The tool for back to school
A new product, the TomTag check list, aims to help children independently organise their school day. CWB caught up with the business’ owners, Clare Cusack and Deborah Watson, to find out more.
By Laura Turner
1 October 2013
It’s a universal truth that many children struggle with the everyday task of packing their own bags for school and remembering all the different things they need. And it’s because of this that Clare Cusack and Deborah Watson launched Orkid Ideas and invented the TomTag, a personalised check list to allow a child to independently organise their school day, helping build self-confidence and organisational skills.
The colourful and fun visual check list works by showing a child all the things they need for school, organised by the day of the week. Equally, as the list is attached to the child’s school bag, they can also check they have everything they need when packing their school bag to return home.
So how does it work? The TomTag pack contains over 160, water-resistant stickers, with 45 different pictures that look like the things children most commonly need to remember for school, as well as blank stickers for a child to make their own if needed. Once the stickers have been selected for each day, they are applied to the blank buttons – of which there are 45 per pack – and each button is then pushed into an empty space on the tag for the day of the week the item is needed. Although the buttons hold securely in place when clicked in, a firm push through the hole in the back of the tag will release the button if it needs to be changed when timetables alter or new needs are required. There are six tags in a pack and an extra “daily” tag to show all the things a child needs with them every day. An attachment loop connects all the tags together, and the TomTag is then ready to be added to a child’s school bag.
As children with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism or ADHD often experience greater difficulties with planning and organisation, TomTag’s visual approach makes it accessible to children of all abilities – making it a truly inclusive product. It was Cusack’s son Tomas’ diagnosis with autism at the age of four, and the realisation he may never talk or go to mainstream school, that triggered the idea for TomTag in the first place.
“Determined that Tomas would reach his full potential, whatever that was to be, I began making resources, flashcards and games to support his therapy programmes,” says Cusack. “I also took a distance learning course with Dyslexia Action in order to help him. During the course, I had to design an aid to help students with poor organisational skills. My solution drew on experiences with Tomas and took the form of a simple bag tag, and soon other parents at school were asking me to make one for their kids, as well.”
Together with her friend Deborah Watson, Cusack began considering the possibility of trying to turn the bag tag idea into a commercially viable product to be called TomTag, named after Tomas. Cusack and Watson had grown up within a few miles of each other, either side of the Lancashire/Yorkshire border on the Pennine hills, but actually only met when living in Switzerland, having followed their husbands’ jobs there around the time they each had their first child. Both had spent the spent last 10-12 years raising their families; prior to that Cusack had been a solicitor while Watson worked in financial services.
“Neither of us had any experience of running a business or designing and manufacturing products, so we took on as much free advice as possible, taking advantage of local Business Link courses and the wealth of free information on the internet as well as discussing the idea with family and friends,” says Watson. “A friend recommended a product design company who helped us to design and manufacture the product – it has been a huge learning curve in all respects.”
In terms of stockists, Orkid Ideas is targeting independent schoolwear retailers, department stores, online retailers and schools with TomTag, which wholesales for around £5.50. The company has secured accounts with online retailers of children’s product in the UK and Europe, as well as to a range of parent support groups in the special needs market. It is also stocked on the British Dyslexia Association web shop.
“We believe TomTag would sit well in the accessory ranges offered by independent schoolwear retailers, so we are keen to build up our relationships with these stockists,” says Watson. “We have stockists in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Ireland. While these have come about somewhat organically, it is a good indicator that there is a market for TomTag worldwide. We have had interest from retailers and individuals in Australia, Greece, Gibraltar, Abu Dhabi, the US and Canada. If possible, long-term, we would hope to take advantage of all these opportunities.”
While still a new company – Orkid Ideas was registered in 2010 and began trading in June 2012 – there are already product developments in the pipeline, including new sticker ranges that will be sold as add-on packs to the basic TomTag product. The idea being that TomTag can be used as a scheduling tool for a wider range of activities, such as personal care and school timetables, in addition to its current function as a school-bag organiser. There are also plans to develop a product more suited to older children, to help them with the transition to Year 7, and the additional organisational demands faced.
TomTag is available at The Schoolwear Show in October.
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