Meet the Former Educators Behind Slumberkins

This Women’s History Month, we’re shining a spotlight on the women behind some of the most thoughtful brands in the beauty and wellness industries, and learning more about how they #EmbraceEquity. Today, we’re sitting down with Callie Christensen and Kelly Oriard, co-founders and co-CEOs of Slumberkins, to discuss early emotional learning, running a business as busy moms, and how their experience as educators has shaped their desire to help parents and caregivers teach valuable skills to their children.

The Standard Dose team (especially those of us who are parents!), love Slumberkins. From your cozy snugglers to your board books, we really believe in your mission of encouraging early emotional learning. Can you tell us about what inspired you to create your brand and your journey to launching?

Thank you so much! We love partnering with businesses and parents who are also passionate about early emotional learning. Slumberkins started while we were both on maternity leave from our roles as a therapist and Special Education teacher back in 2015. We had been best friends since we were 14, so, when we had babies around the same time, we spent a lot of time together, since those postpartum days are so much easier to navigate with a friend. We were constantly exchanging stories and ideas of therapeutic interventions we were using in our schools, and at the same time were inspired by our newborns, when the concept of Slumberkins came to us. We both really resonated with the fact that we saw the most success with students when their parents were empowered to support their emotional wellness alongside what the school was trying to do. We wanted to create something that made it easy for them to engage in teaching these early emotional skills. Topics like mindfulness, self-esteem, coping with stress, and conflict resolution support students to be successful in today’s learning environment. 

We had no idea how to start a business, but we knew how to sew, so we started making Slumberkins ourselves, publishing our storylines and selling at local craft fairs in the Pacific Northwest. After the first event where we completely sold out, we knew we were onto something, so we decided to keep going. We figured out how to self-publish books, and grew a community on social media, connecting with parents that really resonated with what we were trying to do.

What are some of the joys and challenges you’ve experienced as founders?

We find great joy in getting to do this together as best friends, co-founders, and co-CEOs. We are both pretty spontaneous and also very competitive former Division 1 athletes, so we approach business like we did athletics, which makes it a fun environment for us and our team. There have been plenty of mistakes along the way, but we are always looking for ways to learn and grow off of feedback from our customers, parents, and our internal team at Slumberkins as much as possible. We really try to live by the lessons we teach in our Growth Mindset Collection, which was written on the plane ride home from Shark Tank, after we did not get a deal on the show, which felt like a huge failure at the time. With the intensity that comes with the ups and downs of building a business and a team, while managing our busy lives as moms, we both have challenges at times, but have supports in place for us to prioritize our friendship, our time as moms, and, if needed, to seek our some therapy sessions with our own marriage and family therapist that sees us like a couple, as co-CEOs in this business. It all comes back to communication, being open to having hard conversations, and trusting that we’re in this together. 

What is one fact about early emotional learning you think every parent should know? 

That it really all starts with you as the parent. You don’t have to be perfect, but we do know that, in early childhood, a child’s emotional development is not separate from their primary caregivers or parents. As two moms and educators, we also know that this can feel very overwhelming. We purposely wanted Slumberkins to be easy to use for anyone. That’s why the books are written the way they are, as scripted love notes to a child that incorporate therapeutic techniques and, through the use of affirmations, create really meaningful moments of connection. 

Tell us about your creatures! How did these first come to life? 

It’s hard to believe that we have 15 core collections now! The first three we made were Bigfoot, to support self-esteem, Sloth, to support routines, and Yeti, to promote mindfulness. Bigfoot Copes with Hurt Feelings was inspired by my (Callie’s) journey of being six feet tall in sixth grade and having my feelings hurt often by comments about my height and how big I was compared to my friends. I had a mother who was very positive and made sure I was active in things that valued height, so including positive affirmations was core to that experience of mine growing up and into a self-confident person who now loves being tall. 

Sloth Starts to Slumber was inspired by us both being tired moms of newborns at the time, and knowing that all parents could use a tool to help their children get to sleep. Kelly wrote the story as an interactive progressive muscle relaxation, a tried and true therapeutic technique that can be used to help with sleep and managing anxiety. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite books to read with my now six and seven year old children at bedtime, as they love the interactivity of it, and it creates a really special bedtime routine. 

