While looking for a caregiver for their first child, Jon Ming and his wife, Q-Pei was introduced to a different way of raising children.
It's known as the game exploration method, and after further research, Q-Pei came across the Montessori approach.
Dictionary time: The Montessori Method stimulates a child's learning by encouraging them to experiment and develop their fine motor skills. The toy should also allow them to work independently at their own pace and use their creativity.
Childcare services or schools that use this method tend to be very expensive as the toys supplied are usually imported and difficult to obtain.
So they decided to go into the carpentry full-time and quit their work as auditors at PwC to start Modle.play where they built their own open-top play and furniture products.
"It's also a great way to develop local carpentry skills that are still underrated to this day," Jon told the Vulcan Post.
Stack the blocks
Since neither Q-Pei nor Jon have a design background, they are mainly inspired by European toy manufacturers and Pinterest when building Modle.play products.
Jon's carpentry skills came from his grandfather and father who had a passion for repairing and building things.
As a scout at school, building camping gear and making scouting equipment in district competitions had boosted his building skills.
The couple's production process begins with a rough prototype of the toys, which are then tested by their own children.
Jon's children are prototype testers themselves / Image Credit: Modle.play
The drawing board is then readjusted and checked for potential hazards such as loose wood chips and sharp splinters before it is placed on the market.
Modle.play currently uses Nyatoh and Meranti plywood for its durability, but is hoping to find wood of more sustainable origins that is FSC certified.
Dictionary time: FSC certified means that the wood used in the product and the manufacturer who made it meet the requirements of the Forest Stewardship Council.
"But right now in Malaysia, such material will be very important and not widely available," he said.
The toys and play sets must also be safe and structurally sound, as they are intended for children aged 6 months and over.
For this purpose, food-safe surfaces are used in the pieces of wood.
It's also coated with oil and a non-toxic polyurethane / acrylic finish to prevent absorption by the wood.
So if food or drink is spilled on them (as they do with children) it can all be wiped off with a damp cloth.
A good investment in learning
The team behind the woodwork / Image Credit: Modle.play
To me the toys seem pretty expensive. Larger ones like Klymb and Kiub – a collapsible playground set – cost RM560 and RM350, respectively.
While blokks (building blocks) cost RM199 and RM349 for its junior and large sets.
This led me to believe that Modle.play's customers are mostly daycare centers with a large influx of young children who are always playing with the toys.
It would be a poor ROI for parents who buy their children to play at home only to neglect them once they are adults in a few years.
But Jon told Vulcan Post that it's actually quite the opposite. Most of their clients are stay-at-home mothers who believe in open learning.
He explained: "For one thing, open learning requires some guidance at the beginning by playing with the child, not for the child."
Little by little, children also learn that there is more than one way to play, and they will begin to expand their play materials with other accessories such as figures.
The only limit is your imagination / Image credit: Modle.play
"As a result, the open toys last like building blocks for years because they are open enough for different phases of the game," he said.
"So if you compare it to other toys, the ROI is pretty much worth it."
The playground set is also foldable and can be transported from home to the park, for example if a family wants to have a picnic.
This makes it more convenient than a regular plastic playground on the market.
But Jon doesn't prohibit daycare either. In the future, the couple are hoping to make Modle.play affordable for both daycare and home mothers.
"More importantly, we want to continue using this platform to provide employment opportunities for local Malaysians and to inspire them to work with their hands and bring their ideas to life," he said.
- You can find out more about Modle.play here.
- More information on other Malaysian startups can be found here.
Selected image source: Q-Pei and Jon Ming, co-founders of Modle.play