For parents whose children have developmental differences, finding the tools and resources needed to support their children’s individual sensory and therapeutic needs, has—until now—been a daunting, clinical task. Bellybum® Boutique, an established Chicago boutique and online store (bellybumboutique.com), has revolutionized this experience by opening its new Sensory Kids™ Stores. The Stores finally provide families with all of the necessary sensory and developmental toys, therapeutic aids, adaptive technologies, sensory clothing and resources they need; in the fun, interactive, one-stop-shopping experience they desire. What was once overwhelming is now an easy to navigate,“typical” shopping experience both online and off.
Since its inception, Bellybum has been focused on offering expectant and new parents top-of-the-line, eco-friendly products in an inclusive environment, and is now filling another void for parents. Store owner Ellen Sternweiler is a mother of three children—each possessing myriad developmental and sensory processing issues. After eight difficult years navigating the world of special needs she realized “it just shouldn’t have to be so hard!” Having children with developmental differences is tough enough; finding the tools necessary to support their needs at home and in school should be easy. She also realized that most resources are focused on catering to clinicians and educators rather than parents and children. The Sensory Kids Store at Bellybum changes this. The focus is on the families it serves and creating a typical retail environment, providing for the needs of all kids, where it’s as fun as it is easy to shop.
“After years of scouring endless catalogues, medical and industrial websites and stores; and ultimately relying heavily on our therapists, doctors and educators to assist us in finding all of the products we required to support the unique needs of each of our children, I resolved to change the experience for fellow parents struggling with the same issues,” said Sternweiler. “Frankly, it's tough enough having a child with extra needs, why does it have to be hard to shop as well?”
The Sensory Kids Store at Bellybum is the first retail and online store of its kind in the country. While a handful of stores have opened catering specifically to the needs of Autistic Children, The Sensory Kids Store supports the developmental needs of all kids. Every child can benefit from a healthy “sensory diet”, some just need more than others. At Bellybum, Items specific to children with “developmental differences” are not limited to children on the spectrum. The store provides for the needs of kids struggling with any type of disability, disease or delay—physical or neurological—that affects his/her ability to function in everyday life. With ease of navigation in mind, Sternweiler has simplified categories in The Sensory Kids Store to avoid clinical descriptions and terminology whenever possible, and has limited her inventory to only the best products for any given need. “Parents don’t want to wade through a warehouse of 15,000 products looking for what they need. They only need one or two. We’ve done the legwork for them.”
The store houses dozens of products organized simply and in lay-terms by sense/skill. For example, as opposed to using the clinical term “Vestibular” the sub-category is just called “Balance.” Primary product categories include:
• using every sense
• learning resources.
Experts say that sensory-focused toys and products like these can be great tools to help parents and kids reinforce at home and in their everyday lives what they learn in formal therapy setting. Although the items in the store were selected specifically because they can assist children with a variety of special needs, kids without sensory challenges will also enjoy the selection.
“All kids benefit from a sensory diet, some just need it more than others,” Sternweiler said. “Having easy access to these items in a warm, comfortable, fun environment is a great resource for any parent, and potentially profound for kids and parents facing developmental challenges.”
About Bellybum Boutique and The Sensory Kids Store
Opened in February 2009 by Ellen Sternweiler, Bellybum® Boutique (bellybumboutique.com) is located in Chicago’s Lincoln Square/ Northcenter neighborhoods at 4347 N. Lincoln Avenue and online, and carries developmental and sensory toys, therapeutic aids and sensory clothing; cloth diapers and diapering accessories; organic and designer women’s and children’s wear; nursing support products; all-natural bath and body products, toys, gifts and accessories. The store regularly holds classes and workshops for parents to help them navigate pregnancy and parenthood and is committed to offering green, local products made in the USA and encouraging parents to make healthy lifestyle choices. Bellybum has been seen in DailyCandy, Chicago Magazine, WGN-TV, Time Out Chicago Kids and Chicago Parent.