In Summer 2012, Eileen Sloan got a call from her boss to renew her elementary school teaching job. With a thumping heart and sweaty palms, Eileen told the principal she wouldn't be returning to work because she was going to be an entrepreneur and start her own company. To her horror, the principal enthusiastically congratulated her and wished her much success; meanwhile, Eileen was screaming in her head, "Stop me! Tell me not to do it!"
"Quitting teaching was the hardest decision I've ever had to make," Eileen says. "It was a huge risk. My husband was in insurance sales, so we were relying on my steady income to put two daughters through college. But it was he who said, 'I think you've really got something here. It's your decision, but I say, "Go for it!'"
Milestones and Solutions
EZLeaps launched in December 2012 with the mission to help children reach milestones by offering practical teaching tools that build independence. Its first product, the Shoe Tying Tool, helps kids learn how to tie their shoes in a way that's simple, rewarding and fun. This video demonstrates the eight easy steps to shoe tying using the EZLeaps Shoe Tying Tool. The trick is the pause point that gives kids a chance to stop, think and position their fingers for the next step: crossing the loops. The tool is also useful for people with disabilities and health conditions, such as arthritis, that limit their dexterity.
As a teacher for 11 years and a licensed in-home daycare provider for nine years, Eileen realized there was significant need for this kind of product.
"At any given time, there are 18 million kids between the ages of four and seven in the United States who need to learn to tie their shoes, but shoe tying isn't taught in most school curricula," Eileen says. "The lessons I was teaching would get disrupted, but I couldn't ignore an untied shoelace because of the kids' safety."
Wanting a solution to help her kids while saving class time, Eileen went home and made several prototypes for her Shoe Tying Tool out of plastic coffee can lids.
"I brought them to school and showed my kids how to use them. They were learning how to tie their shoes in minutes, then turning around and showing others," Eileen says.
The Shoe Tying Tool was such a hit that one of the kids asked, "Mrs. Sloan, can you drink more coffee, so I can have one for my friend?"
Shoe Tying with a Purpose
Today, Eileen doesn't need coffee to keep her awake. Her sleepless nights are filled with big ideas of what's next. Her days are filled with cold calling everyone she can to promote the Shoe Tying Tool across the country.
"We're having a lot of success in private preschools, such as The Goddard School and consignment stores, and we're just starting to promote at trade shows," Eileen says. "But what I would really like is to find a shoe company to partner with and help us host shoe-tying events and experiences across the United States and in developing countries. Can you imagine the impact we'd have?"
Yes, Eileen, we can. Last fall, Nordstrom – Oak Brook in Illinois and United Way of Metropolitan Chicago co-hosted A Day of Caring, featuring lessons with the EZLeaps Shoe Tying Tool. And Nordstrom hosts monthly shoe-tying classes in local stores. At one of the classes, a parent of a special needs child said to Eileen, "Do you know this is the first milestone my child has learned on time?"
"These are activities with a purpose," Eileen says. "They allow us to connect with children who otherwise may not have access to our product and help them reach and celebrate milestones. We turn frustration into fun and encourage playful learning to make it more meaningful.
"I'm inspired by the kids in my life and the kids I meet," Eileen continues. "I've never looked back and thought, 'Am I doing the right thing?' My work isn't easy, but I love it."
The EZLeaps Shoe Tying Tool is available for purchase in 30 retail stores in the United States, including Nordstrom, and online at EZLeaps.com. It comes in 12 designs, ranging from sports and animals to cupcakes and cartoons. The most popular among kids is the unicorn, but Eileen loves the artist pad, which has a plain, white background that can be personalized with markers and stickers. Each Shoe Tying Tool has a place where the kids can write their names and the date they mastered tying their shoes. There's a pre-punched hole for a carabineer (not included), so kids can hang their tools on backpacks and show off their keepsakes. The tool is also compact, so adults can keep them handy in pockets or wallets, then pull them out quickly to help their children.
For more information, visit www.ezleaps.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.