Category Archives: Articles

Magic of a Toy Store: It Comes From the Kids

We will never forget the first time a mom told us, “He woke up today saying, ‘I want to go to Kazoodles!’” That’s not just music to a shopkeeper’s ears, it’s a full symphony.

Then there was the boy who, with a full store of toys to explore, got in a cardboard box we’d just emptied and had all kinds of imaginary fun.

And Jacob, age 4, who kept bringing me games and asking, “Miss Mary, how do you play this?” I’d have to admit I didn’t know. Finally I told him, “Jacob, my kids are all grown and my husband works nights, so when I get home from work there’s no one to play with.” Jacob looked me in the eye and said, “Miss Mary, you need to make some friends!”

Mr. Duane, who recently retired, loved to bring his dog, Sally, to the store. (Sally’s a Folkmanis puppet, but don’t tell her that.) One day Sally and a little girl were having a nice chat at a play table. After awhile there was a puddle on the floor. The girl’s mom scolded her for having an accident. “I didn’t do it,” the girl insisted. “Sally did it!” In the end, we learned that another child had spilled a drink.

Sally likes to talk with kids who come to Kazoodles.

Sally likes to talk with kids who come to Kazoodles.

Sally played a role in an experience that still brings tears to our eyes. Sally, as usual, was chatting with 3-year-old Amber when suddenly Amber started screaming, “Puppy! Puppy!” Mr. Duane thought he’d scared her, especially when her parents came running, tears streaming down. “Mommy! Puppy!” Amber said over again. Mr. Duane had tears in his eyes, too, when he learned Amber has autism and those were the first words she’d ever said in her life. Even Sally was crying, he said.

The Doorbell House from Melissa & Doug played a role with another 3-year-old who had never spoken, his mom relayed. He loved that toy so much, he’d wake up in the morning talking about it.

It’s been gratifying to help kids with special needs find toys that make therapy fun or help them focus in the classroom. We love being a part of the lives of all Kazoodles kids, from searching out what they need for a class project to fulfilling those quirky interests kids can have.

Like the time a dad came in and said, “All my daughter wants for her birthday is a stuffed turkey.” It’s so much fun to say, “Yes, we have that!”

Every day is endlessly entertaining at Kazoodles as we eavesdrop on kids while they play. Thank you for sharing your greatest treasures, your children, with us. We hope we bring them as many wonderful, magical memories as they bring us.

Why Do Kids Love Monsters?

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We’ll see plenty of kids roaming the streets tonight clad in horns, fangs and claws. But all the embrace of monsters by kids leaves me scratching me head. After all, monsters are supposed to be scary, right? The scaly, twelve-eyed, sharp-fanged creatures that lurk underneath your bed and in the shadows of your closet? I remember going to bed paranoid as a kid, begging my mom to use her can of “monster spray” like Raid around my room (in reality it was an empty can of hairspray). Everywhere I look I see monsters of all scary shapes and sizes, and kids aren’t running scared but, for some strange reason, smiling.

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Do You Know Where Your Toys Are Made?

Workers craft garments in a massive factory in Bangladesh. In light of the recent tragedy in a different factory, it’s important to know where your products come from.

Crews are still digging through the remains of a Bangladesh garment factory that collapsed last week, in a horrific reminder of the cost we pay for inexpensive, foreign-made goods.

The incident claimed the lives of nearly 400 Bangladesh workers, who earned an average of $38 a month to churn out clothing for consumers in America, Canada, Britain and Italy. A fire at another Bangladesh factory last year killed more than 100 workers. In light of the tragedies, a simple question has echoed through the minds of many American consumers: why?

The issue isn’t complicated for Ben Richardson, co-founder of Vancouver-based baby products company Puj. While cost is certainly an issue for his company, which manufactures products in Taiwan, it never outweighs the ethics.

“Of course, there is always a cheaper place to get something made,” Richardson wrote in an email. “But we have chosen to work with very reliable, high quality suppliers that care about the products they produce and care about the workers that work for them.”

He said he personally visits the factories several times a year to inspect product quality and conditions. Puj pays a little more, he said, to ensure a safe work environment and fair pay.

The same can’t be said for many bigger corporations. Several big-name American brands, including Walmart and Walt Disney, manufacture goods in questionable factories like the ones in Bangladesh. Since last week’s tragedy, both companies, along with many others, have decided to keep a closer eye on working conditions or else pull manufacturing from the country all together.

However, pulling out of Bangladesh doesn’t necessarily guarantee the safety of workers in other developing countries, which could see an influx of business from first-world corporations looking for a change of location.

