Single Mom Creates Line of Bilingual Teddy Bears to Help Kids Learn a New Language
A Texas mother is following what she believes is her "greater purpose" in life by helping children around the world — and their parents — learn a new language through her bilingual teddy bear line.
Dr. Tameka Maiden tells PEOPLE she was trying to teach her then-1-year-old daughter, Tori, the colors when she came up with the idea for Cubby Love Bears, a line of colorful teddy bears that recite letters, words, and numbers in English and Spanish.
"I wanted my daughter to have more exposure in the world than just English," Maiden, 38, explains. "Most kids don't learn a second language until they're in high school, so I was like, 'How about I start them early and that way, they'll have the foundation and by the time they get older, it's something that they have and they can expand off of?'"
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Now 4-years-old, Tori — along with hundreds of other children around the world — have learned how to recite their colors, letters, numbers, days of the week, and months in two of the top three most influential languages of the 21st century, thanks to Maiden's brand.
"My goal was to make the children be impactful in the world," she says. "I know that the most impactful tool that a child can have is through communication. This will set them up for future success."
"We don't think about it as kids, but as you get older, you really realize the importance of learning a second language," adds Maiden. "I wanted to create a brand where kids could be empowered at such a young age."
Though Maiden came up with the idea in 2016, it wasn't until last June that her product line officially launched.
"It took a while because I was fearful," she admits. "When you create something, you never know if people will be receptive to it or not... my daughter motivated me to jump and go for it."
At the time, the single mom — who does not speak Spanish but says she always wanted to learn — was working as a pharmacist after leaving her job as a teacher. That experience, Maiden says, helped her develop the concept for the bears.
"When I left the school district to become a pharmacist, I felt guilty and I wanted to leave my kids with something and this was a way to give back to them," she explains. "I knew it was destined for me because I had the background of a school teacher so I already knew that repetition was the key to kids learning."
She eventually developed four different products: Ory, the orange alphabet and numbers bear; Yancy, the yellow days of the week and months bear; Zoli, the blue/green cellphone and tablet-holding bear; and the colors bear set, which features four bears and eight different colors.
The bears, which range in price from $19.99-$64.99, function by pressing their paws. On the first press, it recites the word, letter, or number in English. On the second press, the same word, letter, or number is recited in Spanish.
"Everybody always asks, 'Why didn't you put everything in one bear?' and I said, 'Kids don’t learn that way. When we learn things, we learn at one pace at a time,'" Maiden explains. "I was able to break down the concepts so their learning would be strategic, and would allow them to grasp the concept."
Maiden's former students weren't the only ones who provided her with inspiration. The pharmacist says her family members and patients have also helped her come up with concepts for Cubby Love Bears.
She credits them, in particular, for her newest bear Auzy, which was designed to help children who are non-verbal — something Maiden created after learning that her patient's son and cousin's son both had autism and trouble communicating.
"I remember thinking, 'I have bears that can communicate. I can create one for kids who can't communicate,'" Maiden recalls. "To be able to help a child of such, it just brings a different type of joy to you."
"I understand the greater purpose that my bears have," she adds. "This is my calling of giving back in this magnitude."
Besides helping children who are non-verbal, Maiden says the bears have been helpful for parents amid the coronavirus pandemic, as many have found themselves shifting into a teaching role at home.
"You create something thinking it's one thing and then I had parents buying them to help them with their kids during [COVID] homeschooling," she explains, noting that many, including herself, have started to learn another language simply from using the bear with their kid.
"With my child, I've even created a foundation so we're learning together," she says. "It's had a great response, more than I could have ever imagined."
Down the road, Maiden says she hopes to create bears that will teach other concepts, like body parts.
She is also looking into bears that will help children cope with PTSD, as well as elderly people in nursing homes who are non-communicative — both ideas that she says were suggested by her customers.
"It's hard not to get emotional because they become so personal. It's not just a bear, it's helping people, helping kids," she shares. "When you put your heart into something and you really want people to love it, and when they actually do, it's like, 'Wow, this is awesome.' It's a great feeling."
Ultimately, one day, Maiden looks forward to passing her company down to her daughter, who already has a deep "connection" with the brand, despite being so young.
"She's been my drive to keep going and keep pushing to do more," she says. "My goal is to give it over to my baby. When she's of age, she can have it and it's something that we can keep within the family, and she can do her own thing with."
"It never gets old, and that’s what the beauty of it is," adds Maiden. "Babies are being born every second and communication is the key to everything."