In my 20's, it dawned on me I how much I loved kids and how much I was looking forward to being a mother. I had started writing a children's book series about animated letters and teaching some summer classes while I did design work (see wolfalex.com). I had my daughter in my 30's, and spent a lot of time on the floor playing with her, and questioning what we play with, and how. In my 40's I went full time as a toy and game inventor. Inventor is the term that's used in the toy/game industry and I love the title - it always fills me with a sense of possibility.
Time spent on the floor (or outside) was equal parts fun, observation, and wonder at watching a person learn life from scratch and build and develop their mind. Frustration crept in when I wanted new types of toys, not just the classics I had loved and saved from my childhood. Trying to curate a kid's toy shelves so they don't get overwhelmed, yet have variety, is an art which should be far removed from pretense of glossy photos in shelter mags of kids' rooms. I sought a synthesis of different types of well designed toys which could be used separately or together. The more I looked at things we had, the more I wished they could do more. I found many missed opportunities in their design, content or purpose.
The sad realization hit me in my search - very little new, great stuff had come onto the market in the 30+ years since I was young. This was pre iPhone/iPad, though there were lots of talking plastic things, but very few really new ideas. I fantasized about going into toy stores and finding things I wished I had growing up, and which would take my daughter new places. The kids market expanded, and more stuff started coming out a bit later, yet a trip to the NY Toy Fair today is still an exhausting few days wading through endless crap, with less than 5% of interest, and most of it you grew up with.
By the time she was 3, I was designing things in my head, the next year prototyping and making, and the following year showing those prototypes around. While designing I asked many why's and why not's. I loved doing this with my child, and asking her questions, not really having in mind what the answer should be. Those formative years before kindergarten are really when kids lay down much of their neural networks. They explore, and play with ideas with no needed destination, just the journey, and have few constraints of reality.
Those years of having a preschooler was when I knew, deeply, that I wanted to be a part of helping kids have fun, with cool stuff, and help their minds develop. Luckily, I found I was perfectly skilled in all the areas needed to do just that. It was not about putting me back in that space of almost endless possibility and wonder - as an artist and designer, I create to inspire and keep a very open mind. It was the fear that many kids continually need help to stay open and playful as they grew up. I yearned to give them tools to see, to think, to learn, and make connections in a creative zone which empowered their minds.
I still wish I had designed these things fast enough so my daughter could grow up using them. However, perfecting designs as she was aging out of the entry point of playing them gave me insight on how to expand the age range to older. Having the toys and games continue to be fun to play is vital to having toys grow with the child. Having older siblings, and whole families, including the adults and grandparents, want to play too makes a successful game which enters into family routines of being together.
I'm looking forward to watching kids grow up with the play I design for them. Growing up playing with prototypes which can be changed means my daughter asks interesting questions of all that she plays with. She's been an amazing co-pilot and player along the way, quite the strategist and inventor. There's room for things to work in many ways in her mind - for them to grow, expand or be hacked. That's the sense of possibility I aim to promote in kids - so they can continue to invent, add to what they see and use, and be open.