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Book of Masks: Hands-on Activities that Explore Emotions

Books of Masks is an affordable tool for caregivers to teach emotions, literacy, creativity, and motor skills in a play-based environment.

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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

iACT has created subteams for book design, curriculum, and distribution. Each subteam is working to create a prototype model and system that we can complete in the 2-4 months. The first set of prototyping will be done locally in Redondo Beach, CA in two groups. First, teams of one child and one parent will explore rough mask prototypes of masks including exploring ones that are fully completed, semi-completed, not completed at all, and only stencils of different animals. They will follow different curriculum activities that our education experts have outlined. Both the child and parent will be asked to provide feedback on the artistic involvement and activities. Second, an adult acting as an educator will engage a group of children in the same process that the child-parent teams completed. This will be our first stage of prototyping and iteration. Feedback will help us not only design the physical tool but also the curriculum guide included in the book.

Name or Organization

The Book of Masks team consists of participants from the World Innovation Summit on Education’s (WISE) 2017 Hackathon held in Qatar and iACT, a Los Angeles-based international organization providing humanitarian action to aid, empower, and extend hope to those affected by mass atrocities, creating a world where people are connected and equipped to act. WISE Hackathon participants proposed this idea as a solution to impacting education for refugee children ages 3-5 globally.


Prototype piloting will be with Los Angeles-based participants, supported by global innovators.

What is your stage of development?

  • New Innovator, with less than one year of experience in ECD


  • Non-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Books of Masks is a learning tool that helps caregivers explore and identify emotions while also providing multiple ways to build a strong, early foundation of skills and knowledge that will help children be successful individuals and community members. The book can be used with one child or in a care center with multiple children. It can be used in guided activities or as a play-based, student-emergent tool. Finally, and perhaps the most game-changing, this "buy-one, give-one" tool is designed for the child living in a safe, comfortable home and for the child who has experienced trauma.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Product: A new or enhanced physical product that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Book of Masks aims to support caregivers in teaching young children how to explore and identify their emotions through hands-on activities that also teach essential early learning foundations. We envision Book of Masks as a buy-one, give one model suitable for both consumers looking for a fun, creative way to connect with their young child, and as a tool for communities affected by trauma. Books of Masks will have 8-10 masks inspired by animal drawings created by Darfuri refugee preschoolers living in eastern Chad camps. Each page of the book, probably a hard, cardboard material, will have a ready-to-use mask that can be used for engagement by a child or caregiver that is also a stencil for children to create their own. The page will also have a short story about the refugee child whose drawing inspired the final mask, the name of the animal, and the emotion that the mask represents. The book will have a short introduction explaining one or two primary activities that caregivers can use to engage their young learner. The back of the book will offer more ways to engage groups of children and individuals. Book of Masks has the potential to not only be a tool for exploring and identifying emotions, the key foundation to nonviolent communication and empathy-based learning, but also to provide children with early learning literacy, numeracy, motor skills, dramatic play, and play-based, student-driven activities that stretch their imagination.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Offer a multi-use, affordable educational book that teaches children to identify and express their emotions while supporting the essential early learning development of literacy, motor skills, and creativity. There are few early learning books that focus on a combination of learning foundations with an emphasis on understanding emotions. By facilitating fun and creative activities, Book of Masks seeks to increase early childhood well-being and long-term empathy-based social engagement.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

