Engineering Unexpected Happiness 

How can we try to build connection and improve the mental health of elementary school children?

My son and I volunteered time, materials, and energy to create pocket hug monsters I gave to elementary school kids. This case study focuses on the development of the product from concept to delivery.

The Problem

Loneliness has become a widespread issue, and the Pandemic has only worsened it. School age kids all around the world have faced disruptions in their social and emotional lives. A lot of them are still finding it tough to connect with their peers and are dealing with feelings of anxiety and depression.

Even before we relocated our family, my youngest had difficulty making lasting friendships. The Pandemic and our recent move have both made it even harder in various ways.

I’ve always appreciated kind gestures and thoughtful gifts, and I do my best to give when possible. Holidays make it easy to do this, especially with young kids. So, I’ve sent treat bags with my kids to share with classmates on these occasions.

Idea Exploration & Research

Valentine’s Day was coming up, and I wanted to give more than just cards and candy. In mid-January, I began looking for ideas on Pinterest and Google Images for inspiration. I recalled the little pompom creatures I had as a child with googly eyes, antennae, and foam feet. I thought of making something similar, but with arms and big friendly eyes, to show love and support to kids finally celebrating a class Valentine’s Day (or Friendship Day) party again after Covid.

Starting with the bottom left photo, my prototyping process involved different types of yarns and fiberfill. First, I made knots in t-shirt yarn, then wrapped those knots in white acrylic yarn (top left). Adding it to a ball of fiberfill wrapped in pink acrylic yarn, I then wrapped the body in multi-colored fuzzy eyelash yarn. The monster in the back in the bottom right photo is the result.


I understand the importance of using safety eyes for stuffed toys, especially if younger siblings might handle them. So, I started researching safety eyes and comparing prices. But I couldn’t find the style I liked. That’s when I thought of making my own soft eyes. I used t-shirt yarn to create arms and ‘hands’. Then, I experimented with knots and wrapping using two colors to make big eyeballs.

I could control how large the eyes would get by adjusting the size of the knots and wrapping more or less white yarn around them. This allowed me to try making the eyes different sizes, to give them a goofy appearance.

After that, I wrapped them in some polyester fiber-fill and wound fuzzy yarn around them to create a round body.

However, making the eyes this way turned out to be difficult and time-consuming. So, I decided to go back to researching, and that’s when I came across the googly eye rings.

Final Design

I ordered a small batch of these rings and was thrilled with the results. They looked friendly, cute, and funny. We made them in various sizes, colors, and textures, but they were all fuzzy and squishable. My son helped me create more than enough for his class, and I designed and printed a small card to go along with each one.

photos of hug monsters, including one with a card


Getting feedback from elementary-age kids is tricky, but my son told me that most of his classmates liked the pocket hug monsters. I hope that these little creations will bring smiles for a long time to come.

Prioritizing Inclusion

Prioritizing Inclusion

Continuous Improvement

Continuous Improvement
Cas Johnson