Nina, Susan, and Ellen are three women who combined their skills and respective career histories (Nina was an Academy Award-winning animated film producer, Ellen, a CCC-SLP and award-winning leader in classroom character education and communication, and Susan, who was the owner and lead designer owner and lead designer of a design studio that specialized in design, art direction, marketing communication, and branding for children’s products) to launch their own line of toys and products to help children understand their feelings. We talked to them about how they got started, where their inspiration comes from, and how their toys can help kids communicate better both at home and in the classroom.
1. How did you come up with the idea for Kimochis®? Was it something inspired by your own children or your experiences with kids?
Nina: The inspiration for Kimochis was a response to the unspeakable 1999 Columbine High School incident. The idea that something of this nature could happen in our country, let alone our world is abominable and unacceptable. When my son was born in 2006, I knew that I had to develop Kimochis because I wasn’t about to worry about his safety at school.
2. Can you tell us a little bit about Kimochis?
Ellen and Susan:Kimochi (KEY.MO.CHEE) means “feeling” in Japanese. Sometimes kids have strong feelings that can fuel challenging behaviors. Parents and caregivers can use Kimochis as a playful way to help children learn to identify and express feelings. And, when kids can communicate their feelings effectively, they develop positive social skills that lead to lasting friendships and success in all aspects of life.
The characters come with small pillows with a feeling (happy, sad, silly, brave…) printed on one side, and a corresponding facial expression on the other. Each character has a special pocket where kids can store the Kimochis feelings. The large characters each come with three feelings and a how-to Feel Guideoffering parents and caregivers easy communication tips and engaging activities to help strengthen parent-child connections. The mini characters come with an emotional attachment (feeling keychain) and a fun comic book. Additional packs of Mixed Feelings are available to help build emotional vocabulary.
And, with fun activities to practice tone of voice, body language, and appropriate words, the Kimochis® Educator’s Tool Kit is an engaging and easy way to introduce social-emotional learning (SEL) in the classroom and build a foundation for academic success and social and emotional intelligence.
3. How have your respective backgrounds in your previous job(s) helped in the development of the Kimochis line?
Nina: As an entertainment producer, I know how powerful characters and storytelling is with respect to engaging and teaching children. I knew that if we used the fun and friendliness of these plush characters as a tool, that children would engage instantly, and get excited about learning and be more comfortable talking about their feelings.
4. Have your own children given you insight or provided you with inspiration for the toys? If so, in any specific ways?
Ellen and Susan:ABSOLUTELY! Our children were the first ones to play with the prototypes. Our children, in many ways, taught ussome of the best ways to play and communicate with the Kimochis. By watching and listening, we learned from them. It’s a challenging world out there for kids. When we see a new challenge, we try to create another tool…or another activity to address it. We want to give our own children the strongest social and emotional skills they can have because we know that is what’s going to make them happy, healthy, and confident. Our own children are the driving force behind everything that we do.
5. How do Kimochis help parents/caretakers and children communicate?
Ellen and Susan: One of our tag-lines is: “Feelings can be messy…Kimochis® can help.” We all manage our feelings in different ways. Some ways are more helpful than others and the Kimochis® help you and your family explore better ways to handle the ups and downs of life so that we keep a positive connection to others. The games and playful activities that come with the toys give families practice with the Seven Keys to Kimochis® Communication that help one stay connected when feeling an upset emotion. Kimochis® help families get comfortable with hard feelings like anger, fear, and embarrassment which helps families grow and stay closer.
6. How can parents/caretakers use them at home?
Ellen and Susan: In addition to the pretend, character play that children naturally create with these fun characters and feelings, there are so many ways that parents can be playful with them too. For example, here are some ways to integrate them into a child's day:
Hidden Feelings: It is fun to find Happy, Loved, Kind, or Grateful Kimochis feeling pillows in random spots during the day. It helps you know that someone is feeling a connection with you. We love to put them in our kids’ lunchboxes to let them know they can handle whatever comes their way.
Bowl of Feelings: Place the Kimochis Feeling pillows in a bowl in a high traffic area in your home. Dining room table or living room coffee table! Pass them around at dinner time, bedtime or anytime and pick a feeling. Share a story from your day explaining why you picked that feeling. OR put one feeling out a day to discuss. Who handles this feeling well? Not well? How could we handle that feeling better?
Conflict resolution (Kimochis 911):Slow down or stop an emotional outburst (or sibling spat) by bringing out the Kimochis characters and feelings. Have each child (or adult!) pick a feeling and tuck it into the character’s pocket. Getting to the root of what we’re really FEELING during an argument can sometimes calm tempers and help us come to a solution.
7. How can they be best utilized in a school/daycare environment?
Susan and Ellen: The Kimochis Educator’s Tool Kit includes 5 Kimochis characters, 29 feelings, and the Kimochis Feel Guide: Teachers Edition. Teachers can use the Kimochis Educator’s Tool Kit in any way they like. It’s not a cookie-cutter program. Our goal is for educators to intentionallyteach the basic communication skills (once a week or even daily!) outlined in our Feel Guideusing the Kimochis as fun, engaging tools. If kids can practice for challenging moments in a safe, relaxed, playful, classroom atmosphere, they are more likely to remember and call upon those good habits when they are in the heat of an emotional moment.
The Seven Keys to Kimochis Communication teach children the basics of eye contact, tone of voice, body language and positive communication habits. The Feeling Lessons help children use the seven keys to practice for challenging situations: when a friend is mad; when you are mad; when you want to join a game; when you see someone who feels left out; the situations are endless! And the Kimochis characters’ personalities help children understand and have compassion for how people are different and how we can all work together to get along. The picture book series is also a great way for preschool and elementary school teachers to use storytelling as a springboard for social and emotional learning.
8. In addition to allowing children to share their feelings, how else can Kimochis be useful/fun for kids?
Ellen and Susan: Kimochis® bring humor, humility and humanness into the room. When you have these playful toys around, people gravitate to them and use them in a joking and fun way. Our family had a spontaneous feeling fight at dinner (everyone threw our feelings at each other and we were howling.) When we were cleaning up the dishes, my husband commented that he really thinks the Kimochis® are helping him talk about his feelings even though at first he thought it was hokey. The toys help you say things that need to be said that you might not say if you did not have something to hold in your hand to show someone how you are feeling.
9. Do you have any advice and/or words of wisdom for parents who are looking to start their own business?
Nina: If you have an idea that you feel completely passionate about and all-consumed by, and you are prepared to do whatever it takes to make it happen, then you have to go with your instincts and make it happen. It is not going to be easy. But you need to truly believe you can make it happen otherwise no one else will. There is nothing more rewarding then watching your vision come to life.
10. Where do you see the Kimochis line headed in the future?
Nina:Feelings are a universal language. We see Kimochis in every country, with every family, in every school, and most importantly in every child’s hands. All we want is to provide children and families a fun, comfortable and safe way to share their feelings and stay connected to each other. Feelings can be messy…Kimochis can help!
**Check out our Monthly Giveaway to enter for a chance to win a Kimochi for your child!**