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Heather Welch - International Branding, Development and Play, Play, Play

What do you do in the industry?

My role as Global Brand Lead for Edx Education is to bring educational, playful products to the moms, dads and caregivers across the world who are looking for purposeful playthings to help their child skill-build.

Where were you born?

Australia, along with a twin brother.

(Heather working along side my twin brother David at a toy fair)

How did you get started in the industry?

I’m what you would call a global citizen. Born in Australia, I was working as a business management teacher in Singapore before I joined Edx Education in Dubai. Interesting about this opportunity was the growth factor. Outside of the U.S., the types of playthings Edx Education offers were only available to schools. I joined the company in 2014 when the global market started to mirror the US market in demand for educational play products.

Do you have any kiddos?

Two active little boys who keep me on my toes. And, we have a large extended family with many nieces, nephews in Australia and the UK.

What was your favorite toy or game as a child?

Mutzi, a plush toy dog, and my bike: I liked to race my twin brother around the neighbourhood.

Do you have a typical work day and how does it play out for you?

This year has been a different year working and home schooling with the whole family….As the cliché tells us, change is the only constant. So long as I deliver at the end of each day/week/month, then my colleagues don’t need to worry, or so I tell them. Nonetheless, here’s how a day in my UK-based home-office might go:

6:27am. Coffee is dangled under my nose by my 9 year old who has mastered how to froth milk and add a shot of coffee to start my day.

7:27am. Everyone is up and dressed in the house and my husband (who also works from home these days) brings me a poached egg or two (which means I forgive him momentarily for being at home too). Then, emails and online news are reviewed.

8:27am. I’ve just spent an hour on the phone with Taiwan talking about brand development, marketing opportunities and work-in-progress; now it’s time to record a podcast or webinar with education experts like the fabulous Dr Paul Swan in Australia. He’s one of the best speakers ever, when it comes to making learning math through play.

10:27am. And 27 minutes past the hour, every hour throughout the day, I liaise with my colleagues across the globe to talk about the business issues/opportunities, the marketplace, and the instructional content they are developing for their market. My goal is to always add value and share what resources or information might be helpful from another part of the world.

(Heather with Edx Education Team at a toy show)

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Hearing testimonials from the end consumer - whether from a parent, caregiver or teacher - on the impact our educational toys have on a child’s play time.

I’m also proud of the fact Edx Education supports charities and sustainable education programs in Taiwan, where our manufacturing is based. One example is our partnership with a local charity where we provide a mobile kindergarten unit that visits the remote villages.

Gecko On The Move is the another charity that Edx Education loves working with, supporting teachers to train teachers in remote parts of the world with educational toys to help engage children in math - an international language. Tanzania in West Africa is the next stop for Gecko.

We believe access to education is incredibly important. We have more global-local initiatives planned for next year.

How do you define creativity?

Learning through play and problem solving are key aspects to creativity. Making something from nothing is the epitome of creativity. Open-ended toys work so beautifully in fueling curiosity, creativity and critical thinking.

(Heather in Showroom in Dubai, UAE)

How do you recharge or take a break?

If you asked me 12 months ago, I would have said traveling the world and discovering new cultures, food, etc. But, at the moment, the 3r’s define my agenda - read, run and relax with my family. Having a glass of wine with my husband or paddling in the pool with my two year old (which is not really relaxing, but it is rewarding) recharges my batteries.

Who might be role models for the work you do?

My short list has two:

Sir Ken Robinson is perhaps the most famous of all British educators changing the face of the current education to encompass more creativity; I enjoy referring back to his books and website whenever I have ‘writers block’ on any subject at all.

Closer to home – there’s my father, Murray Jackson, the CEO and Founder of Edx Education, who has built this successful business in education. He has a love for mathematics and wants to make the subject fun and interactive for children. And, I admire him for how he uses his time – there’s the company focus - and then the charitable sustainability programs he’s passionate about.

The toy and game industry clearly has…

Evolved over time. The offerings are more gender inclusive across many more product categories. The uptick in educational toys over the past decade is obviously exciting as well.

Parents have been keen to divert children away from the now unavoidable screen time to other types of play and recreation. We’re very excited about the space we can fill in the marketplace with engaging educational toys that are versatile for multiple ages and offer a variety of skill-building.

This year is so different than any other. What role do you think the toy industry can play in being a point of light?

I’ll speak for Edx Education and say we feel it’s our responsibility to engage with and empower parents and caregivers in the face of this rapid rate of change, this ’new normal’, happening around learning. Parents are going to worry and I completely understand that as a parent. We take our guidance from school, but then we look at our child in our living room or at the dining room table and say “What should I be doing to help my child now?”

(Heather - Again I told my son Dark Vader tried to attack our stand)

Children adapt to change quicker than we do. Parents should take a deep breath and remember a few things.

  1. They are their child’s first and best teacher. Just talking, hugging and spending time together is helping to build important skills, confidence and happiness.

  2. There are companies, like Edx Education, that have play and learning kits providing hours of purposeful play that feel more like activities than school. Companies like ourselves or Crayola also have deep online instructional resources to extend use of kits for hours more creativity and learning inspiration.

  3. Think about sharing the load for the next few months. Tele-conferencing enables grandparents, college students attending remotely, or loving aunts, uncles and friends to play games, have conversations or read and act out stories. Be creative. Be imaginative. Stay positive.

Are you worried about anything related to this transitional learning situation?

Math skills and social skills. Research says the greatest slide could be happening around math which is why we hustled up very quickly to release our Math kits. Socially, we just all need to do the best we can to keep our kids safely engaged. We’ve been walking a lot, waving a lot, videoconferencing a lot and do anything we can to see people where we can.

What does your house look like these days with your two kids?

Imperfect. But, we are making it work because it’s such a unique time for families. Here’s an example of learning through play that happens often. My 9- year old will be playing with our Math Cubes with his 2 year old brother-- one will build and the other will destroy. But, hours later, we see the little one trying to build like his brother had earlier. This playful imitation is valuable learning too. I encourage parents to allow children to be children and not to worry if everything does not go as planned. Just create that playful environment to explore and encourage curiosity.

So, what’s coming next in the industry that excites you?

What excites me is that we’re getting smarter as an industry in regards to technology. In some parts of the world people talk about O2O or online-to-offline and back again…

Children will pick up a tablet and play a game or watch a show and then sit and play with any sort of open-ended toy. Brands like Lego are experimenting with Amazon Alexa creating stories and getting children to build things as they go through the story being read on the device. All sorts of digital resources are being created across all the platforms available nowadays. We look forward to further developing Edx Education reach for 020 toys and extension activities.

I’m lucky that…

I’m lucky that today’s children still enjoying playing and that we - as an industry - still have the opportunity to show parents how they can help their children learn through play. What’s more is that I’m lucky to have two happy young boys and a patient husband at home who help me learn though play too. They show me so many different ways to play and engage with toys!

Also lucky I have work in an industry that I love and am passionate about and an added bonus is along side my twin brother and father!

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