences—“Yep, that’s her you-thing”—and has been sparking conversations around the dinner table.
We also created heirloom-quality Wee You-Things wood blocks. With a single set, you can solve three different puzzles and mix and match stackable characters.
Wee Hee Hees were inspired by my son Max, who giggles uncontrollably when he hears a good joke. Is there anything better than sharing a laugh with your kid? Nothing beats that kind of bonding. And research shows that telling jokes is linked to higher intelligence, creativity, sociability, empathy and self-esteem in kids. All of the What Wee Reads—where we recommend favourite kids’ books on our blog and social media—come from bedtime reading to my boys (best part of the day). And, of course, we want to promote reading aloud to kids, as it stimulates language and cognitive skills, and sparks imagination and curiosity.
What do your kids think about it?
I asked them. Leo: “Well, I play with the You-Things app. It’s pretty funny, actually. My favourite little guy is Potter. Everybody is different. I think you should make a Star Wars app.” Max: “I like the [Tattly] tattoos. And I like telling jokes.”
What has been your favourite joke?
How do lions like their cheeseburgers cooked? Medium-rawr!
Has this job made your life with kids easier?
Working any job with kids is tough. But having flexibility at work is immensely helpful—actually, necessary, for me. If anything makes life with kids easier, it’s co-parenting with my husband, and help from the incredible people in our boys’ lives who are helping us raise them.
This recipe is from Lunch Lady Magazine. Collect the Lunch Lady magazine series here