Dr. Grace Olugbodi is the founder of BeGenio, a company which creates maths board games for children with the aim of making maths fun to learn and overcoming mathematical anxiety. I spoke to her about how she does this, and what the future looks like for BeGenio.
How does BeGenio help children overcome negative feelings when they are learning maths?
We help children fall in love with mathematics by creating board games that help them reduce their mathematical anxiety and enjoy maths more. I’ve been in the Education Industry since 1997, and I’ve found that there are 3 key problems for children when it comes to maths. Firstly, too many children hate maths and don’t believe they can get good at it. Secondly, they see it as a boring chore, and don’t want to spend time working on it. Finally, they don’t know how to relate it to real life, so they can’t see the point in doing it and do not have enough, fun, creative ways to practise maths.
BeGenio aims to solve all these key problems by providing children with fun and creative ways to practise maths. Our products help children learn without them realising that they’re learning, which helps teachers and parents support their kids in their maths learning, as children actually want to engage with these games. A lot of teachers and parents are afraid of maths and don’t know how to help their children get better at it, so our games are the perfect tool to combat that problem.
Our games support teachers to teach, parents to play with their kids in a meaningful way and children to learn effectively through play without realising they are learning.
Why is it important to you to help children love maths?
I was always one of those kids who were just OK at maths but didn’t really excel in it, which is the worst position to be in because then you don’t get any extra support. In the summer between primary and secondary school, I was really bored and so I asked my dad for some ideas of things to do to pass the time. To my dismay, he suggested that we spend some time doing maths in a fun and creative way. I didn’t want to spend my summer holidays doing maths! He persuaded me to give it a try though, and by the end of the summer I really loved maths, because he’d changed it from a boring chore to something fun and engaging. At the end of my first year of secondary school, I won the maths prize out of a cohort of 300+ students and that gave me a lot of confidence! Things had really turned around for me with maths, all because my dad had put in the effort to support me with it in a more creative way.
Fast forward to university and I saw an advert in the student union which was asking for students to volunteer in schools to help children improve their maths confidence. It made me feel really sad that these children were suffering from mathematical anxiety, and I really wanted to help them, so I started volunteering in a couple of schools. We used fun maths games to help them learn to love maths, and within 6 weeks their confidence had turned around. We only went in once a week, but by making maths fun and creative, we helped the children go up by a whole level in their maths scores by the end of the year, and that was really rewarding.
A few years down the line, in 2003, I made it my mission to turn mathematics into a game that every child would love to play every time. Later on, I decided to put all of this experience into my own board game. My aim was to create maths games that have replayability, such that every child would love to play over and over again. I really want to help children overcome their mathematical anxiety, because I think it’s an absolute travesty that so many children struggle with maths and can’t find the support to help them improve in it!
How exactly does Race To Infinity turn maths into a fun thing for children?
Race To Infinity isn’t just a normal maths game. What’s different about it is that it can be replayed as many times as you like without getting boring, that was an element we worked really hard to incorporate into it. I’d noticed that a lot of maths games were good games to play, but after playing them once or twice, children were no longer interested, because there was nothing new to it, and that’s what I wanted to change with creating Race To Infinity.
Another key aspect of this game is that it improves children’s life skills as well as their maths skills. We have made sure that it helps kids to work on their critical thinking skills, creative thinking skills, deductive reasoning, logic, decision making, analytical skills, emotional intelligence, and so much more, so that they’re not just learning maths, they’re also growing their social and other skills. The game is helping them to become more well-rounded people, whilst also allowing them to have fun at the same time.
How was your business affected by the pandemic?
Initially, when all the kids were first sent home from school, our sales went through the roof. As a parent myself, I know that we were all in a bit of a frenzy trying to work out how this home schooling thing was going to work! I think that a lot of parents turned to educational board games as a way of mixing up the school day, and using the Race To Infinity game meant that parents and teachers who struggle with maths themselves could help their child without having to worry about knowing the answer.
Eventually, the sales settled down a little bit as people started to realise this home schooling thing was going to go on for quite a while. They just sort of made do with what they had I guess. Summer was a pretty normal summer for us, because sales usually settle down around then anyway as people are away and so aren’t buying much. Then when September came around, everything picked back up again because many schools were going back. A lot of schools realised that our board games were a good way of helping kids who had fallen behind in maths get back on track without having to do extra maths lessons, so our sales went up again, which has been great! We’re organising tournaments in schools for children to get involved in, which should be a lot of fun.
What’s the next step for BeGenio?
Firstly, we want to find more distributors and educational publishers so that we can expand our markets. We are already in 12 countries, but we want to expand even more than that. Our interview on BBC NEWS and BBC World, and our partnership with Amazon wherein they buy wholesale and sell retail has helped us, so we’re on the hunt for licensees and distributors to enable us to do that further. We’re also in the process of creating an app, which is really exciting, it’s going to be an augmented reality app and will allow us to reach a wider market. Then next month we’re launching 4 additional games, so it’s a pretty busy time for us!