Mum of three, Rebecca Hove was tired of seeing the same toys on sale for her children when she was Christmas shopping. So, she decided to take things into her own hands and has created her own set of activity boxes. We caught up with her to find out why parents should shun the expensive brands and go back to basics this festive period.
Please tell us about I’m A Mini.
I'm A Mini is a collection fun and educational activity boxes which offer amazing experiences of learning through play, which include activity book, board game and equipment. They are based on different careers and hobbies to motivate interest and nurture ideas for children aged 5-8.
I am a mum of three young children and I find that children are becoming more reliant on technology. Technology is a huge part of our world nowadays and is a wonderful resource that assists us with our daily lives. However, young children see the world differently to adults they would much rather do than just look. They want to explore, experiment and immerse themselves in another world. I’m A Mini takes children on that journey into different worlds and allows them to learn through play using their wonderful imaginations. The boxes can be broken down into four key parts, learning, imagination, fun and exploring – in other words they represent LIFE. It is through this journey that children learn about the world and themselves.
They provide both indoor and outdoor activities aimed at children 5 and above which can be done either independently or with family and friends. My goal is to provide children with the tools that will nurture their imagination and allow them to be free to discover for themselves and to find their own passion.
I want to encourage all children to believe in themselves and have dreams that they can be what they want to be. Children love to play pretend and I’m A Mini provide children with the opportunity to do this with the boxes being based on careers and hobbies it therefore gives them an insight into different roles.
So, for I’m A Mini live life to the full, the real world is where it’s at!
How did the idea come about?
It came about through my daughter and her school. Each weekend she was coming home with a bag or a box. I attended the same school as my daughter and we used to have these boxes- I loved them as a kid. When my eldest, Maita came home with one I was excited to see it. They were nursey rhyme boxes, which was great, but by the age of four, you are very familiar with nursery rhymes and I felt it needed a bit more to it.
One day she came home with Incy Wincy Spider and I just thought- this could be so much more. So, I went into my daughter’s school and asked if I could help with the boxes and they were thrilled. They were clearly trying to do something that has worked in the past, but they are so obviously very busy with the children and they have enough on their plate. You could see what they were trying to do but it needed a little bit more to it.
I wanted to make some packs for the reception children and I created Incy Wincy Spider, which was based on the first one. I got a black polystyrene ball and pipe cleaners, a piece of string for the spider and a kitchen roll tube for a drain pipe, a cloud and a sun and a board game- which was like snakes and ladders but with drain pipes. I created all this to go in the box with the rhyme - but I realised that it could be extended to anything!
So, I ended up creating about sixteen packs- one of which was a mini beasts version which had a mini bug kit in it. They could take it home at the weekend and it wasn’t homework- it was just an activity to do over the weekend. That’s where the idea came from just in a basic format, it was the making of an educational, fun and learning toy to get kids to learn about the real world. It came from a basic and simple activity pack designed for kids in school. I have to thank the school for giving me the opportunity to help, I’m extremely grateful, I hope I am in the position at some point to give something back to them as a thank you.
You have already said about Maita’s involvement initially, so how has she helped you to develop it further?
I have thought about all of my children but my eldest has had the most input. When I very first started, and was coming up with sketches for the boxes and the ideas for layout, she would come up with ideas for different activity pages, games and equipment that could be included in the boxes. She’s had quite an input into the product itself.
But in the beginning, I was struggling to find a logo. I knew what I wanted in my head - I wanted an image of children reaching for the stars - to aim high and head for your dreams. I looked at several different images. I knew I didn’t want anything corporate - I wanted to it be child friendly - I wanted it to look like a child had done it.
I was sitting there one day trying to draw it myself and I just looked up at Maita and thought I have a five year-old here who is perfectly capable. So, I told her my idea and she drew the picture. I used my three children as an example - it was never the intention to use them long term - just for the initial idea. When she drew them - I thought this is exactly what I am after. Having my three as the logo and as Maita had designed it - was exactly what I had pictured. What better way to design a child’s product than with help from my own daughter?
Even up to now, while we’ve been doing some new boxes, she made a board game the other day and it was an idea she’d had herself. She still keeps inputting ideas and elements will be used in one of our games going forward. She’s been a huge part of it and still tells me if I am doing things right or wrong! She’s definitely my critic!
