4th Grade Teacher Challenged Students To Create BarkBox Prototypes, And We Turned Their Designs Into Real Life Toys!

Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

March 9, 2020

In honor of Ms. Howey’s philosophy of using real-world tasks to teach kids a variety of skills, we put together a donation collection to show the kids how an inspiring story (and using the power of the Internet for good) can motivate others to contribute. If you can, please consider donating to this GoFundMe to support these amazing students (and the dogs they’re helping) and prove that their hard work pays off! Proceeds will be donated to All About Animals Rescue in Warren, MI.

Additionally, Ms. Howey’s 4th graders have been working hard all year selling Fan Faces to raise money for a variety of charities. Their goal is to beat last year’s class, who raised $3000—today the 2020 class has raised a total of $2500! You can get a custom Fan Face of your favorite pet (or human) here!

See below for a couple Fan Faces, promoted by Makenzy and Ms. Howey’s pup, class mascot and ambassador, and official BarkBox toy tester, FINN! (a.k.a. Mr. Fur Pants.)

Below is the story of how BARK got involved with Ms. Howey’s class, and how she made the design, marketing, and customer support of prototype BarkBoxes a pillar of the kids’ project-based learning for the whole school year! 


An early-morning marketing meeting at BARK HQ turned into the MOST AWESOME MEETING EVER (who says that, right?) when we learned about a teacher and her fourth-graders in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan.

Not only do Ms. Howey’s students-slash-entrepreneurs run an actual business out of their classroom at Trombly Elementary selling Fan Faces, personalized photo cut-outs to use at sporting events for “hand-held cheering fun,” (as well as magnets, ornaments, cupcake toppers, and more!) they also spent over two months DESIGNING THEIR OWN BARKBOXES!

Listen, these junior designers are incredible. They dreamt up their own box themes, and created two toys, two bags of treats, a chew, a card insert explaining the theme and items, a billboard advertisement, and a thirty-second commercial. Their teacher also tasked them with choosing an influencer relevant to their respective themes.

When Ms. Howey reached out to us at the beginning of the school year, our very own Director of Consumer Insights and Advocacy, Alex Gross, drove to Michigan from our office in Columbus, Ohio.

At the start of the school year, the kids—ahem, business co-owners—got to ask Alex all about marketing, customer service, dog puns, staying on-brand, and giving back to those in need (all while working on their boxes). When Alex visited the following December, they presented their creations Shark Tank-style.

One student (thank you, Nora!) even requested some BarkBox goodies to go along with their classroom donation to All About Animals Rescue—half of all their Fan Faces proceeds go to charity—and we couldn’t possibly say no.


Introducing: Bark in Time, by Nora and Noelle. The insert reads:

“In this box your dog will visit different times and places in the past!!! Today your dog will visit the one and only time of BARK FRANKLIN!!! Have fun meeting him in the past, I’m telling you dogs he’s fun!”

Featuring toys like Tinkle the Fire Hydrant (complete with woofy cushion and a ball squeaker in the head), Bark Franklin’s Biography (with a squeaker and tug-of-war bookmark rope), and plushie Bark Franklin himself!

Did you know the actual Mr. Franklin was responsible for the first fire departments? I did not, and I learned a really cool fact from some super smart nine-year-olds.

This box also contains “pup chop flavored” Brain Power treats—”Are you thinking your dog is low on brain juice??? Well then if so, feed them these and they might be smarter than you! (DUN DUN DUUUN!!!)”

And for a “delicious taste of history,” a bag of Cran-Hairies treats, inspired by Ben Franklin’s favorite things: cranberries and dogs. Baked with a mix of cranberries and turkey for the “best historic feast!” I. LOVE. THIS. Tinkle even has his own hang tag! (Oh, and we can’t forget the Lightning Rod chew! “It could shock you and your dog!”)

Still in this marketing meeting and close to tears of joy, we laid our eyes on… wait for it… the Hairy Dogger box! Packed with a wand-wielding Hairy Dogger, Hairy Howldini multi-part toy, Sleight of Paw treats, Disappearing Treats (with the help of your dog, of course), and a Hairy Dogger’s Wand chew.

At this point, we’ve melted into puddles in the face of all the cuteness. Accio, dignity!

Take a look at even more of the designed-in-house-plushies from all the different boxes, including themes as fun and impressive as Sharks, Ballet, Dog Prom, Soccer, Dogs vs. Cats, and The Great Lakes!

We are floored. Such professionals. They even wrote their own customer satisfaction surveys for their BarkBox subscribers!

Each student earned some BARK swag, official certificates to name them BarkBox Junior Designers, and special recognition certificates for things like “Funniest Dog Pun,” “Most Original Theme,” “Barkiest Toy,” and “Tastiest Treat Recipe!”

P.S. “Funniest Dog Puns” went to “Poo-rate Ship” from the Dogs vs. Cats box, and “Mutter City Car” from the Michigan-themed box as a Detroit nod!

BUT WAIT, IT’S NOT OVER YET! We loved everything about this project so much, we decided to bring some toys to life.

You remember ye olde Bark Franklin and Tinkle. Well, we took the original kid-crafted toys and sketched them out.

Then we sent that artwork off to get some IRL plushies back from the toy workshop.


We kept this little secret from Ms. Howey and her junior designers until we had the finished product, then met the legend herself face-to-face. Sort of. Via webcam.

We asked Ms. Howey how this whole thing got started, and it turns out it all began with our Happy customer support team. Ms. Howey’s pup, Finn, is a BarkBox subscriber, and accidentally received a duplicate box one month.

During a conversation with one of our representatives, who sorted out the mistake and asked our favorite teacher to donate the extra box, Ms. Howey asked if we might be able to speak with her students about our message and how we run our business. Within about an hour, she received an email response from Alex himself.

It was all about the human connections that made this possible, she explained. “That’s what I tell my kids.”

So we tucked in and taped up all the Tinkles and Bark Franklins for their journey from New York City to Michigan! (Our own Taylor and foot included for scale.)

Six days later, we surprised the class with a grand toy unveiling!

We want to show these amazing, intelligent, driven kids that there’s immense power in storytelling, and in running a business that believes in giving back. They’re lucky to have such an amazing teacher guiding them! We certainly wish WE had been doing projects like this in 4th grade.

In honor of Ms. Howey’s philosophy of using real world tasks to teach kids a variety of skills, we put together this GoFundMe to prove how an inspiring story of hard work can motivate others to contribute, and that this is how to use the Internet for good!

Let’s show these kids, and future kids just like them, exactly how their extraordinary efforts accomplish extraordinary things.

Click here to make a donation (no amount is too small) to Ms. Howey’s 4th grade class GoFundMe page to support these kids in their efforts to help animals in need.

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Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

March 9, 2020

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A themed collection of BARK-designed toys, treats, and chews.


A themed collection of BARK-designed toys, treats, and chews.