In The Play Lab: Monroe Workshop Toys
As a newcomer to the toy industry, it’s been fascinating to compare my previous industry of advertising to this one. One thing I realized early on this year is that the craft toy market is majorly run by women. From making the big business decisions to nitty gritty design/production process — women, many of whom are also mothers, are doing it all. You see in advertising, only 11% of Creative Directors are women, which means that even though the majority of communications is geared towards women as they are considered primary household shoppers, all the advertising they see is essentially made by men. You can imagine my excitement when I stepped into a world where ladies call ALL the shots!
That’s why when I came across Matt Monroe, the founder/maker behind Monroe Workshop Toys and superstar dad of two kiddos — I was curious. On my very first call with Matt, I mentioned his rarity. He chuckled and said, “Well, I hope I can be a good representative of nice guys.” Beyond being nice, Matt makes amazing toys. What I love about his collection is that all of his creations are made through the lens of whimsy. He has a way of adding new fantastical elements to classic animal figures.
For example, a horse is not just a horse — it’s a robotic horse. “I think that making the animals more abstract frees kids up to use their imaginations. Some kids see these little guys as horses, but some others see ninja robots or dragon-unicorns and I think that makes these toys infinitely more fun,” explains Matt.
Matt got started making toys through his furniture company Monroe Workshop. He had all of these small wood scraps left over which he turned into toys for his children. Today his creations sit in playrooms of kids all around the world! Monroe Toys are made out of hardwoods commonly found in his furniture such as maple, walnut, oak because these materials are much more durable than softwoods. It makes sense — if a piece of wood can hold your adult weight when made into a chair, that same wood can withstand the unforgiving hands of small children right? The wood used for the toys is unfinished so there’s no questionable varnishes and coating to worry about, and the glue used to hold together the pieces is non-toxic. Matt takes safety seriously!
There’s a few toys from Matt’s collection that I’m particularly head-over-heels in love with. First there’s the Herd of Mini Robot Horses. I think just about every child goes through a horse fascination phase (shoutout to all the parents who have “horsey” on their christmas shopping list — I feel for you!) and this fun take on classical childhood toy staple is brilliant. I agree with Matt, by making the horse more abstract it unlocks a whole new way of playing with the toy.
You’ll be happy to find out that a herd of two robotic horses retails for $25. It’s always real treat to find a quality toy that is beneficial for your little one and gentle on your wallet. For me, The Herd of Mini Robot Horses serves as a wonderful introductory toy for parents who may not have many wooden toys in their house. It’s a nice starter set to show just how versatile and worthwhile toys made out of wood can be!
The second toy from Matt Monroe’s collection I’m obsessed with is the Frog Blocks. These bad boys were a huge AHA! moment for me. A little background: A friend had given me a toy challenge, “Could you find a safe stacking toy?” she asked. It turns out that her and her pals would often remove the rod commonly found in stacking toys since their little ones could place it down their throats — yikes choking hazard alert! This would render the stacking toy itself useless since you couldn’t use it for its original purpose. This is a shame considering stacking toys are an important part of a child’s repertoire because they help build gross motor skills, fine motor skills and depth/hand-eye coordination.
Instead of using a rod, Matt’s frogs are designed to stack on top of one another. This way your little one can get the benefit of stacking but without the dangers and perils of a traditional stacking toy. The frog blocks also carry a greater purpose — teaching your little ones how to count. “We designed the frog blocks to make an introduction to math more fun. My kids love stacking toys and making towers, stacking frogs seemed like a natural progression of that.” See what I mean by Matt being a superstar dad?
At $62.00 these frog blocks are a worthwhile long-term investment since it can be used over many years and for various purposes. Whether learning how to stack as a baby or learning how to count and do math as a toddler or playing make believe with a sizeable squad of 6 frogs, these toys will stand the test of time and help nurture children through many developmental stages.
Moreover, with every purchase of Frog Blocks Monroe Workshop will donate a matching set to schools in war zones built by Justice Rising, an LA based non-profit working to transform war zones through education. When I asked Matt how this partnership came about he explained that, “Justice rising has a mission of educating kids in war zones so that they can create a better future. They contacted us about donating the blocks because they saw them as a fun way to teach math. If we could help these kids in war zones in any small way, we really wanted to.”