Just when you think kids can’t possibly find another reason to spend more time on their electronic devices, a new app or game is released, and it’s back to seeing the top of your child’s head bent over his or her screen, thumbs flying.
There’s a whole new generation of children who, once past the age of three (or even two, in some cases), have little interest in playing with the traditional toys of their parents’ youth…Play-Doh®, Lite-Brite, dolls, model trains, G.I. Joe and Candy Land, to name a few. Kids are being introduced to electronics at much younger ages, and now that the horse has left the barn, so to speak, how do we get them to put down their phones and tablets and Xboxes and laptops for a few minutes and play with toys that require them to actually use their imagination?
“I think the best way to encourage children to play with toys that aren’t electronic is to get them to play outside, put together a puzzle, or play games with them and create as many memories as possible,” explains Lou Mitri, who owns Joggen Your Noggin, located at 292 Elm St., Monroe with his wife, Regina.
The couple was inspired to open the store in October, 1997 after having trouble finding educational toys for their children, Jennifer and Rachel, and learning that other parents in the area were having the same problem. “When kids come into our store, they are blown away by the train displays and Calico Critter play table,” Lou says. “Kids get distracted by new and exciting toys, and instead of reaching for a cell phone, they jump on the hopscotch mat and play with the trains and critters.”
The store also carries old school toys such as jack-in-the-boxes, Yo-Yo’s, Rubik’s Cube, Raggedy Ann dolls, Thomas the Tank, Playmobil, Bruder Trucks, science and hobby kits, Calico Critters, crafts kits, dress up, and stuffed animals. “One of the “From Webkinz to Silly Bandz, we have seen a lot of hot items, and I’m sure there will be many more. Plus, the customer service in a small business like ours is not comparable to online shopping or shopping in a mall. We urge people to shop locally and support local businesses.”
At Giant Steps, 226 Kings Highway East, in Fairfield, children are also encouraged to play with toys that require them to use their imagination, and which are not necessarily electronic, according to Sandra Greenspan, manager. “My son, Howard Greenspan, opened a local interactive toy store so customers would have a resource for toys and games designed to make children think,” she recounts. Arts and crafts and Legos are among the store’s top sellers, as are dolls, stuffed animals, play food and dishes, sports equipment, science kits and dinosaurs.
Play centers are located throughout the store, and include train tables, a slide, arts and crafts areas, and building stations, to name a few. “We want parents to be able to shop while their children are kept busy with the toys and games we have put out specifically for that purpose,” Sheila says. Giant Steps also offers free in-store events and activities, like Mommy and Me story time, baby sign language classes, and toddler music classes.
Hobby enthusiasts can choose from among a comprehensive selection of building and science kits at HobbyTown USA, located at 847 Post Rd. E, Fairfield, according to owner Marc Rosenblum. “We focus on STEM education, and offer things like science and robotics kits, which require kids to open up a box and build or experiment … there’s an educational component to our product lines which encourages children and adults to learn how and why something operates,” Marc states.
Marc, who opened the store 10 years ago, grew up playing with the model trains his father bought him. “I worked in corporate for 20 years, but when I had my own kids, I took the trains out of the attic and we set them up,” he recounts. “It inspired me to leave my industry and open up a hobby shop.”
Today the store stocks Lionel, Bachmann, Atlas and Athearn trains, as well as radio control cars, trucks, airplanes, helicopters and drones, rockets, chemistry sets, puzzles, building kits, including GoldieBlox for girls, and crafting hobbies and materials (just in time for those back-to- school projects!). “We’re pretty focused on getting kids to be hands-on, and play in three dimensions … build it, fix it, and adjust it themselves, and no video games are involved!” Marc concludes.