Yeti Focuses on Her Senses was inspired by both of our work in the schools, teaching students about their emotions, and how to be able to slow down and tune into themselves. We know as educators that this is a crucial, early step towards emotional identification and regulation. 

This Women’s History Month, we find ourselves thinking about your Lynx Snuggler, which encourages children to speak up for themselves. As girls often grow up with messages to tame and quiet themselves, how does this snuggler help rewrite that narrative?

Lynx is definitely written to empower young girls to tune into their inner wisdom, find their voice, and speak their truth. While these skills are important for all children, we definitely were inspired by our own journeys as women having to learn these skills for ourselves. We hope that these words give children a new narrative to grow up with, one of permission and affirmation, giving them space to say what they think and feel. Every woman needs that message in her life and to believe it. We get really excited when we think about younger generations feeling this is core to who they are and how they approach the world. 

You just released a preschool show on Apple TV+! What is your hope for this series?

Yes! We are so thrilled that Slumberkins can be seen on AppleTV+. We have been working on this with Apple and the Jim Henson Company for five years now behind the scenes. We wanted to create a show that stayed true to our mission and provided families with tools and trusted content. Each episode follows a character's emotional journey of getting “triggered” and needing to process the emotions and feelings they are experiencing. It provides families with a model for what emotional processing looks like through very relatable examples of family life, including a song that can be used to help reinforce the learning, and a mantra at the end of the episode that recaps and solidifies the learning or takeaway. We are so proud of the curriculum that was woven into this show: there simply isn’t anything else out there like it. Viewer feedback from both parents and children has been amazing to receive, and it’s been great to see true love for the show and the characters.  

Outside of tools for parents, Slumberkins also creates resources for educators, with a robust social emotional learning curriculum. Can you tell us why creating these offerings was important to you?

We both are still educators at heart, and we always had the goal of working our way back into the classroom in this way. The entire year-long curriculum has robust home-school connection activities and resources, is built through a trauma-informed lens, and makes it easy for any teacher to implement. It’s so exciting to be able to create programs and curriculum that we would have wanted to use with our own students. 

What advice would you give to women starting the journey of entrepreneurship?

Go for it. When we were first contemplating if this was a good idea or if we were a little crazy to start something like this on a maternity leave, we did have a conversation where we kind of looked at each other and said, “Ok, here we are, two moms, with Master’s degrees, that really care about what our children are playing, consuming on television, and learning in school. Who are the people behind the scenes actually making those things? Probably not moms and educators, and probably not with the knowledge and passion that we have.” So, with that, we had a little “Why not us? It should be us!” pump up session and that was that. We kept going, step-by-step, and figured it out along the way. Something to note about moms and educators: we are the most resourceful, scrappy, tenacious, passionate, and multi-tasking experts out there. There definitely should be more women bringing their ideas and passion forward into the very male-domainated space of the business world. 

How does Slumberkins promote gender equity within your company and your mission?

As a company built by women and educators, equity is a value we attempt to keep core and central as we operate the business, both internally and externally. The majority of our team identify as women, and we try our best to provide resources, characters, stories, and content in both our published work and our marketing campaigns that represent all types of family structures, gender identities, and roles. 

Finally, can you tell us a little bit about a woman who inspires you?

There are so many women that have supported us in helping Slumberkins become what it is today. We call them the fairy godmothers of Slumberkins, and if it wasn’t for them seeing the value of the mission, our tenacity for bringing it to life, and being willing to open doors for us in the industry as moms and women who didn’t have the “business experience,” we aren’t sure we’d be where we are with the brand today. Some of those women are Maxine Clark, the founder of Build-A-Bear; Shawn Dennis, our board member and the former CMO at American Girl; Halle Stanford, President of the Jim Henson Company; Alex Rockwell, Showrunner for Slumberkins the series; and Tara Sorenson, Head of Children’s Content at Apple TV+. Each woman on this list has taken a risk to support and partner with us because they see the value of our content. We are forever grateful, and dream of the day that we can do the same thing for future female entrepreneurs.

Shop Slumberkins

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Bigfoot Snuggler for Self-Esteem
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Sloth Snuggler for Relaxation
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Yeti Snuggler for Mindfulness
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Otter Snuggler for Family Bonding