NAPERVILLE – Naperville resident Padmini Sriman tried using flashcards and other traditional teaching tools to help her son learn about facial expression, but nothing did the trick quite like a certain plush pig.
The toy had loose eyebrows Sriman discovered she could manipulate to convey a range of emotions, evoking enthusiastic reactions from both her son, Aneesh, who has Pervasive Developmental Delay, and his twin sister, Preethi, who is neurotypical.
Sriman's “ah-ha!” moment with the pig passed, but she never forgot it.
Five years later, she suggested a fellow parent try using a toy with malleable eyebrows to teach their child about emotion, and not long after that, she began developing Emotiplush, a line of dolls designed specifically to offer interactive opportunities for kids learning to express and understand feelings.
That was two years ago, and Sriman, an electrical engineer turned stay-at-home mom and first-time entrepreneur, is in the midst of a campaign using the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to support her endeavor.
She has already reached her original goal of $3,000 – enough money to create more than 100 dolls – and is challenging her online backers to double that amount by Aug. 31.
Contributions will alllow to Sriman grow the Emotiplush brand, which includes four characters – Tommy, Emily, Tasha and Looey – all of whom have flexible eyebrows and mouths made of fabric-coated wire, which can safely communicate a variety of expressions.
“I think it's a very powerful way that children learn about human interaction,” Sriman said of the imagintive engagement her dolls are meant to foster.
Depending on the success of her Kickstarter campaign, Sriman may pursue expanding the line and incorporating animal dolls. She has already written an “Emotitales” storybook about her original characters, Tommy and Emily.
Sriman, who is vice president of the Indian Prairie School District 204 Special Needs PTA, said the Emotiplush concept was created for teachers, therapists, clinical psychologists, social workers and parents of children ages 2 to 8.
“It's a hands-on approach,” said Cindy Frech, a certified school social worker in District 204, who has used the dolls as part of the district's social-emotional preschool program. “That engages them.”
Sriman hopes Kickstarter will help her gain a larger sense of what her customers want.
“The Kickstarter is a great market tester,” she said. “It's a very powerful tool”
Someday, she would like to bring Emotiplush to the shelves of major retailers and create a YouTube channel with examples of how to use the dolls when working with children.
After the Kickstarter, her next step is to find other investors and revenue sources.
“I think there's a huge value in going back to a traditional wholesome play,” she said. “That's a way that they cope with things.”
How to give
To contribute to Sriman's campaign, visit www.shawurl.com/1atm.