Jambo, friends! As you probably know, I am in Kenya, and have been here for almost one week! Sadly, tomorrow is my last working day and I fly back to Toronto on Saturday. I was hoping to blog more while I’ve been here but I have been so busy. So finally – here I am!
One of my goals since I began this blog almost two (!!!) years ago was complete honesty, and I think that I have succeeded in that goal so far. That said, this post is going to be my first official product review! I’m not sure if this will be a regular occurrence as it is something I’m totally new to, but I just wanted to give all my fabulous readers a heads up for this post! So, let’s get to it!
Introducing: Echo the Elephant
In July I connected with the More Than Play toy company on Twitter and after browsing through their tweets I was immediately interested in them and what they have to offer the child life world. With a selection of sensory toys and products designed to enhance the development of young children, it’s easy to understand my intrigue! One product particularly fascinated me and I immediately reached out to the company to inquire about it.
Echo the Elephant is a stuffed animal specially designed with babies in mind. With tons and tons of features, each developed to enhance baby’s development and stimulate all five senses.
While in Kenya, I was given the task of presenting to the child life team on infant stimulation. After coming across Echo, I felt that this product would not only provide an excellent accessory to my presentation, but would be a great tool for the child life team to use with the abandoned babies and NICU population at the Shoe4Africa hospital here in Eldoret.
After presenting this idea to More Than Play, they so graciously offered to ship me, not one, but 8 Echo the Elephants, and two Echo puppets all for use of the child life team. When I brought these out during my presentation the team was ecstatic and so grateful for the amazing donation.
Immediately, upon seeing the toys, the team commented on the large and engaging features, including Echo’s big, bold eyes, red nose, and big striped ears. With enough elephants to go around, the team took no time at all to start exploring all of Echo’s features.
We all agreed that Echo’s removable and reversible vest was a great addition (and accessory!). This vest, created with crinkle fabric inside, gives the chance for added auditory stimulation as well as the option for it to be removed for children who would rather feel Echo’s soft back than hear the noise. On her back, hidden by her vest, is a small velcro patch that children can explore. I found this was small enough that older children could use it to calm their fidgets if they are sitting and cuddling with Echo but also large enough that young children could spot it and manipulate it easily.
As a group it was agreed that the black and white striped ears are amazing and provide an incredible high contrast patterns, perfect for babies whose vision is still developing and the added softness on the back of the ears was just a comfy, tactile bonus. And speaking of tactile stimulation…Echo has small, raised dots on her hands, feet, vest, and back patch that provides such a perfect amount of stimulation for tiny hands and fingers to feel and explore.
In addition to visual, and tactile stimulation, Echo has a bell in her foot, a squeaker in her hand, and – wait for it – makes trumpeting noises when you twist her trunk! So on top of the crinkle fabric in the vest and in one of her hands, there are several other features that provide that added auditory experience for little ones.
One of my personal favourites is Echo’s tail. When pulled, her tail retreats back in to her body through a vibrating sensation. This would be particularly special for children with visual impairments who want to really feel that vibrating sensation. For young children who find comfort in the vibrations, this is an added bonus, especially with the pull ring itself that can act as a teether for babies and toddlers.
As a group of healthcare professionals, parents, and other caregivers, we discussed all of the things that we loved about Echo and a couple things we felt could be improved upon. We all agreed that as a toy designed for one child to use in their home, Echo is an incredible thing to have. However, as child life specialists, we did discuss some concerns in using Echo in a hospital or other healthcare setting.
First and foremost, the fact that Echo is surface wash only would be a potential problem for hospitals with strict infection control policies. Some places are fine with a spray-on disinfectant, where as others are more strict in that respect. Additionally, the tuft of hair on top of Echo’s head – though adorable – would be easy for children to pull out, especially for babies and toddlers who may be using Echo as a chew toy for some period of time.
Overall, the team loved Echo and will be using the puppets as part of their work in the NICU and in the abandoned babies unit. We also discussed options for using them in medical play! The Echo animals will be used with one patient at a time and gifted to families in the mother and baby unit and NICU families in need and hopefully sent with the abandoned babies upon adoption.
Talk about a #ChildLifeWIN!!!
Below are some much deserved praises for Echo the Elephant from some child life specialists at Shoe4Africa at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital:
“I love the combination of colour. The fact that the elephant is a great animal in my country, Kenya. This toy will be very comforting for many children.”
- Elizabeth Kabuthi, CCLS
“This would be great for a toddler as this one toy has an activity for all five senses to be stimulated.”
- Martha Mwongela, CCLS
“It is a great item of comfort for children with impairments – visual or auditory especially.”
- Jayne Kamau