Shalini Samtani, former attorney and mom of 2, never imagined that she would be so happy to celebrate her youngest child 7th birthday at Target!
I know, it seems like an odd victory. However, five years ago Shalini was just so grateful to be spending her daughter’s 2nd birthday outside of the hospital-a scary experience they were unfortunately all too familiar with. Instead, this week, they celebrate the little girl’s 7th birthday at Target where their toy line Open The Joy®, inspired by their earlier years at the hospital, just launched! She tells us the story about how this new line of activity kits, focused on developing emotional intelligence in kids, came to be from the most unexpected beginnings.
Tell us a little about how your challenges at the hospital with your daughter led you to launch Open The Joy?
“When my daughter Aria was very young, she was diagnosed with a one in a million condition that forced us to spend months in and out of the hospital. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced, but me and my husband were determined to keep our child’s spirits up and not let the illness take away from her playful nature. Especially at the hospital, I did everything to help Aria experience a normal childhood- to this end we made solar systems out of plates and utensils “borrowed” from the hospital cafeteria! Fridays turned into pillow fight and movie nights. Hospital trays were converted into mini-art centers.
While I did my best to make her stay as comfortable as possible, I felt like I was on my own. Sure, there were blogs with ideas, support and advice, but nothing that catered to our needs. I kept wishing that someone would just do it all for me-drop off the supplies, come up with super cute activities that bonded families and helped keep my daughter’s spirits up. I know… it was asking for a lot.
In searching for tool and games to help us, I quickly realized that there wasn’t a single company, in the 97-billion-dollar toy industry, focused on the emotional well-being of kids. Yet as a parent, I knew that that’s what every parent wants! To raise resilient, confident and empathetic children- prepared for the life ahead of them. So that’s how I came up with the idea of Open the Joy: a toy company that educates the hearts of kids through play. I also wanted it to be stress-free for parents. My vision was for all materials to come in the kits, parents would simply need to “Open The Joy!”
How is Aria doing today?
“Amazing! Thankfully my daughter is doing well today. However, during our years in and out of the hospital, I realized something so important. While my child’s physical health was out of my hands, her emotional well-being was my responsibility— as it is the responsibility of all parents. I learned a lot while in the hospital, but mostly that there are not nearly enough emotional support tools available for children and their families. In fact, one in every six children today suffers from a behavioral health disorder. Parents, and the entire culture of play, is at a loss for how to address this. I strive to help by creating activity kits that build inner strength in children, peel them off their screens and bond families through play.”
So how did you decide to launch a toy line?
“Great question! I didn’t own a toy company at the time, and I didn’t have a psychology degree, but I spent years consulting with child-life specialists, therapists and industry leaders to bring my vision of activity kits that educate the hearts of kids, to life. Although my journey began in a hospital bed, my company strives to instead bring joy to your home through educational toys focused on social skills, self-regulation, empathy, motivation, self-awareness, and life skills, which has been missing from the playtimes of our children.
This harsh life lesson (and developing the collection alongside my kids) makes me proud to say that I’ve got some pretty emotionally intelligent kids (though, as their mom I might be a bit bias!). And those years spent in the hospital inspired me to bring emotional and mental health into the spotlight of the toy industry.
So how will you be celebrating Aria’s 7th birthday?
“At Target! As of Aria’s 7th birthday, Open the Joy® has officially hit the shelves of 430 locations nationwide. While Aria fought so hard for herself, I am not sure she realizes yet that her fight is now to help so many other children become emotionally fit and to bring joy and laughter to families everywhere. We welcome you to celebrate her birthday with us and are so excited to “Open the Joy” in your life.”