This isn’t to say that all American companies practice unethical manufacturing. In recent years, the trend toward overseas manufacturing has slowed, largely thanks to smaller business that go out of their way to produce quality, socially-conscious products.

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A woman builds a toy for Maple Landmark in their Vermont facility.

Take Maple Landmark, for example, which crafts wooden toys out of their Vermont facilities. The family-run company manufactures only in America, with strict labor and environmental guidelines, based on the belief that keeping workers safe is more important than keeping prices low.

“It is ironic that our society, which works to outlaw exploitative activity within, is perfectly fine purchasing products made in conditions that were deemed improper here generations ago,” the company writes on their website.

Maple Landmark isn’t alone in their thinking. In Pennsylvania, Crazy Aaron Enterprises, maker of Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, went a step further. Company founder Aaron Muderick decided to hire local workers with disabilities to can his patented putty. The result is rewarding for both Muderick and the workers who, with active hands, stay out of trouble and find meaningful work.

The very idea that employees can actually benefit from their work environment is shocking when set against the backdrop of dangerous overseas factories. But in the American marketplace, where low prices drive sales, it can be difficult to be socially responsible and remain competitive.

“It is not just about the factory and the workers. You have to look at the whole endeavor holistically,” Richardson wrote. “The old saying is as true here in the U.S. as it is in Asia: You usually get what you pay for.”

Unfortunately, the companies that pay less provide harbor for unsafe working conditions that, occasionally, tragically, take hundreds of lives. It can be easy to forget about the factory half a world away, but after each new tragedy we find ourselves again asking why.

But the problem is bigger than any one factory or tragedy. The problem lies in our thinking, in the information we choose to acknowledge and, more importantly, the information we choose not to acknowledge.

After all, this isn’t about Bangladesh manufacturers or even overseas manufacturers, it’s about unsafe and unethical manufacturers.

“The biggest problem for global manufacturing is painting manufacturing, or an entire country, or an entire group of people with the same brush. You have to view and assess each operation individually,” Richardson said. “Not everybody does this.”

Unfortunately, some people do. And when our oversight ends in tragedy, it’s important to look up and take note. It’s important to ask why.

Can Your Kids Stay Screen Free for a Week?

Forget about your screens for a week! They won’t miss you, really. (Photo by TJ Dewey)

Screens have taken over our lives. Don’t believe me? Take a second to count the number of screens in your home. That includes your TVs, computers, smart phones, iPods and tablets. Add the screens you see at work, the ones in stores, at restaurants and everywhere else you go. We practically live in screens, dream of screens. They’ve become a glowing, electronic filter through which we live our daily lives.

It’s all a little much.

As addicted to screens as we are, it’s no wonder our kids are spending more and more time parked in front of them. It’s easy to babysit kids with TV or computers, but is it the best way for them to spend their time?

Here at Kazoodles, we’re issuing our annual Screen-Free Week challenge to help pry your eyeballs from the screens that surround us. If your kids can go a whole week away from that alluring glow, they’ll get $5 to spend on toys, books and games at Kazoodles! More importantly, they’ll see that there’s a whole world beyond all those screens.

It’s been more than 50 years since TV was famously called “a vast wasteland.” Today the TV is practically a secondary screen in many homes. With the advent of computers, smart phones and tablets, it’s hard to separate our eyeballs from a screen for a minute, let alone an entire week.

According to a 2011 study by Common Sense Media, a San Francisco non-profit organization, kids under 8 spend more than two hours a day in front of a TV, computer, iPod or tablet screen. Nearly half of kids ages 5 to 8 have a TV in their bedrooms, the organization found.

That same year, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned parents of infants and toddlers against excessive screen time. Watching video on a screen has no educational benefits for children under 2, they said, and while the health risks aren’t as adverse as they once believed, screens can still be harmful to development.

The issue is not that screens rot away our brains, as has been so famously quipped. The issue is that they prohibit kids from engaging in healthier and more beneficial activities. Face-to-face interaction with parents and other kids will always trump one-way interaction with screens.

According to the Mayo Clinic, excessive screen time has been linked to problems with obesity, behavior, sleep, and poor academic performance. That doesn’t mean that iPad time will lead to jail time, but turning it off every now and then certainly doesn’t hurt.

Do you think your family can go without screens for a week? Step up to the plate and take the Screen-Free Week challenge! Using computers for school work (or adult work) is fine, but screens should otherwise be off.