We will begin creating the Book of Masks with Darfuri refugee communities living in eastern Chad. We will ask refugee preschoolers to identify animals in their environment, create illustrations, write/craft short stories about themselves and the animal. Their illustrations will inspire the final masks and stencils in the book and each page will include an animal story, an emotion, and a photo and profile of the refugee child artist. The beginning of the book will offer caregivers simple ways to engage children in social-emotional learning, literacy, art (motor skills), and dramatic play. The key learning outcomes in the activities presented at the forefront involve expression and identification of emotions and literacy. The back of the book will offer the caregiver ways to further involve an individual child or a group of children, such as creating their own masks with the stencils, guided or free dramatic play, or telling and recording their own stories. Once we have the illustrations and stories from eastern Chad, and have outlined the primary and secondary activities, we can create a prototype and pilot it with children in the Los Angeles area. My Escuelita: Spanish for Kids, a long time partner of iACT, has offered their space to help us pilot the book with two-year-olds and up. We will also seek out other locations, such as Art Zone and the Di Vinci Innovation School, to pilot the book. We will post the pilot learning opportunities in South Bay Mommy Crew, a Facebook group with over 2,500 local and super engaged families who seek learning opportunities like this. We will also pilot the book with communities affected by trauma in refugee camps and recently resettled refugees in the Los Angeles area. After pilot learnings are incorporated, we will iterate upon the tool and process in order to publish the best possible first edition. We will sell it online, in bookstores, arts and crafts depots, and teacher resource and toy stores. In order to do this, we hope to create dynamic partnerships with communities and businesses to help take Book of Masks from prototype to pilot to the bookshelves. We will sell the Book of Masks as a “buy-one, give-one” model. With each book purchased, another book will be given to a community early care and development center or family affected by displacement. This doubles the impact of each book and exponentially equips our youngest members of our global society with the foundations of nonviolent communication and empathy. A long-term vision is that this first version is the Book of Masks: Hands on Activities that Explore Emotions inspired by Darfur refugees, and the next editions can be in partnership with and inspired by illustrations and stories from Syrian or Rohingya refugees. The “give one” book would then reach those communities as a resource given to recently displaced families or in early learning care and development centers while humanizing and connecting the consumer family or center with refugee community.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Caregivers and children, consumers and those in trauma-affected settings, are the primary beneficiaries of Book of Masks. Caregivers will have a simple to use tool to provide essential early learning foundations at home or in a care center. Book of Masks intentionally has several ways for caregivers to engage learners: reading, acting, and art. Children ages 2+ will learn to identify their emotions by listening to stories crafted by their refugee camp-based peers, through dramatic play, by creating their own masks that represent how they are feeling, and through activities they create on their own (free play). iACT creates tools, trainings, and curricula that help restore dignity and build resilience in communities affected by mass atrocities. iACT facilitates Little Ripples, a refugee-led, early childhood education program that cultivates children’s potential through play-based learning. Refugee women are trained and employed to teach children ages three to five from their community in order to support their social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development. Additionally, iACT created Little Ripples Global Citizens for U.S.-based preschools to learn about and connect with their refugee peers attending Little Ripples centers in refugee camps. We hope that Book of Masks is a tool for both communities we work with--those who want to be connected and help refugees and those who are directly affected by the violence themselves.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Empathy, at its most basic understanding, is the awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people. It’s the key to social-emotional learning, the foundation to nonviolent communication, and creates individuals who understand the link between themselves and others. Before one can learn empathy, they must understand emotions and how to communicate those emotions. Book of Masks offers caregivers a fun and easy tool to help guide this process. By using the book, caregivers will build the groundwork for positive social-emotional learning, literacy, motor skills, creativity, and communication, all essential early learning foundations. Children will be more prepared to flourish in group settings and classrooms as they grow. Additionally, refugees and displaced children face a multitude of challenges, but one of the greatest losses is that of play and education. Book of Masks restores the right to play through a simple tool while teaching them the foundation of nonviolent communication and empathy, two key attributes they will need to break the cycle of violence endemic to refugee communities. Imagine a family just reaching a refugee camp and given the opportunity of respite by reconnecting with their children through play or an early child care and development center, using the masks to create a play that celebrates their cultural heritage and restores their dignity as a community.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

iACT works directly with refugees displaced from their homes due to violence, ethnic cleansing, and mass atrocities. This community is in desperate need of early learning tools, safe spaces, and curricula that help children and families recover from trauma, build capacity, and restore dignity. The "buy-one, give-one" model will directly impact the displaced community by providing them with a multi-use tool that can be used in the home or group setting.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Only recently has the idea that teaching kids to identify their emotions and articulate these can create a foundation for life-long nonviolent communication. Empowering kids to identify and expressing their emotion leads to increased emotional intelligence which has intermediate benefits such as decreasing anxiety and long-lasting benefits such as decreased diagnoses of mental health disorders. As we know, 90% of the brain is developed before the age of 5. Book of Masks combing these two powerful facts - brain development before the age of five and emotional intelligence - into a hands-on activity book that can be used at home by parents and in a group (think mommy and me park dates!) or classroom. But Book of Masks doesn't stop there, it takes it a step further by offering this tool for those with and without purchasing power in a buy one-give one model. Tools for emotional intelligence and brain development should not be accessed only by those who have greater socio-economic status, but also to those who have experienced displacement and violence.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

