Caribu App Connects Long-Distance Families Through Virtual Books
With Caribu, families can have virtual playdates with interactive video calls that involve reading, coloring and other fun activities.
Caribu App Connects Long-Distance Families Through Virtual Books
A great app makes you think, "How is it possible that this didn't exist already?" And that's exactly the reaction that Caribu elicits.
The brainchild of Álvaro Sabido and Maxeme Tuchman, this app makes it easy for long-distance families to enjoy virtual books together. Caribu helps them create connections challenged by physical distance through interactive play. In doing so, it is revolutionizing virtual family time.
FamilyMinded spoke about the app to Tuchman — Caribu's co-founder and CEO, whose impressive career includes working for former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, running Teach for America in Miami-Dade County and completing a White House Fellowship.
The Image That Inspired Caribu
To understand what Caribu is about, one has to go back to the thing that started it all: a picture of an active-duty soldier reading a children's book on a video call. The soldier holds the book to his shoulder, so his child can see both his face and the book.
When Sabido saw this picture, something sparked in him. "We saw this picture, and we said, "My God! There is no way that there isn't a better technology solution to this problem. There's got to be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of parents and grandparents who are trying to do this ... through this little tiny webcam on the computer," Tuchman explains.
Sabido built a prototype and then contacted Tuchman, who brought in an educational background and the ability to grow the company. And thus, Caribu was born.
Who Is Caribu For?
Tuchman says that "Caribu is built for the family, so it's made for kids to be able to, in a safe and secure way, speak to ... anyone who is a trusted friend or family member." Potential users include divorced parents, aunts or uncles, grandparents, and godparents who want to build relationships despite being far away.
The idea is simple. You set up a video call on the app, and both participants see the same screen as well as each other. They also have access to an in-app library with thousands of books in over 10 different languages. This way, as Tuchman puts it, you're not forced into making a choice between looking at the book or the child, which enables a deeper connection.
But the app also fulfills a need for rich early childhood education. "At the heart of what we do, this is about making sure that children ages zero-12 — and we say zero very seriously — [are being read to] for at least 30 minutes a day if they're not reading themselves."
Even newborns can enjoy high-contrast black-and-white picture books that'll expose them to new words.
Much More Than Reading
While books are Caribu's main offer, the app also has other engaging activities. Users can access coloring sheets or play with stickers, for example. And if you want to have kids moving rather than sitting down, there are also scavenger hunts, where a list shows up on the screen and the children have to find items around the house.
Kids can also use the app to read, color or do other activities on their own. Tuchman wants "kids to be using Caribu as their one-stop shop for safe, pedagogically sound entertainment."
Supporting parents is one of the most important roles family members play in a child's life. According to Tuchman, the average Caribu call lasts 40 minutes. When was the last time you were able to hold a child's attention for that long?
Because of the interactive nature of the app, grandparents can keep a kid's attention in a way that simply isn't possible on a video call. And they do so with engaging and educational content. Tuchman calls this "virtual babysitting."
She highlights a couple of grandmas who live in the United States but read to their grandkids in Australia every morning while their parents make breakfast. Even while being halfway across the world, they're helping parents by making the morning routine more manageable.
Strengthening Cultural Connections
Long-distance families sometimes straddle between different cultures and languages. And this is another bridge Caribu seeks to build by providing content in over 10 languages.
For Tuchman, this is personal. She shares that growing up, her mother and grandmother sang Spanish lullabies to her, particularly "Los pollitos dicen," a song about chicks. "It was sad growing up not having a physical book [for the lullaby] ... and it's one of my proudest moments that right now on Caribu, we have it, and it's a book that a grandma can share with her grandchild," she elaborates. The same can be said for other culturally important stories in Spanish, French, Chinese and the other languages represented in the app.
Beyond sharing timeless lullabies and books across geographical divides, reading can help grandparents keep languages alive. Tuchman illustrates it perfectly: "The grandparent is reading in their language, but the child...gets to see the pictures [and] the story. They're building a relationship, even if they don't speak the same language."
That's simply priceless.
Reaping the Benefits of Bilingualism
For immigrant families, reading on Caribu can become a way to pass on native languages to generations born outside of the homeland.
But bilingualism provides many cognitive and social benefits. Users of any background can take advantage of the app's rich library to expose kids to different languages at an age when their brains are much more receptive to linguistic information.
This can set them up for success in the future, and expose them to different cultures from an early age. If you're planning to travel abroad, you can start reading stories on Caribu, so your children can hear what the language sounds like and get excited for the trip.
Making Books Available to Anyone
Caribu also solves the unfortunate issue of accessibility. Not everyone can afford to buy dozens of children's books. However, as Tuchman points out, "everyone has a smartphone in their pocket, even in low-income communities and emerging markets across the world."
Anyone who has an internet connection can download the app and use its free version to access a wealth of stories. Those with the means and interest can upgrade to unlimited plans, which cost $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year. That's not necessarily affordable to everyone, but it's cost-effective if you consider that you will have thousands of children's books for all ages at your finger tips.
Tuchman tells FamilyMinded that with Caribu, "we wanted to make sure that we could provide an educational experience for kids no matter where they were. That no matter what language they spoke [and] no matter their income, they had access to a library."
Of course, the public library shares this mission. But time constraints make visits difficult for some parents. And not all global communities have public libraries, so Caribu can help fill these gaps.
The Gigantic Elephant in the Room
Whenever we talk about technology, there's a huge factor that cannot be ignored: screen time. After all, aren't we supposed to be doing our best to get children away from screens?
Tuchman responds to this question by admitting that sedentary screen time is terrible. But she assures us that Caribu follows American Academy of Pediatricsguidelines, which stipulate that time children spend with technology should be active, educational and work to create connections.
"There's a lot of active play in Caribu, and we feel very confident in the fact that we're providing an educational experience," she asserts. As for the third criterion, connection is the very premise of the app, so it's definitely met.
That said, if you are able to have physical books and coloring books, we'd recommend those over your child being on a phone or a tablet for self-entertainment. Then using Caribu to give children time with family members who live far away. This will help them learn to be away from the virtual world and connect with the real world as much as possible.
No Technology Skills? No Problem
Another major concern grandparents have about using an app is the technological challenges that come with it.
But Tuchman is confident in the app's concierge service. "We have amazing customer support, specifically for what we call the 'glamma,' glamorous grandma, or the 'fabuela,' la abuela fabulosa," she states. Representatives go above and beyond, sometimes even having practice playdates with glammas to see if the material will appeal to their grandkids.
The service is equally available for all users, regardless of their subscription tier.
An Exciting Future for Caribu Users
Considering everything the app brings to users, it's no surprise that it was awarded a prestigious Apple App Store Award in 2020.
And the future is only looking brighter, as toy giant Mattel acquired Caribuin 2022. Tuchman gushes about upcoming additions to the app, revealing that it will bring in new characters to activities, like "American Girl" books geared toward children ages 8 to 12.
She also emphasizes what this will mean for glammas and fabuelas, who will be able to choose characters they grew up with as children and share them with the new generation.
Honestly, we can't wait.