One of the trends I’ve noticed in children over the years – in my classroom and elsewhere, and it’s not a good one, is that many of them are less than empathetic (insert your own pet peeve here – respectful of adults is another one I’ve noticed). I don’t know the reason. More parents working long hours? Parents trying to be friends instead of parents?
Whatever the reason, the things that are suffering are all character traits that we, as a human race, should be concerned about.
Life’s Building Blocks is a company founded by Vikash and Juli Sanyal, two SoCal parents. Their goal was to develop character building products that would be fun for kids and easy for parents to use and they’ve succeeded with their award-winning lineup of age appropriate products.
In addition to creating Zaki, my child’s favourite lovable, talking, plush “character chameleon,” they placed Zaki in the midst of the Spruce Street Six — a group of best friends in the third grade. In the stories, the friends who make up The Spruce Street Six encounter many of the common ethical challenges that confront children everywhere. The stories highlight both the strengths, weaknesses and virtues of each of the children making them seem very real to the children reading. Because of that, the ethical decisions made in the book are easily transferred to the decisions they are faced with in their daily lives.
Zaki himself is geared toward children aged 3-6. My three year old is just at the youngest appropriate age and he loves it, but I can see how he will grow into using it more often. Actually I can see us pulling out Zaki as a teaching tool when we need to readdress some of the basic character issues. He sings “Zaki’s song” and has six short stories and rhymes starring the Spruce Street Six programmed into his innards. The best part of “Storytelling Zaki”, in my opinion, are the fins on his back which change colors when the kids are in situations where they should stop (red), slow down and think (yellow), or go for it (green)! It was the first thing to get the attention of my son and definitely the part that kept it. It gave us the opportunity to chat about the situations in the stories and ensure that he actually understood the thought processes going on in the characters. Zaki sells for $30.
The Spruce Street Six Chapter Books, for ages 6-9, feature characters Honest Jake, Jessica the Brave, Calm Carlos, Lauren Never Quits, Jarrett the Just and Kind Shawnie who, with Zaki’s help and their own consciences, take readers on fun adventures that use real dilemmas & ethical problem solving skills teach character building while they enjoy a good book. They sell for $6 a piece.
The related Spruce Street Six Activity Books help reinforce the moral lessons learned in the books via puzzles, short stories, word searches and crack coded messages. They also sell for $6 each
I’m glad to see more products that do more than sing songs and blink, and character building is one of the most valuable goals for a toy that I’ve seen yet.