According to Nielsen Book, children’s books sales for between January 2014 and September 2015 were up 12.6% in the U.S., with 11 of the 20 bestselling books being children’s titles. This trend has continued with children’s print books seeing a 13% increase in 2016. The impact of books on a child’s early development is clear. They create a fun foundation for future readers; help develop story sense; introduce art, animals, language, and repetition; and can be multi-sensory. In a recent webinar, BookBusiness noted that personalized and interactive books are among one of the top trends in children’s literature. Books of Masks can meet current demand for interactive books while creating a foundation for lifelong learning and social engagement. The most significant opportunity we have is to create partnership from the onset with an experienced publisher, children’s toy producer, distributor or marketer to help us reach significant consumers whose purchase creates double the impact by providing a book to a displaced family or early childhood care and development center. The key to long-term financial sustainability will be the creation of an effective process that takes this idea from pilot to prototype, iteration, production, and finally to the consumer.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

We currently have a prospective team that could advance the idea. The iACT team will be traveling to Darfuri refugee camps on the Chad-Sudan border in February 2018, and can begin to collect images of animals and refugee stories for a prototype. Our current team includes early childhood experts to help develop the curriculum for the book, illustrators to help bring the images to life, and lots of energy to push the idea forward. We also have clear connections to early learners in the Los Angeles area to whom we could pilot the Book of Masks prototype. A new idea that has just surfaced with our team would be to add an online dynamic element to project. Purchasers of the book could receive a code that would give them to access an online platform where they could further build out their masks. As the child grows, so does the program from an art-based book to an online platform. Refugee users would also have access to the program (where there is capacity). As we develop this seed of an idea, we can envision a place where users with different experiences and backgrounds interact through art. We would certainly need support to build out this element. Our team also has experience with OpenIDEO challenges, human-centered design, and iteration. Little Ripples was a funded finalist as part of the innovation challenge to create solutions to meet the unique needs of refugee children. We see the following stages unfolding in 2018: Jan - Feb: Prototype planning, book layout, refugee children engaged to create drawings and stories, curriculum development. March - May: Prototype created, pilot 1 with LA-based children, second prototype version, pilot 2, outreach to and securing corporate partnerships to support production, distribution, and marketing, creation of marketing plan. June - Aug: Production and begin marketing. Sept - Nov: Distribution, fulfill marketing plan, purchase of the book increases, begin to distribute the “give-one” books and collect stories of impact. Dec: Continue to distribute, push for holiday giving, and secure recognition on children’s book and present lists worldwide. We do feel a small infusion of funding to help create the prototype, pilot it, and iterate upon the original Book of Masks would create a solid foundation and help us secure further support through corporate partnerships.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

Buy one-give one models have been incredibly successful since Tom's exploded the model through their shoes. However, they went through a moment of rough times when it was amplified that product dumping has adverse effects on local communities. This was an unforeseen barrier for them and iACT would do what we can to mitigate this as well. Tom's received this feedback and adjusted to a community-based engagement and empowerment model. The iACT team will be incredibly cautious about the idea of product dumping in the "give one" communities whom we partner with to distribute the resource. iACT already works in refugee settings. We envision a series of these books, where each community they are distributed in would be part of creating the next book. So, we start with Book of Masks: Darfur (inspired by drawings from Darfuri refugees), but expand with Book of Masks: Syria and Book of Masks: Rohingya, incorporating the stories, experiences, and animals from each of those cultures (collected through community-based workshops) into the next book in the series. The conversation with our IDEO mentor revolved mostly around prototyping the sales end of our product since we had already created a strong human-centered product plan. This included working with bookstores (brick and mortar but also online) to put up a display or advertisement with different book titles, prices, taglines and covers to see which one received the most preorders. This will not only let us know how viable the buy one-give one model will be with such an educational tool but also how to market and at what price point people are willing to pay for it. These are still questions for us to work through, but we feel strongly that a buy one-give one model will help get this tool into the hands of those who need it most.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

