With the COVID-19 pandemic turning the routines of school-age children upside down, Slumberkins is providing emotional guidance through a new and challenging time. 

Slumberkins is an emotional wellness brand helping families build emotional fluency for their children by decoding and better understanding their feelings. It achieves this goal through a cast of 13 plush characters and storybooks. Each character has a different lesson to teach. The Slumber Sloth works on relaxation, Bigfoot teaches self-esteem, and Sprite guides through grief and loss. 

Cofounders Kelly Oriard and Callie Christensen, who met when they were 14-years-old, started their company after two decades of friendship. Prior to forming Slumberkins, Christensen worked as a special education teacher and elementary education teacher, and Oriard, now a marriage and family therapist, worked as a school counselor. 

Oriard and Chistensen pitched Slumberkins on Shark Tank back in 2017. Slumberkins closed its seed round in 2019 at $2.8 million, led by venture capital firms SeaChange Fund and Listen. Now they have a deal with The Jim Henson Company, known for creating the Muppets and Sesame Street characters, and are developing a Slumberkins TV show to be streamed in 2021.

Supporting children through the COVID-19 pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, Oriard and Christensen switched gears from selling Slumberkins to providing digital content and support for both parents and teachers in the form of free resources through their new platform Slumberkins School. The platform provides story time videos of Slumberkins books, as well as activities and coloring sheets, for children who have switched over to virtual learning. 

“People are hungry for support and community in this day and age, especially parents with little ones at home,” Christensen said. “Kids are all feeling anxious, whether they're overhearing parents talk about the anxieties of the world, or they're overhearing it on the news. I think our products bring the kids and parents back together for that core connection that everyone is craving during this time to help them feel safe and secure.”

Oriard and Christensen recommend their Alpaca collection, which teaches tools for overcoming stress and anxiety, for children in need of support while processing the changes that have come with the pandemic.

“There’s not something that we can actively do to change this situation, so it’s providing a tool to hand over the stress and worries to Alpaca,” Oriard said. “Worry dolls get used in therapeutic practices all the time for kids who have high anxiety so that they are able to sleep better, it’s good for mind-body connection.”

As for general advice on supporting and schooling children through the COVID-19 pandemic, Oriard and Christensen want to remind parents to cut themselves some slack during a difficult time.

“The thing that I always like to remind people of, especially as we get further and further into this pandemic, is that it is a crisis and life is not normal right now,” Oriard said. “The expectations that you have for yourself, for your kids, will be changing in this time.”

Physical safety and emotional safety are the two most important priorities right now, Oriard explained. 

Trauma-informed Slumberkins & navigating the Black Lives Matter movement

Imparting tools for emotional navigation is at the core of the Slumberkins mission. The emotions children are experiencing as they witness racism in the US, currently being underscored by the Black Lives Matter movement, is another topic Oriard and Christensen have addressed.

“Slumberkins has made a public statement that it's actively anti-racist and standing with the Black Lives Matter movement,” Oriard said. 

“What we do is try to really focus on our area of expertise, which is emotional development,” Oriard said, regarding Slumberkins’ direct impact. “Our hope is that when children and parents are able to tune into emotional fluency — take care of their feelings, feel empowered to speak their truth, feel grounded and secure — that they’re going to be able to show up to these conversations, to these huge issues of our times, in the way that is representative of their best self.”

“All Slumberkins have been developed with the intent on being trauma-informed, which is being supportive of multiple perspectives and also addressing deep core issues,” Oriard added.

The next Sesame Street?

Oriard and Christensen are currently in the final stages of creative development for the Slumberkins TV show, which they will co-executive produce. 

The show for preschoolers will be set in a magical world and presented through puppets and animation. Each episode will walk viewers through an “emotional fable,” which follows a Slumberkins character’s emotional response to a situation, and helps them untangle, understand, and address their feelings. 

“The decoding of emotional worlds for children, and adults, is so extremely needed right now,” Oriard said. “We need the next iteration, we need the modern day Sesame Street that is speaking to millennials and younger.”

“Our differentiator in the space is our ability to connect directly to parents and support them in the process, along with supporting their child, through media,” Christensen added. Slumberkins has an active Facebook group with over 18,000 parents, educators, and guardians who use Slumberkins with their children. 

Showrunner and lead writer of the forthcoming Slumberkins TV show, Alex Rockwell, has credits on children’s shows like “Bear and the Big Blue House” and “Word Party.” Slumberkins has partnered with a global streaming company to present the show, to be announced.

“I think what you’re going to see is a totally new way of interaction between media, a TV show, products, and community," Oriad said. "All coming together in a really new and exciting way."

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