Libby Willig-Kroner is no stranger to the trials and triumphs of parenthood. The Cincinnati native is a working mother of two young boys with a Masters degree in speech pathology and a position at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Even before becoming a parent, Kroner found herself confronting questions from young moms and dads about speech and language development on a semi-regular basis.
"Most parents don't learn about their child's speech development until the child starts exhibiting delays," Kroner says. "I wanted to find a way to make parents feel more confident and on track."
Kroner's innovative solution to the confusing world of child language development is called Hi-Coo
, a subscription toy kit that includes language development tools, tips and activities to help infants and toddlers reach their language milestones. Kroner has been developing her business plan since enrolling in the CO.STARTERS
startup class at ArtWorks this past fall.
With most of the pieces now in place, Kroner hopes to launch the company by the end of March. Once available, Hi-Coo kits will be sold as yearly subscriptions with four shipments per year customized for children ages 0-3 months, 3-6 months, 6-9 months and 9-12 months. The company's initial launch will cover the first year of development, with plans to expand based on subsequent success.
Each kit will include 3-5 books or toys hand chosen by Kroner herself to optimize speech and language development. Most of the toys will be handmade by small-batch crafters or local manufacturers, including children's bookseller Blue Manatee Press
and Kroner's own mother. Their kits will also include "coo-cards" with instructions and activities to accompany the toys and promote beneficial, productive use.
"I like toys that are kinesthetic and encourage exploratory play and social interactions," Kroner says.
Libby Willig-Kroner and son Julian
Many parents struggle to understand the impact of speech development in the first year of growth, when their child is still non-verbal. Kroner is more than familiar with such concerns, as her youngest son is in his first year of development.
"Recent research strongly suggests that language interactions during the first year, both quantity and quantity, really matter," she says. "(The kits) hope to promote interaction but also exploration of textures and sounds while encouraging imaginative play."
Although she's yet to finalize Hi-Coo pricing, Kroner anticipates that a yearly subscription with Hi-Coo
will cost parents between $150 and $175. The kits can be purchased by subscription or even as gifts for friends with young children.
"My hope is that gift-givers can give the gift of language or that new parents can subscribe and unlock the conversation with their little one while feeling confident they are doing their best to nurture their child's development," Kroner says.