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‘Stillwater:’ Teaching Children to Slow Down in a World That’s Speeding Up

Mindfulness expert Mallika Chopra talks about kids’ post-pandemic struggles and how the Apple TV+ animated series is an important part of a repertoire of resources that can help them better understand their feelings while providing tools to face daily challenges; Season 3’s all-new episodes roll out globally May 19.

In a time of instant messaging and rapidly encroaching technology, when social media can turn life’s most personal moments into public fodder, and when it feels like a rat race to compete with others to achieve one’s dreams, teaching impressionable young minds to stop and “smell the roses” has never been more challenging. But it’s also never been more necessary. 

“We are living in a time, post-pandemic, when children are really struggling with mental health,” says mindfulness expert Mallika Chopra, who serves as a consultant on Stillwater, an AppleTV+ animated series focused on the art of meditation that releases its third season Friday, May 19. “I believe this show is an important part of a repertoire of resources to bring tools, insight, and joy to children as they discover themselves and the world.”

Based on the 2005 children’s picture book Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth, Stillwater follows three children, Karl (Judah Mackey), Michael (Tucker Chandler), and Addy (Eva Ariel Binder), who encounter their giant panda neighbor Stillwater (James Sie). Through his example, Stillwater gives the kids a deeper understanding of their feelings as well as tools that help them face their own challenges. 

The 3D (and sometimes 2D) animated stories, developed for TV by Niko and the Sword of Light’s Rob Hoegee, illustrate the importance of being emotionally aware and open-minded, taking time to slow down, and how to choose to be compassionate rather than overly upset. The show, produced by Samurai Rabbit’s Gaumont International Television and Scholastic Entertainment, has won a Children’s & Youth Peabody Award, a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Editing for a Preschool Animated Program, as well as a Children's and Family Emmy Award.

Zen Shorts is one of my favorite books to share about presence, kindness, and joy in an age-appropriate manner,” says Chopra, who has written books herself, such as her “Just Be You” series for 8-12-year-olds, “My Body Is A Rainbow” and “Buddha and The Rose” for even younger children. “When I saw the first episodes of Stillwater, I was blown away by the writing and how the team had brought to life the characters and stories in such a beautiful way. I loved the use of koans – pointers used to train Zen Buddhists – for meditation, and how each episode teaches a lesson in a gentle way.”

This is the first time Chopra has served as a mindfulness consultant for a show. During Season 1’s airing in 2020, a fellow alumna from her alma mater, Columbia University’s Teachers College, who works at Apple TV+, reached out to her about consulting for Stillwater. Chopra says she “instantly knew it would be an honor.”

“My focus during my Master’s program at Columbia was education, psychology, and spirituality and I’ve brought these disciplines into my books for children,” she says. “I believe these focuses are shared by the producers and writers for the show. I also believe the best educational shows for children in the past have tapped into educators and experts for particular topics. The Peabody Award is well-earned!”

Chopra’s main responsibilities as a mindfulness consultant on the series have included sharing thoughts on topics that may be of interest to kids and parents, reviewing scripts, and giving advice on particular dialogues that need refinement or an outside perspective. 

“I know from my experiences in classrooms in the U.S. that, when teaching children mindfulness practices, words and context are very important,” explains Chopra. “Fortunately, the collaborative and honest dialogue between the writers for Stillwater and the executives at Apple TV+ so far has made this an enjoyable and open process for me. The writers are clearly steeped in knowledge about mindfulness and Zen Buddhism and approach each story with compassion and a desire to let children discover lessons on their own.”

“Zen” is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty. The practice emphasizes rigorous self-restraint, meditation, and insight into nature of mind (見性, "perceiving the true nature"), nature of things (without arrogance or egotism), and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others.

And that’s what Stillwater’s mission is: to give kids the tools they need to be mindful in their every day with friends, family, and with themselves during the highs and lows of growing up. 

“I believe kids will learn more by watching a beautiful show like Stillwater than just being told what to do,” says Chopra. “I am in awe, to be honest, of how the colors, music, and animation of the television series bring these ideas to life.”

The series animation has even promoted regular meditation for Chopra, who has made a conscious effort to not only make the series as sincere and affirmational as she can for the team’s young audience members, but also to indulge in learning from the show herself. 

“The visuals of Stillwater are peaceful and truly joyful,” notes Chopra. “The books by Jon J. Muth have a similar feel… surrounded by tranquility. When I begin watching the show, I find that I naturally take a deep breath, smile, and relax. I remember noting during one episode how I felt I could smell the damp leaves during a rainfall through the beautiful animation and sounds.”

She continues, “I believe that, after two seasons, kids (and parents) now know and love Stillwater, Karl, Addy, and Michael. Season three will offer some new friends, more adventures, more insights, more laughter, and joy!”

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Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at