Think of some other, more constructive ways for you and your kids to spend your time. Try learning new games or craft projects. Start learning to play an instrument (without YouTube instructional videos of course) or digging into a few good books. Take a day trip to the coast or to a museum. Pull yourself away from the addictive shackles of the screen and explore the world around you!

Most importantly, explore it together. It’s been said before, but kids grow up fast. They can spend their time staring at a screen, or they can spend it with their family and friends, and with the real world around them.

Download the Screen-Free Week form here, fill it out, and return it to Kazoodles after May 5 for $5 off your purchase!

GoldieBlox Engineers New Potential for Girls

GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine is a brand new toy that focuses on engineering for girls.

Don’t call her a nerd. Don’t call her a tomboy. Don’t try to fit Goldie Blox into a box, because she’ll engineer a way out of any and all constraints that try to tell her who she is. Goldie knows a thing or two about the way things work, and she’s here to teach girls that their potential doesn’t always have to be topped with a tiara.

GoldieBlox is a new toy aimed at teaching the basics of engineering to young girls who might otherwise not get the chance to enter the typically male-dominated field. As the evolving global economy pushes math and science to the forefront of the job market, it’s more important than ever not to leave girls behind. Fresh off the factory floor, GoldieBlox bridges that gender gap with incredible ingenuity and a flair of panache.

It’s not all smoke and mirrors. The toy was created by Debbie Sterling, a real-life Goldie Blox who knows the struggles of being a female engineer all too well. Debbie started out like so many girls do, completely unaware of the world of engineering.

“I only knew engineering even existed because my math teacher from high school said I should explore it,” she says in the company’s press packet. “I’m creating a toy company that teaches little girls what engineering is, making it fun and accessible. I’m making sure that girls don’t have to rely on a serendipitous comment from a teacher to realize their passion for engineering.”

Sterling launched a Kickstarter campaign last fall, and raised more than $285,000 for the project–nearly twice her goal. The end result is GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine, the first in an expanding line of GoldieBlox toys.

In her debut toy, Goldie is building a spinning machine to help her dog, Nacho, chase his tail. Her friends, which include a sloth, a dolphin in a tutu, and a bear in a suit and tie, all join in the fun, working together to build a massive belt drive to spin everyone around. The drive is built on a pegboard with a series of axles, blocks, washers and wheels, all connected with a long, pink ribbon and turned with a crank.

The open-ended nature of GoldieBlox allows room for creativity and innovation. Instead of an instruction manual, the box comes with a story book; an effort to focus on verbal skills and engagement. But the stories are almost just a recommendation themselves. The real idea is to get girls to think in creative and unique ways–something more than the standard princess fare.

While it is at its heart an engineering toy, GoldieBlox leaves the purpose of play up to the child. You can engineer all kinds of spinning machines, but you can also set a stage for any number of stories. On their Facebook page, the company connected two pegboards with axles to make a jail for Goldie’s friends, who they said were “stuck in customs.”

The hope, on a much larger scale, is to eventually level out the playing field in the world of engineering, an occupation that is presently 87 percent male. Goldie Blox has a lot on her plate, but she’s ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work. And she’s hoping young girls everywhere will trade in their tiaras to help.

We just got a whole shipment of GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine at Kazoodles yesterday, so stop by and pick one up before they’re gone!

Meet Caleb, the Man Behind the Yo-yo

Caleb Steinborn executes a masterful trick at a Saturday yo-yo club. How did he get so good? Practice, practice and more practice.

Caleb Steinborn knows a frustrated yo-yoer when he sees one. At Kazoodles’ last yo-yo club it was 7-year-old Austin Worthington. Austin was trying to execute the Trapeze, a trick that requires stopping the swinging string with your finger, letting the yo-yo fly up and over your hand, landing it back on the string. It’s not an easy trick, and Austin was learning the frustrations of his new hobby all too well.

“Learning to yo-yo well is a long and arduous process,” Caleb told me in an email. “Even today there are tricks that I have not mastered and have been plugging away at for months.”

Like Austin, Caleb picked up the yo-yo at young age. He first started playing around when he was 10, taking one in his pocket everywhere he went. Initially, he said, it was just a fun way to pass the time.

“Over the years, it has given me something constructive to do while waiting for Mom in the store. It is largely due to these store excursions that I have increased my skill up to where it is today,” he said.

But Caleb, now an 18-year-old yo-yo pro, is just one in a long line of yo-yo enthusiasts. In fact, people have been playing with yo-yos for more than 2,500 years.

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