Yes. We are planning human-centered design sessions for both the tool itself and the marketing of the product.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

iACT has facilitated a refugee-led, early childhood intervention in refugee camps in eastern Chad and in displaced communities in the Central African Republic since 2013. Little Ripples is a refugee-led, culturally-relevant, and cost-effective early childhood development program that builds the capacity of refugee women and improves the early development of refugee children ages three to five. iACT works directly with refugee beneficiaries to establish, adapt, and implement Little Ripples—laying the foundation for a lifetime of well-being, learning, health, and peace for children affected by displacement and violence. iACT was the Hackathon Challenge Partner at the November 2017 World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) which engaged WISE Learners Voice fellows and local Doha-based community members in finding a solution to the question, “How does iACT scale Little Ripples to reach the millions of displaced children ages three to five globally without compromising quality?” Little Ripples was asked to present this challenge as the 2016 WISE Award winner for innovation in education. Over two days ahead of the larger WISE Summit, the group engaged in series of guided activities that helped identify possible solutions, narrow those solutions from over 35 down to six, and formulate ideas that were presented and judged during a breakout session of WISE Summit. The WISE Hackathon Team of Bilal Anwer Sheikh, HY William Chan, Athar Kamal, Luyolo Mazwembe, Omeima Osman, and Memoonah Zaineb presented the winning idea of the Book of Masks. Since then, the iACT team has flushed out the idea further in order to present it here. We have created a subteam of over 15 team members including the original WISE Hackathon team, who remain inspired by the idea despite participation in the project not being mandatory. The globally located Book of Masks team will meet regularly to bring this idea to fruition. Additionally, iACT has engaged two key board members with experience in corporate sponsorships and partnerships and marketing and branding to create a deck to approach possible charter investors in this initiative. iACT is inspired by working with the next generation of leaders, as young as three years old both in camps and in the U.S. We have created the Little Ripples Global Citizens program (also entered in this prize) that fosters empathy and global ambassadorship by connecting U.S. children with their refugee peers through developmentally-apt and play-based activities. iACT seeks to provide U.S.-based programming that educates, activates, and empowers individuals and communities to act by creating personal connections across oceans. We are confident that our tools, training, and curricula will help end the cycles of violence endemic to refugee communities.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

We are looking for key partners to help us push this idea first to prototype then through to pilot and on to production and distribution. Partnering with an existing company with experience in production, distribution, and marketing that shares the same values of human-centered design and empathy- and play-based learning tools would be ideal. It would also be great to have a design firm help take the book to the next level of innovation.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We would love support around creating a product for early learners, designing the Book of Masks itself using drawings from refugee children, publishing a children’s book, distribution and marketing, and possible ideas for partnerships. iACT has experience in creating trainings and curricula but we often build these upon existing products in the marketplace. This will be iACT’s first early learning original product. We are also open to feedback and questions that help us flush out the idea more, as we are just in the infant phase of our idea!

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

We are open to mentors joining our team to help move this idea towards a prototype and pilot and through to publication and distribution. Mentors with a background in entrepreneurship would be ideal, especially those that have led physical products from ideation into the hands of the end-users. We are aware that our mentoring needs will change as the idea evolves but as of this moment, we would appreciate having someone who helps us through building a human-centered prototype as an initial step and later can advise us on moving the product through to production and distribution. AfterPost a successful pilot, we would require mentoring on building a strong business model, scaling the product and marketing.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

The work with our mentor really opened our eyes to the possibilities of taking human-centered design and prototyping beyond just the tool itself and into the branding and pricing stage of the business model. Our mentor helped us develop steps for the distribution phase, which was very helpful and where we need a more experience.


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