One of the things we hope you appreciate as a reader of The Chalkboard is that we often bring you news of products, brands or pros far before they reach the mainstream. Brands like Sun Potion, Our Place and ILIA come to mind. Wellness is still niche, if you can believe it.
When I received a pitch for Slumberkins I recognized it as something very special right away and we immediately added it to this year’s gift guide. Slumberkins is on a mission to help parents teach social-emotional skills and raise resilient children — all through the use of a few charming and cuddly creatures.
Shop the childrens brand’s irresistible Alpaca stress relief set before shipping gets tricky, then come back and read our interview with the two educators and friends behind the brand your kids are going to be obsessed with in 2023…
Names: Kelly Oriard and Callie Christensen, co-founders and co-CEOs of Slumberkins.
Our biz in a nutshell: Slumberkins is a children’s brand on a mission to promote early emotional learning. Our books and cuddly creatures help parents and caregivers teach important social-emotional skills and raise resilient, caring and confident children.
Where did the concept of Slumberkins originate from? Our business is rooted in a shared passion for promoting early emotional learning and the culmination of more than 20 years of friendship.
In 2015, we were both on maternity leave at the same time; one of us from a position as a school counselor, the other from a role as special education teacher. After many long conversations, we realized the need to empower parents with the same emotional learning tools that were being utilized by teachers in schools.
There was a gap in the market for intentional toys that could be used to teach social-emotional learning in approachable ways. We knew these skills would have lasting effects on children’s abilities to practice resilience, instill confidence, and promote kindness in the learning environment.
Favorite product in the line? Each of the Slumberkins creatures are so special to us! They each have their own special skill based in therapeutic practices that use unique affirmations and stories to connect with children, families and caregivers.
In product development, we identify a specific social-emotional skill we know is important for kids and families to learn together. We then begin creating the creature and story with affirmations to help teach that skill. We break our characters into three categories, supporting caring, confidence, and resilience, which are the skills we want to share with families, caregivers and educators to raise incredible humans.
However, if we are forced to call out some of our most beloved stories and creatures, Alpaca and Bigfoot are favorites. Alpaca is a favorite of Kelly’s because the stress and anxiety relief skill is such a useful tool for children. It shows them how to sit with issues both big and small and feel that they are not alone or have to solve them on their own.
The Bigfoot creature, story and affirmation was inspired by Callie’s own personal growth story as a 6 foot tall sixth grader and how her mother used positive affirmations with her to support her self-esteem. Bigfoot is really close to Callie’s heart.
Talk to us about some of the specific themes like the long-distance family set…
Each of the Slumberkins creatures comes with a story book and affirmation card.
Alpaca helps with stress relief and provides children with the ability to build confidence to share their worries with others when the stress feels too big to hold alone.
Unicorn teaches authenticity and encourages children to be themselves.
Fox supports family change and offers help to children during times of family transitions, such as when experiencing a new family dynamic or new family members.
Honey Bear promotes gratitude.
Otter, supporting family bonding, also comes with a removable heart to give to a loved one when we cannot be together. Otter teaches little ones that no matter how far apart we may be from our loved ones, we are always connected by the love we feel in our hearts.
Many more Slumberkins creatures are available with the most recent addition being Dragon, promoting creativity and inspiring children to explore their imaginations.
Recently, our children’s emotional and mental health needs have become a priority. What do you think is most important for parents to understand?
One thing is certain — we have been living in anxious times in 2020 and 2021 for a multitude of reasons and our children have sensed any anxiety or fear coming from us, friends, media and their schools. As a result, we like to share these important reminders for parents and caregivers to help mitigate the increased anxiety we are still seeing:
+ Understand that children are emotionally intelligent. Know that children sense the emotional states of the adults around them. If you’re anxious, it’s likely your child will feel that stress.
+ Speak directly. Make sure to check on your children and ask if they still have worries or don’t understand something (i.e., they are hearing words, such as “Delta” or “Omicron”). Remember to talk directly to your children about the pandemic at their level. Little listening ears in the room still hear the news, telephone conversations and more.
+ Create structure. Many of us are still working from home with children back at school or still schooling at home. Attempt to create structure and routine as children thrive in structured environments.
+ Create fun on purpose. It’s important to keep those family game nights and activities going that you started during isolation. These can be great mood boosters and good distractions.
+ Be honest. Be real about the world’s situation when appropriate. This can be complex to navigate. People are still struggling around the world and families are grieving. Death can be a very hard topic to talk about with children. We recommend visiting @thedougycenter for resources specific to talking about grief and loss with children.
The animals come with little activities and books, talk to us about how you hope people use these sets…
Slumberkins provides parents (and caregivers!) resources to create loving routines. These routines can deepen the bond with their little ones while teaching valuable life skills. We encourage families to ‘Interact, Connect and Reflect’.
Each Snuggler (lovie) or Kin (stuffed creature) comes with an affirmation card and a story book. The intent of these sets is for the primary caregiver to set intentional time to spend with their child snuggled up and reading the stories. We want parent and child to explore the meaning of each story and connect on how they may relate to the character in the story. Each creature has their unique affirmations that will instill the messages and skills for a child to then practice and recite when in relevant situations or when confronted with big feelings. Caregivers can read each line of the affirmation and if possible, have the child repeat each line after them.
What is next for Slumberkins? Next year, you have a television show coming out! Tell us all the exciting details?
Yes, Slumberkins is currently in co-production with The Jim Henson Company to develop a children’s series and we’re excited to see our characters come to life on television sometime soon.
We started Slumberkins to bring social emotional learning into as many homes and schools as possible, beginning with tools for the family. We want the same messages to be shared in both places. Our hope is that parents, caregivers and teachers can all work in harmony to raise confident, caring and resilient children.
We are also excited about expanding our recently launched Educator Curriculum. In 2022, our goal is to reach more teachers and schools to provide them with resources designed to introduce social emotional concepts to students. We know firsthand just how much educators need this type of content in the classroom and are eager to teach these skill sets to students!