Discovering Science in a Smarty Box: Montclair Couple Are Finalists in Martha Stewart Competition

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benhams_disks_smarty_boxIn a not-so-secret laboratory in Montclair, Beth Larson and Dan Buckley have invented a way to turn kids’ science into a fun party. After other parents said “Oooooohhh” to the science kits they put together for their son and his friends to do simple experiments, Beth and Dan said “Ah-ha!” and created Banooper, a home-grown company with a mission to “Bring Science Home” with its Smarty Box kits.

The eureka moment came while watching groups of kids grooving on some basic chemistry, physics and vision experiments. “So many people began suggesting it, either asking if were were going to host parties or sell party supplies,” they said, but “we didn’t want to host parties, we didn’t want to sell decorations and costumes for theme parties, we wanted to do something educational.” And so they began mapping out the Smarty Box concept, which packs everything you need to get kids discovering scientific principles in fun ways.

My son and I tried the Benham’s Disk kits, which explore the vision science that turns spinning black-and-white patterns into visible colors. Each kit had all the pieces for one person (Beth and Dan said their own experimenting led them to make the kits so that “each child gets a full set of materials, letting kids collaborate on the project instead of competing for supplies.”), and a booklet with instructions, explanations of the scientific principles and some ideas for follow-up experiments.

We popped small wooden pegs into pre-printed pattern disks and started spinning—my son marveled at the colors that showed up when he spun them like tops, and immediately began suggesting hypotheses to explain the different results as he spun different disks.

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What we saw in our house was what Beth and Dan’s neighbors saw right away: when it’s easy for your kid to have a good time with an experiment, the learning just feels like kitchen-table fun. Or better yet, like the best kind of school: “One parent, a teacher, said ‘I’m not interested in hosting a birthday party for my kids…but these would be great for schools.’ We had been thinking about developing an education-themed line, and this broadened our minds to not focus on parties alone.”

Montclair friends and neighbors aren’t the only ones to notice Banooper—Beth and Dan’s company is a finalist in the Martha Stewart American Made competition, which means both national exposure and a chance at $10,000 in seed money for the venture.

“Simply being selected as a finalist is a wonderful acceptance of our small startup and the craftsmanship that has gone into the line,” they said. “It really is the American Dream, to live in a place where anyone can have an idea and see it through to realization. Winning this would be a tremendous validation and proof that everything is possible.”

To vote for Banooper, visit their page on the Martha Stewart American Made competition site between now and October 19. And look for an upcoming Kickstarter campaign to further fund the Smarty Box line. “It’s the second stage of our business plan,” say Beth and Dan, “actually selling our kits for money, like a grown up-business.”

Check out Banooper’s Kickstarter page here.

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