I suppose it’s important to have your target audience alongside you?
Oh yes! I definitely get scrutinised.
Why is this the perfect Christmas gift for kids this year?
It’s different! I have looked around myself for different products. As a mum buying Christmas presents every year, I look at everything - I feel that a lot of things are the same. You either dress them up, they make a noise or you have to put things in them. Everything has a similarity. Finding something that you don’t often see, is rare. Everything is the same, it just has a different name attached to it - a colouring book or a sticker book for instance. I just want to find something different and that is what our boxes deliver. They incorporate three different elements- you are getting three for the price of one. You have an activity scrapbook, which you can use this along with the equipment. Or you can just use the equipment on its own. Or you can play the board game. As it’s got three different elements in one box, it addresses differing attention spans. Some children will stick with one thing while others will get move onto the next thing. The fact that it’s a multifunctional box means that it’s similar to others but there’s nothing exactly like it on the market.
So, it’s got more longevity to it than the fads that are around right now?
Yes, I feel so, because they are all on a different career or hobby. Even though they all follow the same format- a child can learn about something fresh and use the contents in a new way so hopefully the product has got the longevity. It might just spark an interest in an area and extend their passion in a particular subject. I feel it’s more rounded if you will.
How have you juggled motherhood and starting your own business?
Honest answer? I have no idea! No idea at all! It’s been literally like juggling balls and I can’t do that either! I don’t actually know how I’ve done it. When I first started, I’d recently given birth to my third child, my son, Tafara so he was six months old and I had a 4 year old and 2 and a half year old also and I was suffering with post-natal depression; so it wasn’t the easiest of times. I do still have times when things aren’t great but I get by with the support of my family and friends. However, when I first started this I felt it could be something that could go somewhere. In my gut I thought I need to take the risk. The only way I have been able to juggle this and motherhood is because I believe in it and also with the support of family and friends. My gut feeling is that I have to go for it - I enjoy doing it and I want to do it which has made me find the time somehow to push on. It’s literally been a case of grabbing time before they have got up in the morning, after they’ve gone to bed or while they’ve been in nursery. I’ve taken time where I could, to chip away at each part and going through month to month of learning and making a million mistakes along the way.
It’s given me a bit of my own identity back. I’ve been able to be Rebecca rather than mum or wife, don’t get me wrong I love being a mum and wife but it’s nice to just be me sometimes. Giving up work and becoming a full time mum has been the hardest, but also the most amazing part of my life. It’s just I miss going out to work and just be me for a little while, as I’m sure other stay-at-home parents will relate too. When this started, I liked being able to use my brain again and it is also helping me with my confidence.
It has been a juggling act but it’s because I have wanted to do it and that’s the difference. It’s not been a chore. Yeah, it’s tough at times- when you’re trying to do some work and the kids are screaming and fighting - when you’re staying up till 11 o’clock at night and up at 6 o’clock in the morning. But I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it.
It shows the kids that mummy can do something and to show them to follow their dreams. It has given me a bit of me back after being full-time mum; it’s nice.
It terrifies me doing this business thing because I am having to do something totally outside my comfort zone. Even something as simple as in the start- having to make a phone call to enquire about something- was scary. I’m winging it as my brother says! You do what you can, when you can and hope that it’s all worth it.
How much support have you had from your husband during this process?
My husband has been amazing. If I’ve had meetings - he’s had the kids. My weaker side is with things like the finances and web development, so he’s helped me with that too. I can use a website but creating one is a whole different ball game. He’s great with the technical side of it- he keeps sending me emails with things to look at and read about so he’s been really supportive of me.
When I first started the idea- you think is it worth it? And am I being silly? From day one my husband and my family have said ‘go for it! It’s worth a shot.’ My parents and friends have helped with childcare too - they have all chipped in to get us to where we are now and continue to do so. I couldn’t have done without them really.
I have also had the support of my brother - who has helped me over the past 12 months with the business and who will be joining me on this journey permanently. We have fun working together, he certainly makes me laugh when things get a bit tough!
What tips do you have for other mums who are looking to follow in your footsteps?
