Batteries not required Emerson’s Playroom toys powered by kids’ imaginations and creativity

Just as a certain, elf-run workshop is kicking it into high gear, an American pediatric society has released a report recommending parents foster their young children’s imaginations, by supplying them with traditional, hands-on toys versus screen-based divergences.

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Just as a certain, elf-run workshop is kicking it into high gear, an American pediatric society has released a report recommending parents foster their young children’s imaginations, by supplying them with traditional, hands-on toys versus screen-based divergences.

“Toys have evolved over the years and advertisements may leave parents with the impression that toys with a… digital-based platform are more educational,” the study states. “Research tells us that the best toys need not be flashy or… come with an app. Simple, in this case, really is better.”

Tammy Mayberry and Ashley Wright, the mother-daughter team behind a new, home-based toy biz called Emerson’s Playroom, so-named for Ashley’s eight-month-old son, couldn’t agree more.

Take their “imagine a sea” play set, which comes with a fabric lighthouse, stuffed whale and a wooden ship, the latter of which boasts a glow-in-the-dark image of an octopus on its sail.

No flashing lights, no annoying beeps, and zero batteries.

“We make the toys but it’s the kids who decide how to play with them… it’s not like they come with a set of instructions,” says Tammy, who recently retired from a 20-year career as an educational assistant.

“She’s right,” pipes in Ashley, presently on maternity leave from her teaching position with the Pembina Trails School Division. “We give them the idea of a sea, but what takes place is completely up to the child. Is the water rough today? What’s below the surface? Which direction is the boat headed? It’s so rewarding to see a child’s imagination come alive, through something we’ve created.”

The notion for their venture was sparked by Ashley becoming a mom for the first time in April, and subsequently trying to decide what sort of playthings she desired for her newborn, the pair say, seated in Tammy and her husband’s home, in a second-floor studio populated by a wealth of wooden push cars and cheerful pillow “buddies.”

“Basically, we were dreaming up different products for Emerson and after coming up with a few ideas and falling in love with them, we thought why not make them available to others, too? It’s all evolved from there,” she explains, mentioning her son’s given name is a nod to the Manitoba border community where her maternal grandparents grew up. (No worries if she and her husband had welcomed a daughter; in that case, they would have spelled it Emersyn.)

OK, it’s one thing to aspire to be the next Fisher-Price or Milton-Bradley, but it’s something else entirely to set about doing it. Luckily, first-time grandma Tammy is a whiz with a sewing machine owing to a side gig recovering and reupholstering furniture. So, when her daughter, who dabbles in calligraphy, broached the topic a couple months after Emerson was born, Tammy was fully on board.

She’s always supported her three children’s creative pursuits, she says. Her other daughter is a professional photographer, and she helps her out with sets and backdrops whenever she can. Her son restores old vehicles. He recently asked if she could help him sand a car that needed to be repainted. Even though she’d never sanded a car in her life, she figured, how hard can it be?

Before sewing a stitch or painting a stroke, the duo set a few ground rules. First of all, everything they came up with had to be gender neutral. Secondly, they wanted to use recycled fabric as much as possible, while adhering to regulations that dictate anything meant for children below a certain age must be produced with new material, only. Finally, they hoped their output would catch an adult’s eye, as well.

“We know space and design matter to parents, which is the reason we try to keep our toys esthetically pleasing,” Tammy says. “You’ll notice a lot of what we make has a black-and-white, minimalist look. It’s still fun and engaging, but it’s also visually appealing for adults who may want to have it on display.”

“We know space and design matter to parents, which is the reason we try to keep our toys esthetically pleasing.”–Tammy Mayberry

The majority of what they turn out is sold as a set. Along with the aforementioned seascape, they also market an “imagine a city” series, with a cloth high-rise, cloth house, wooden car and fabric freeway. Then there’s their top seller, an “imagine the universe” set that consists of a rocket ship operated by a peg astronaut, paired with an alien craft occupied by a peg alien.

“What’s nice is the various toys are interchangeable,” Ashley points out, picking up said spacecraft, which measures about 30 centimetres tall. For example, the fabric fire shooting out from the rocket’s base is detachable, meaning if a child is playing with a house or building and wants it to appear to be on fire, they can affix the flame to the roof. And now the car becomes a fire truck and the peg people become fire fighters and away things go, she says.

Emerson’s Playroom was officially launched online in August. They’ve since participated in a number of pop-up-style events, including Inspirations Market, which was staged at Assiniboia Downs over four days in November.

Kristie Levasseur was in charge of Inspirations Market. As the mother of two children who routinely turn everyday objects into playthings, she can relate to what Emerson’s Playroom brings to the table.

“Their toys and playroom decor are practical, modern and beautiful. What I love is they have created a beautiful brand, while designing and making all of their products by hand,” Levasseur says.

Although her kids, ages 9 and 12, are probably too old for most of Mayberry and Wright’s wares, she appreciates the hard work and precision that goes into crafting items such as puppets that can be individualized by colouring them with washable markers, and lightweight wands, made to resemble lightning bolts, moons and stars.

“Emerson’s Playroom truly stands out as an exceptionally well-curated, local business full of creativity. Their display is fun and colourful and I especially love their wooden cars and adorable peg people that go with them.”

In time for holiday gift-giving, mother-and-daughter have introduced a few seasonal selections to the mix. Last month, seconds after Ashley asked her mom if it was feasible to fashion a textile gingerbread house, Tammy was already trying to figure out how to hollow out the chimney, for a provided Saint Nick to slide down.

That sort of thing happens all the time, they concur. One of them will present a plan for this or that, the other will respond with, “That sounds great, but if we add …?,” which will be followed by, “Perfect. Now, how about …?”

“Sometimes it gets to the point where it’s completely undoable, and we’re like, ‘OK, that’s not happening,’” Ashley says, with a laugh. “But other times, we dial things back a bit and, just like that, we have a new piece to add to the collection.”

Although it’s a year or two away, Ashley is anticipating the day when Emerson’s Playroom’s namesake can actively participate, by suggesting what type of things kids his age might be interested in playing with. (Fret not, T. Rex lovers; a prehistoric series is on the horizon.)

She is also looking forward to later this month, what with so many people letting her and her mother know they picked out a certain something expressly to place it under the tree.

“I get shivers when I think of kids opening our toys on Christmas morning,” she says, adding besides pick-up at their respective homes in Charleswood and South Pointe, they will be offering city-wide delivery during the next two weeks. “The markets gave us a tiny glimpse of that, when kids would tell their parents, ‘Look at the car… no, look at the bigger car!’ I hope they feel the way I imagine they will, when they receive something of ours.”

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David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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