The Mother of Invention: Naperville mom designs toys to teach kids

Padmini Sriman invented the EmotiPlush dolls, which have moveable eyebrows and lips to help children understand facial expressions.  |  Submitted
Padmini Sriman invented the EmotiPlush dolls, which have moveable eyebrows and lips to help children understand facial expressions. | Submitted
Pam Molnar
For Sun-Times Media
July 16 4:02 p.m.
To Learn More:

EmotiPlush
www.emoti-plush.com/
847-769-1663

Follow on Facebook
facebook.com/Emotiplush

Padmini Sriman is the kind of mom who gets down on the floor and plays with her kids. As a former engineer, Sriman is a strong believer in the slow toy movement, which is described as toys without plastic or batteries and that stand the test of time.

Sriman and her husband, Sri moved to Naperville with their twins Aneesh and Preethi, nine years ago, when their children were three. It was about that time that their son, Aneesh, now 12, was diagnosed with developmental delays.

In order to help her son, Sriman incorporated his therapy into their playtime. “A lot of kids on the spectrum have difficulty understanding body language and facial emotions,” says Sriman.

When flashcards to demonstrate facial emotions had no effect, Sriman used her creative mind to try something else.

During playtime, her son gravitated to dolls and puppets and enjoyed role playing. After finding one with loose, sewed on eyebrows, Sriman had an idea. She added a moveable mouth and reintroduced the doll into their playtime.

When Aneesh did something that made the doll happy, sad or surprised, Sriman would move the eyebrows and mouth to show her son how that facial expression looks. “I don’t remember the exact moment, but over time, he sort of got it,” says Sriman.

As the years went by, the puppets and dolls were put on a shelf to make room for other play therapy. As vice president of the Special Needs PTA in district 204, Sriman met many parents whose children had developmental delays.

“A couple of people asked me how I taught about facial expressions and I remembered the dolls,” says Sriman.

Sriman’s online research produced only a few dolls that could change their facial expressions. “I found some dolls with Velcro facial expressions, but nothing dynamic and on the spot,” says Sriman.

In 2012, Sriman started work on a prototype for a doll with a moveable, two lipped mouth and moveable eyebrows, similar to the one she made for her son years before.

Over the next year, Sriman worked with her manufacturer to find the right materials that could withstand the constant movement from a child at play.

The final result was two dolls named Tommy and Emily. EmotiPlush was born.

The dolls can demonstrate eight different emotions including happy, embarrassed, sad, angry, mischievous, shocked, surprised and confused.

Cindy Frech, who worked with Sriman’s son at the district 204 preschool, uses the dolls as a supplemental tool in conjunction with their social and emotional curriculum. “I think it’s a very nice way to teach children about beginning emotions. The other dolls we use have a happy face, and not everyone is happy all the time,” says Frech, a social worker who works with children age three to five.

Since EmotiPlush’s launch in November 2013, 100 sample dolls have been sold through Sriman’s website. After receiving feedback from parents and teachers like Frech, Sriman created a book called, “Emotitales: Tommy and Emily”. Children can go through the book and change the dolls expression as they follow the story.

In July, EmotiPlush will be featured on Kickstarter, a crowd funding platform for entrepreneurs like Sriman. Families and therapists can purchase a doll and book by pledging in support of EmotiPlush through Kickstarter. Pledges will start between $25 and $30 and supporters can choose the skin and eye color of their dolls.

While EmotiPlush doll can be used as an educational tool, they can also be a fun interactive toy. “It’s a toy with a simple learning curve and that’s what pretend play should be,” says Sriman.

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To Learn More:

EmotiPlush
www.emoti-plush.com/
847-769-1663

Follow on Facebook
facebook.com/Emotiplush

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