I would say - if you truly feel that it’s something worth doing - go for it! I’ll be honest- it’s not easy but if you can handle parenthood you can handle anything - all those parents out there will know what I mean! Juggling kids and starting a small business is hard but if you have that belief deep down - do it! I didn’t want to get ten years down the line asking myself what if? You just don’t know and surely it’s worth taking that risk. If it doesn’t work out - at least you will know. You obviously have to work out everything and assess it sensibly, but if you can, then do it and give it your best - if it falls through you can at least say ‘I tried’. No one can ever say you didn’t. You just don’t know what might happen. Do your research and take regular breaks but give it a go, you could end up living out your dreams.
What have been the biggest challenges along the way?
There have been several, one being home equipment - like using the printer. When we test traded our product, we had to feed each sheet of paper through and guide it because the paper was thick. Then we had to turn it over and do it on the other side because doing it double sided confused the printer completely. The amount of printing failures we’ve had was ridiculous – at least it can be recycled! I would quite happily take a hammer to that printer! At points it’s made me cry.
Also - hole punching - we’ve had to hole punch using a little hole puncher because there wasn’t one with enough holes in. We had to draw on each little circle and hole punch each one for our test run. That’s thirteen books and fifteen pages per book so that’s a lot of holes to punch!
However, the biggest challenge - believe it or not was finding a box. This took about five months of my life that I will never get back. I never thought finding a box would be so difficult! It’s a box – B-O-X! All I wanted was a box with a lid. You wouldn’t think that would be difficult but as it turns out - practically impossible! I managed to find a box from a shop that I paid £1.99 for. It was fine for the test trading but I couldn’t continue to buy it from there. I needed the supplier because I would obviously be buying more than thirteen. You could buy ones from overseas but we had to buy huge quantities and ideally we wanted to buy from here.
I made so many calls, I had my family searching for them. I knew I didn’t want a removal type of cardboard box - I wanted a storage box. It took about five months and I got to the point where I thought I cannot do this anymore – it nearly broke me! But the box was kind of important- you need it to put all the stuff in – so I persevered!
It got to half term and I had a week off from the business – I needed to step away. I began again after my break and on the second day back of looking, I found one, I even wrote on my calendar- Happy Box Day! I was on the verge of tears. It was perfect! It’s a strong, sturdy box that folds over and it’s magnetic. We decided to put the board game in the lid using magnets so you can take it out but when you want to tidy it away you can stick it to the inside of the lid, so it keeps it flat.
I was very happy, when it arrived- I cried! I know you think I’m silly but the search had nearly destroyed me, I nearly gave up! I never thought finding a box would be so difficult- but it was.
If you could do anything differently what would it be?
If I could have found a box four month’s earlier that would have helped massively! If I’d have bought a printer that worked earlier- that would have helped too! And a sixteen-hole punch- that would have been useful!
Apart from those things- I don’t think I would change anything. The past twelve months has been a huge learning curve- I have made so many mistakes and if I hadn’t made those mistakes; gone through the hassle of finding a box and faced the challenges I have- it might not have given me the strength to keep going. Hopefully it has taught me that when things do get tough- you have to keep moving forward. There is no point in everything going perfectly because no one ever learns from that do they? I think even with those mistakes and challenges, it’s made our product better than it was and will help to keep improving it. So, other than finding products sooner, I don’t think I would change anything.
What is next for you?
We’ve got a few Christmas fairs coming up so we’re currently in the process of getting ready for those. We’re making the boxes and getting the website up and running- the information part needs a few tweaks so hopefully if I can get them sorted, the information side of the site can go live. I have just started to work on the shop aspect too. The boxes are the key things so there is still loads to do and learn, like how to use a card reader, put up my display and how to be a stall holder at a fair. I’ve never done that before, so we’ll see how that goes! We just want to get out and about and spread the word.
Friday 10th November Christmas Shopping Evening at KiddiPops Play Centre, Fleetwood - 6-8pm
Sunday 19th November- Christmas Market at Marine Hall in Fleetwood 10-4pm
Friday 24th November- Christmas Market Evening at Bounce Play Centre, Blackpool 5-8.30pm
Saturday 2nd December Crafty Christmas Fair In support of Meningitis Now, Green Hut, St Wulstans, Fleetwood 11-4pm
Friday 8th December- Anchorsolme Academy in Thornton-Cleveleys - Ladies Evening 7.30-9.30pm
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