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Jerry the Bear

by Michael Chu
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A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk to Aaron Horowitz, CEO of Sproutel, about a project he's leading called Jerry the Bear. As a relatively new parent, I'm keenly aware now of just how fragmented and saturated the toy market is. There are several toys for nearly every niche one can imagine with quality varying from high to low, pricing from super-cheap to "those aren't toy prices", and playability from mere seconds of interest to a lifetime of attachment. As a firm believer in early learning through play, I find that most toys are educational in some respect (although some toys need a stretch of the imagination to determine how they aid in development). Rarely, have I encountered a toy like Jerry the Bear who is both cute and lovable and teaches children with health issues through role playing and caretaking.

Type 1 Diabetes Jerry the Bear
Aaron and Hannah Chung founded Sproutel in 2012 to produce a toy to help children with Type 1 Diabetes learn about their illness and take care of themselves. By the following year, their team had produced 29 prototypes for a new teddy bear called Jerry the Bear. Jerry the Bear has diabetes and needs to be taken care of with routine blood sugar checks, a healthy diet, and diligent care. By 2014, 4% of all U.S. children newly diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes had a Jerry the Bear to care for, and, through their interactions with Jerry the Bear, these children quickly learned how to take care of themselves. It's a truly powerful way to teach children about health and wellness at an early age.

Explaining to a three-year old what they need to avoid eating, how much of a type of food to eat, monitoring blood sugar levels, and managing insulin doses is difficult (if not impossible). However, when the child plays with Jerry the Bear, they intuitively pick up these lessons because Jerry the Bear does better or worse based on how the child interacts with the toy. Instead of just learning intellectually about their illness, the child learns through empathy as well making a complex problem easier to understand and digest for the child. Just as important, the child also has a companion who is like the child!

This year, Sproutel is launching a version of Jerry the Bear. Where the previous model was specifically designed for Type 1 Diabetes, this new model is far more extensible. Using near field communication (NFC) tags inside Jerry the Bear and a removable electronic "portal", the child can interact with Jerry the Bear by holding the portal over various body parts (see if Jerry's teeth are clean, feed him if he's hungry, watch what's happening inside his body) or using other devices on Jerry the Bear (like a toy insulin pen or epinephrine pen) while still being machine-washable!

The new Jerry the Bear will have "expansion packs" to enable stories, simulations, and reactions based on the chronic condition in the expansion pack. The currently planned packs include Type 1 Diabetes, food allergies, and asthma with more expansions possible based on community feedback and needs. They've designed Jerry the Bear to be easy to interact with at ages as young as 3 and compelling to play with for older kids as well.

This week, Sproutel is launching their pre-order sale for Jerry the Bear. If you know of a child with a chronic health condition who can benefit from Jerry the Bear, I encourage you to take a look. Kids who have close family members or friends with chronic health conditions can also benefit from playing with Jerry the Bear!

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Written by Michael Chu
Published on September 22, 2015 at 02:46 AM
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