Welcome to our new series Meet The Founder where we tell the stories behind some of the amazing small businesses we love. To tie in with National Storytelling Week we couldn’t think of a better person to feature than Camilla Macoun, founder of The Bear Can Read, a subscription service for families with children aged 2-7.
Tell us a little about The Bear Can Read
The Bear Can Read was founded to make learning to read easier for children, and to give parents and carers the tools they need to support children’s reading progress at home. We do this by assembling the best phonics material – books at the right level, focussed activity sheets and expert advice, all delivered with a fine balance of purpose and fun (plus lots of rewards along the way!).
How did it come about?
I had been a children’s educational publisher for over 10 years – and although I was surrounded by levelled readers and spent my days working on beautiful books that helped children learn to read, I could see that my own daughter was struggling with her reading. The phonics books she was bringing home from school were tired, pretty uninspiring and she saw them as a chore.
I started to bring home brand new beautifully illustrated phonics books from work and wrote worksheets around the sounds she was learning. Suddenly, she blossomed with interest and enthusiasm. We set aside regular time to read together, and this habit gave her the space to practice and to make progress. My daughter lent some of her new books to friends and other parents asked me for advice about what book band level their children should be reading, and where to buy phonics books. It was then, that the idea for The Bear Can Read was born.
Was there a turning point when you thought ‘yes, I’m now really onto something’?
I thought of the first 300 club members as extended family. I used to pack each child’s box myself and I knew where the children were in their reading. When I receive photos, emails and videos from these first club members sharing their progress, I knew I’d made the right decision to quit my job to launch The Bear Can Read. The boxes were helping families to create a habit of reading together, and children were getting the space and encouragement they needed to practise and to make progress. It was working as well for other children as it did for my own.
What has been your proudest moment in business?
My proudest moment was delivering personalised reading boxes to children in Reception and Year 1 at a school before the summer holidays. This school wanted to motivate the children to keep going over the holidays, so I put together bumper boxes of engaging phonics stories (at just the right reading level for each child) and activities. It was so wonderful to see their excitement at receiving something just for them – with their name on the front – and it was an honour to be supporting them on their summer reading journey.
What advice would you give to other people thinking of starting a business?
I think you really must start with an idea that is based on your expertise and, preferably, in an industry where you have contacts. It will become a vocation and something you can’t really switch off from so choose something that you know about and that you love.
As a busy working mum, what does an average day look like to you?
The best aspect of running your own business is flexibility so often my days during the week are quite different. My husband does the school run so I can get into the office early. I’m usually so caught up in emails, zoom meetings and planning that when I next look up it’s 3pm and time to pick up my children. I have a loud alarm that goes off on my phone so I can’t miss it! I then take a break to help with their homework, dinner, bath and bed… then I usually finish my day with another couple of hours at my desk at home.
What does good food mean to you and your family?
Good food is Sunday night dinner and dessert which is usually a roast followed by apple crumble with custard (my Dad told them never to eat crumble without the custard!).
Do you have a go-to family meal that’s always a winner?
The kids love seafood spaghetti. There is a fishmonger that’s an easy bike ride or walk across our local park. The kids love to see the big fish on display. We all pick a little seafood to mix into the pasta sauce and it’s a messy hit for dinner.
Favourite snacks for the family?
We took the kids to Dubai and they discovered dates. My 3-year-old needs to take lunch into nursery every day, so I often chop up Medjool dates and apricots for something sweet in the box. It’s easy to prep the night before and he loves it.
How do you relax?
A hot bath after the kids go to bed.
What’s your top tip when it comes to inspiring our little ones to read?
- Make sure you have books at the right level. If the book is too easy, it won’t stretch their reading ability and if it’s too hard it will cause frustration and you risk switching them off. Follow the reading level the teacher has set (or use our auto- placement system when signing-up) and get the right level books in the house.
- Aim to listen to your child reading for 10 minutes a day. If the week goes astray, set aside extra time on the weekend. My daughter is still a bit reluctant to read aloud, so we read a chapter each. Or try a page each. Or make a reading den on a Sunday and read together in there. I once had doughnuts and a pile of books for each of them ready when they came downstairs on Saturday morning. Books and doughnuts – we were all happy!
At The Bear Can Read we say “Together, we create readers” because you don’t need to do it all yourself. Let us send you a motivating box with the right books and activities, set up a Sunday zoom session for your child to read to a family member, or ask older siblings to read to younger ones. Get creative but keep them reading.
What’s your top parenting tip?
I read in a children’s cookbook that it’s not our job to force-feed children healthy food – just put it out for them. I think generally having healthier options available, but not pushing the agenda too much, is the right approach.
What or who inspires you?
Other women who juggle family, work, school commitments, exercising, friends, community, and more and somehow make it all work. The COO of The Bear Can Read, Lindsay Fleming, is one such amazing woman who runs events at her children’s school, helps with their homework, is a powerhouse at work (she sometimes gets up a 6am to get a head start on the day) and manages to make time for her husband (with creative ideas like a yoga class together). She is also the first to admit though that sometimes it all goes out the window… and this kind of honesty is equally inspiring.
And finally, what’s next for you and the business?
We launched Grizzly level for children aged 7+ late last year, and we recently launched test preparation support with SATs boxes. We’re keen to support children preparing for key milestones, and we’ve had such a great response to the SATs preparation boxes. Next up will be boxes to support children preparing for 11+ exams.
Claudi & Fin readers can get their first box at 50% off with the code Lollies10
Thanks so much Camilla. And don’t forget you can enter our competition to win a 3-month subscription to The Bear Can Read over on Instagram. Best of luck!