TreeHouse.

Impact Area:

Early Learning In The Home

Year of Investment and Stage:

2022

Current Stage

Developing and testing to validate problem solution fit

Investment Amount:

R1 200 000

Financial Instrument:

Convertible Loan

Status:

Open, Active

TreeHouse is an online application (app) that aims to increase access to early learning and improve responsive caregiving and learning outcomes for children aged 0 to 3 years. It provides engaging, personalised content and responds to the child’s learning needs in real time through individualised daily tasks. The app also offers resources to improve parent-child engagement and learning outcomes across a number of early learning domains including gross motor, fine motor, language, cognitive, socio-emotional, sensory perceptual.

The Problem

Children need nurturing care from their caregivers in order to thrive and reach their full potential. Nurturing care is care that is responsive, encourages early learning, and is emotionally supportive. However, caregivers do not always have the required capacity to offer this form of care. Equally, interactions between caregiver and child in the first few years of life are especially important for early language, cognitive, and socio-emotional development. 

The Innovation

TreeHouse aims to improve access to quality learning opportunities that promote responsive caregiving by creating more learning opportunities in the home and effectively equipping caregivers. 

Through the app, TreeHouse strives to address the main barrier to responsive caregiving, which is the availability of time and access to adequate resources. By providing engaging and personalised content, the app offers resources to improve caregiver-child engagement and learning outcomes. The platform also gives caregivers supportive services including clear information about parenting, as well as access to material support. 

How it works

When on the app, the caregiver will be prompted to answer basic questions about their child by completing an animated and user-friendly developmental checklist. The checklist will determine the level of function within six key developmental areas. 

Once the level of function has been determined, the app will provide a tailored learning programme for the child based specifically on their current level of function. The caregiver and child pair engage in daily stimulating activities like contextually developed stories and songs meant to promote learning and development as well as remediating activities meant to specifically address developmental shortfalls. As the tasks are completed, they are marked as “on par for their age” or “not yet” by the caregiver.

Why we Invested

We invested in TreeHouse to support its aim to increase access to early learning programmes and improve the responsiveness of caregivers and improve learning outcomes for children aged 0 to 3 years. Whilst other apps are targeted at improving caregiver knowledge, Treehouse understands that the best way to foster learning in the home is provide activities that a caregiver-child pair can complete together in a fun, developmentally appropriate way that is respectful of the time and resource poor context parents are living in.

Additionally, we were attracted to the innovative business model proposed by the team where paying customers allow a certain number of subsidised services to be made available to caregivers who cannot afford the TreeHouse app. This allows responsive caregiving to be a reality in South African homes, regardless of socio-economic status.

The Project Team

The TreeHouse team has extensive experience in Information Communications and Technology (ICT), Occupational Therapy, Communications and Publishing. Each team member has both the educational background and practical experience to deliver on their respective roles and responsibilities of the Treehouse application. Coupled with technical ability, the team members possess the authentic desire to deliver a quality product that benefits the lives of hundreds of thousands of children nation-wide.

Anina Thiart is the Co-Founder and CEO of TreeHouse and drives the overall strategy. Anina also holds the position of Head of Curriculum Development and Content at TreeHouse and heads the development and Implementation of the Early Childhood Development programme and the curriculum content. Anina is also an Executive at United Medical and owns her own occupational therapy practice where she focuses on the assessment and treatment of children aged 0 to 12 years relating to school readiness, scholastic performance, early childhood development and early intervention services. 

She has 13 years’ experience as an Occupational Therapist in both medical and educational environments and extensive experience regarding the experience and treatment of children aged three to 10 years old. Anina holds a Master’s degree in Medical Law and Ethics as well as an undergraduate degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Pretoria (UP).  She is an expert with respect to the assessment and treatment of developmental delays, learning and perceptual difficulties, and is also responsible for the development and management of TreeHouse’s curriculum of learning and remediating activities.  

Charl Theron is the Co- Founder and Chief Information Officer of TreeHouse and drives  the technological development of the application.  He is also the CEO of AddVenture and United Medical. AddVenture provides digital services to Financial Service Providers (FSPs), while United Medical provides medical aids and medical professionals with digital services. 

Charl holds a MBA from Stellenbosch University (SU), where his thesis focuses on artificial intelligence, and the future of financial services and digital innovation. He also has a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Management and Administration from SU and an undergraduate degree in Project Management from  UP. He is a father of three young children and is incredibly passionate about the ECD sector. 

Charl has an extensive technological background and experience leading teams and driving strategy and has held multiple executive and management positions within the ICT sector. 

Bandile Sikwane is the Head of Story and Animation at TreeHouse. He is also the Digital Publishing Director of GingerGoat Publishing (GGP). GGP is a company that publishes bespoke children’s stories on multiple mediums (apps, videos and books). The company also partners with family facing brands to create child-friendly and appropriate content. Their partners include Cadbury, KFC, Wimpy and Nal’ibali. 

Bandile holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Johannesburg and an MPHIL in Journalism from Stellenbosch University. He has over 16 years of experience in the communication, media and the publishing industry and is passionate about storytelling across multiple mediums and platforms. He is proficient in multimedia content creation (3D Animation and Motion Graphics) and is responsible for the animation of characters and activities for the TreeHouse application as well as producing resources and content in multiple languages.