Transformative Stuffies?

Screenshot 2023-09-20 at 20.07.20

Transformative Stuffies?

In honor of National Service Dog Month, I want to share a story about a founder in our community, and the maker of Bouncy the Service Dog.

Imagine a service dog that does more than just offer companionship.

It’s an educational solution, specifically designed to provide support to individuals with diverse physical, mental, and emotional needs.

When Alice Ray came across Transformative Tech she was on a mission.

She had spent 20+ years building Second Step, one of the world’s most widely used, evidenced based, social emotional learning (SEL) curricula serving over 400K children in 50 states and 26 countries.

Alice had also developed software to deliver digitized SEL training to teachers and older students who could easily use computers.

But in 2017, Alice wanted to develop a way to reach the littlest children with the fewest resources.

She knew they might not have or use computers, but they could hold a stuffie.

She wondered, what if that stuffed animal could become a responsive emotional trainer?

Alice was moved by a vision of a surly, four-year old Chicago boy arriving at Pre-K school on a Monday morning.

She went on to share, “The second time the teacher asks him to put down his pencil and join the group, he yells “shut up” and throws the pencil at her. This is his third disruptive incident in a week. But what the preschool paraprofessional teacher may not know is: He was badly beaten before leaving for school, or . . . His cousin was shot on Saturday night and will live, but never walk again, or . . . He woke up to his step dad touching him in the middle of the night, or . . . He didn’t have a regular meal this weekend; because his mom needed a fix, or …”

Her voice catches as she imagines scenarios that could be driving this “bad” behavior.

As Alice tells it, “there is no psychologist to send him to in this informal preschool setting. Or maybe, his family would not allow outside agencies to know their personal business, even if there were. Maybe other kids are becoming afraid of him. And maybe his mother doesn’t respond to requests for meetings to discuss his behavior.”

She shakes her head. “What alternative does the teacher have other than to suspend him from the preschool, starting his journey through the school-to-prison pipeline?”

So Alice set out to make an alternative.

After attending the Transformative Tech Conference, she wondered, “Would it be possible to make a stuffie that kids could hold and get comfort from. One that in addition to being a cuddly toy, would use sensory technology, such as heart rate variability, to help young learners recognize emotional states and through Bouncy-guided exercises, develop self-soothing techniques to dial down feelings of anger and fear, and enhance self-agency in the face of difficult realities?”

My answer was yes.

Seven years later, Bouncy, a lovable, multi-breed service dog with a prosthetic leg who provides skill development, emotional comfort, and support to children four-to-seven years old, serves hundreds of thousands of children across the United States.

With individual children, Bouncy has been shown to reduce tantrums by 94%, roughhousing by 75%, disruptive behavior by 99%, and anxiety-driven behavior down 81%.

In classroom groups, Bouncy increases SEL practices like breathing-based self-calming, positive self-talk, perseverance, appropriate movement, and helping behaviors.

The secret is that the stuffie plus his onboard curriculum and haptic responses supports kids by fostered feelings of belonging, a sense of safety, the ability to self-regulate, and the skills to build agency.

Alice will tell you that without hearing the premise that technology can go beyond merely delivering content to play a direct role to help heal the inner human landscape , she might not have gone in this direction.

One of its main features that I am most excited about includes its ability to teach children the art of self-regulating their breathing.

This unique feature empowers young learners to master the art of breath control, enabling them to calm themselves and alleviate anxiety – skills crucial for thriving and flourishing.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators worldwide have recognized the pressing need to foster socio-emotional skills in today’s children.

This is where Bouncy comes into play.

By nurturing emotional resilience, Bouncy not only helps children thrive but also reduces classroom disruptions, allowing instruction to take center stage.

Bouncy the Service Dog is part of the comprehensive solution, Bouncy’s Ready to Learn Resilience Program, which was named the best PreK/Early Childhood Learning Solution of 2023 in the annual SIIA CODiE Awards.

Solutions like Bouncy symbolize a move in education towards not just seeing the classroom as a place to develop intellectual skills, but also as a playground for fostering social and emotional resilience.

The journey of Bouncy is one that’s reshaping education for the better, and the best part is, we’re just getting started.

It makes me think of all the products yet to be created.

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