Kids over the past few years have been a lot more anxious, and that’s only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Canada for example, the number of children calling Canada’s national hotline Kids Help Phone jumped 350% in early March as they seek support in managing fears, according to CBC.
In conjunction, kids and their families have increasingly gravitated towards meditation and mindfulness content to help children handle their feelings, just as the industry is rising to meet these needs in new ways.
The overall US meditation market has been growing, and is predicted to climb to more than US$2 billion by 2022, up from US$1.21 billion in 2017, research firm Statista predicts. It’s also on the rise among youth over the past decade, and 5.4% of four to 17s said they practiced meditation in 2018, up from just 0.6% in 2012, according to the US National Center for Health Statistics.
But with the pandemic driving a sudden spike in demand, Sesame Workshop, BBC, and the recently formed Capacitor Studios are looking to provide this content to children.
“Mindfulness, meditation and yoga are all interconnected and have all taken off during the pandemic,” says Capacitor CEO Paul Hanson. “But the content will also remain relevant and in-demand long after the crisis passes because it promotes a healthy way of getting kids moving and developing their minds.”
These companies are working with experts, and stretching into new territories by launching yoga, mindfulness and meditation content. Exploring this space opens the door to a variety of consumer product opportunities, and could help them reach schools looking for educational content that also encourages physical movement.
BBC plants meditation seeds
BBC launched its first-ever meditation-focused app for kids on May 7 after the UK pubcaster saw a demand in schools and nurseries for mindfulness (acknowledging one’s feelings and focusing on the present moment) content aimed at children, says BBC executive editor Rachel Bardill.
Your Mindful Garden (pictured, above) is available through BBC’s educational kids app Go Explore in the UK. Aimed at preschoolers, it features techniques, games and animated videos to help kids de-stress and unwind. The app was in the works for several months, but when the pandemic struck the BBC fast-tracked the project to get it out to market to help give kids a source of calm through the crisis, she says.
“After we heard that teachers and caregivers were looking for age-appropriate mindfulness content, we looked into it and saw there wasn’t much of it for young kids,” says Bardill. “There’s also a growing awareness around kids mental health, and this app can help them develop the tools to focus and calm themselves at a young age.”
As it was building Your Mindful Garden, the original plan was to limit how much time users could spend on the app, locking games and activities at a certain point. But while in beta testing, the developers learned that children wanted the ability to return to the app multiple times a day to help them relax, and it had the unintended consequence that kids would feel rejected or more stressed out when they couldn’t, Bardill says. As a result, the app-makers removed the screen limits, trusting that the activities and games will encourage kids to get moving without the app, she adds.
There’s a lot of potential for more content like this as well, says Bardill, and in the future the pubcaster could work on producing it for older kids.
“We made the app so kids would have something that could help them navigate their emotions now, but also later in life,” she says. “We could expand into more topics and techniques, including teaching more about gratitude and mindfulness. We’ve just started on this journey.”
Can you show me how to get to Mindfulness Street?
Looking to build a catalogue of content that develops what Sesame Workshop calls “kids self-regulation skills,” the studio teamed up with meditation app Headspace to launch short animated videos that teach kids about mindfulness and meditation. Featuring familiar Sesame Street characters, the studio launched the third of six videos last week on the Sesame Street YouTube channel (15.6 million subscribers).
The videos have already found a large audience. At press time the first two—starring Cookie Monster (pictured, above) and Elmo (which were both posted in April)—have racked up more than seven million views, combined on YouTube.
Sesame isn’t entirely new to this type of content; it’s been incorporating mindfulness techniques in recent seasons of Sesame Street and it built the topics in to its animated series Esme & Roy where the characters always engage in some form of mindfulness activity to focus and relax them before they start playing.
Although Headspace generally skews to older audiences, making good meditation content for kids doesn’t work if you’re just taking adult concepts and feeding it straight to children, says Jenny Gioia, Sesame Workshop’s VP of multimedia programming and content strategy.
So, the team leveraged Headspace’s knowledge of tried-and-true tactics for de-stressing. Then, to engage kids it framed the exercises, such as deep breathing and paying attention to one’s surrounding, around fun and relatable situations, and animated it into videos so kids could visualize and follow-along. To make the shorts more relevant, Sesame focused on helping kids handle stressors in their lives, which include waiting for something they really want, and transitional periods like going to bed, says Gioia.
Once all of the videos are released, Sesame will see what worked with kids, but meditation and mindfulness techniques are essential skills for kids to learn and it’s going to look at making more animated videos and live-action content, says Rosemarie Truglio, Sesame’s SVP of curriculum and content.
“They need skills to help them manage their emotions,” says Truglio. “This is big because it can help them feel better now, during a crisis, but also as they move through life. It’s also a unique format because kids and adults can do these simple activities together, and this co-engagement means that parents who also don’t have these skills can learn and then be able to teach them to kids.”
Stretching into new territory
After seeing the success of yoga and meditation-focused YouTube channel Cosmic Kids (pictured at top, 824,000 subscribers), which has been engaging kids with its videos for several years, the heads of burgeoning prodco Capacitor Studios opted to partner with the creators on an in-development series. While the studio, which launched in March, hadn’t specifically been looking at mindfulness content, it saw the opportunity to delve into the kids space with an IP that the founders believe would have a long shelf life.
The secret to getting kids engaged with yoga and mindfulness content is to give them a story they can connect to the movement, says Cosmic Kids founder Jaime Amor.
“I spent many years teaching yoga and mindfulness in schools across the UK before launching the YouTube channel. I learned that kids engage most when they’re able to roleplay,” says Amor. “By keeping it fun, silly and combining the poses with a narrative arc [like telling kids if they do these five different movements they can banish the evil witch] we’re able to reshape yoga for kids and bring it to their level.”
The channel’s YouTube views have spiked during the pandemic, and is averaging around 700,000 views a day, up from 100,000 at the end of March, she adds. Its subscribers have also doubled to 800,000, which is up from around 400,000 that they had at the end of March, she says. Families are flocking to the channel now because the mindfulness and meditation can help kids understand and cope with their feelings, and build resiliency at a younger age, she says.
Mindfulness also lends itself well to a variety of CP categories, says Capacitor’s managing director of IP, Elan Freedman.
“Cosmic Kids has done Star Wars- and Frozen-branded live events, so we know there’s a demand for events and touring opportunities,” Freedman says. “The show is focused on yoga, mindfulness and meditation, but what we’re really targeting is kids greater health and wellness. That opens up a lot of doors for us to run live-events, launch apparel and roleplay toys for yoga, and get into publishing for products around meditation.”