When Andrea Alley got her master’s degree in education two months before the pandemic hit, she sought a full-time teaching job. She didn’t find any, but she discovered her passion.
“I accepted a para-educator position at Brentwood Elementary,” she said. “I have worked with children with special needs and fell in love with them.”
Many of the children she worked with suffered from anxiety and social and emotional issues and Alley wanted to find ways to support them. An online course on starting your own business has become the starting point for a new career.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial itch,” Alley said.
When she discovered weighted lap pillows for kids, she knew she had found her niche.
“The lap pads help them stay grounded,” she said.
Alley decided to create and market weighted and microwaveable knee pillows and named his company Keeping Kalm. One side of the soft cushion is smooth, the other textured. The different textures give kids the choice of what feels most soothing to them.
To enhance the appeal, she designed matching stuffed animals to go with the patterned pads. Plush toys are also weighted and can be microwaved for extra heat.
“I licensed a sloth design and named it Solomon Sloth,” Alley said.
After Solomon’s launch, Alley added Pong Panda and Dayle Dolphin.
“I wanted to go with animals known to be calm and soothing.”
She found a manufacturer in China and last April her first shipment arrived. The small pads roll up and can easily be stored in backpacks. Weighted stuffed animals are available in two sizes. The smaller size can be slipped into an outer slot on its matching bag.
“I have introduced the floor mats to my children in special education and they have loved them. Especially, my anxious kids,” Alley said. “Plus, they can be used at home or at school.”
Brentwood special education teacher Jennifer Frase is a big fan of knee pillows. She works with children with learning disabilities, ADHD and autism.
“I have weighted blankets available for all the kids,” she said. “I find all types of children enjoy them for both the weighted feel (calming) and the sensory need (they can touch the textured fabric). It’s not just for young kids – even my cool fifth graders love the cover.
Recently, Alley added another component to the Keeping Kalm products. She wrote and published the History of Solomon. The artist she licensed has agreed to do the illustrations, and “Solomon Sloth Finds His Strength” is now available for purchase.
“I knew I wanted to write Solomon’s story,” Alley said. “I knew he was struggling with anxiety and self-esteem.”
Frase threw the book in his class.
“My fourth grade boys loved the story and grew emotionally from the content,” she said.
Pong Panda and Dayle Dolphin stories are in the works – each picture book will address a different emotional or social issue common to children.
Alley’s eyes go up when she talks about seeing kids using the products she designed.
“I realized I had another passion besides teaching,” Alley said.
“It’s something I created to help the kids I care about – it wouldn’t have evolved if I had been teaching full time. I feel like it was meant to be.”