Rose + Rex was created on the basis that creative play is key to child development. Allison Klein, teacher and founder of the toy company, not only wants to work towards the goal of creating awareness about the importance of imaginative play on development, she also wants to work to ensure that every child, regardless of circumstance, has the opportunity to play.
Where did the name Rose & Rex come from?
Rose and Rex were two of my first students during student teaching who showed me firsthand how imaginary play leads to profound personal development.
Tell us about Rose & Rex. What is it all about?
Rose and Rex is a teacher-curated toy boutique that promotes play-based learning. We’re here to introduce people to the importance of open-ended play and challenge the assumption that learning is only achieved at a desk filling out worksheets. For young children, imaginative play is an innate tool they use to develop their cognitive, physical, emotional and social skills. Our inspiring collection of open-ended toys,which ranges from handmade blocks to eco-friendly puppets, and play tips help to promote skill building through play. We’re excited to help more parents use imaginative play to encourage learning.
How did you go from having an idea to actually having a brand? What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?
The brand evolved around the fundamental idea that learning and play are deeply connected. The right toys matter. What a child plays with matters. We turned these values into a brand by curating a collection of high-quality, carefully constructed toys that promote skill building through play and by offering content that we hope inspires parents to live a play-based life with their children. Rose & Rex isn’t a toy store that was created to sell plastic things to parents, we aim to be a brand that offers materials and resources that enhance development through play.
In the beginning, the biggest obstacle was challenging perceptions about play and hearing those initial “no’s” and negatives. People constantly said things to me like “but do you sell toys that do things, like move or talk?” I had to explain that our battery-free toys actually promote deeper skill building because they give children control over the play and encourage engagement instead of passive entertainment.
Where are the toys made? What materials are they made out of? Are they eco-friendly?
We sell toys that are made from child-safe, eco-friendly materials, such as sustainably harvested woods, plant-based rubbers and natural dyes and paints. Our toys are made by artists (many mamas!), designers and small businesses. As a brand, we not only want to illuminate the importance of play, we also want to raise the standard of toys children play with, from how it engages them to what it’s made of.
Talk to us about Rose and Rex’s commitment to giving back.
Our brand was built on a social mission to provide every child with the opportunity to play. For every Rose and Rex purchase, we “play it forward” to other organizations dedicated to young people and the planet. We take a three-pronged approach to giving: monetary and product donations, volunteering our time, and providing mentorship and learning opportunities.
How do you partner with brands to make your “play it forward” initiative work?
We choose to partner with brands or organizations that are focused on improving young children’s early development in a variety of ways. This means providing resources like toys, learning opportunities, and a healthy planet in which to grow. We’re a member of One Percent for the Planet and also partner with Second Chance Toys, a NYC-based nonprofit that rescues non-biodegradable plastic toys from landfills, refurbishes them, and donates them to children in need, which helps protect the planet and promote children’s right to play.
How does this program help to enhance development for kids living below the poverty line?
Play is important for all children at all socioeconomic levels. Nearly 22% of all children live in families below the federal poverty line. Many of these children do not have access to toys and play materials which can seriously hinder all aspects of development, from the cognitive to the emotional to the physical. Playing with toys helps children to develop their language skills, their social awareness and their motor abilities. It has been found that children without access to toys and play materials often do not develop these skills at the same rate as their peers. In addition, for many children facing the challenges of poverty play is the most important tool they have to emotionally process. In play children explore their feelings, work through fears and develop coping skills. If children do not have the opportunity to do this, it can lead to anxiety, stress and behavioral challenges.
What role does technology play on our kids as they grow? Is there an age we should allow them to interact with technology? How can we guide them away from it?
One of the things we’re excited about is that open-ended play is more important now than ever before. As our world becomes more digitally focused, the kind of toys that children play with in their early years truly matters. The best way to avoid digital-dependence, and encourage well-rounded development, is to provide a child with open-ended toys early on and continue to encourage imaginative play through their elementary school years. Open-ended toys provide active engagement over passive entertainment—a set of building blocks vs. a tablet, for example. We’re definitely not anti-technology, as its important for children to share common knowledge with their peers, otherwise they may feel isolated.
What is the best business advice that you’ve ever received? Do you have any wise words to share that you’ve learned along the way?
One thing I’ve learned is the importance of flexibility. When we talk about early childhood learning and essential life skills at Rose and Rex, the skill of “perseverance” comes up a lot—that is, the willingness to try multiple solutions. It’s just as important when you’re an adult! You have to be flexible when challenges or unforeseen turns occur for the business and be willing to pivot, adjust and move forward.
What are your top picks right now for babies? Toddlers?
For babies, we simply adore each of our hand-crocheted rattles, which are perfect for introducing their first type of play—sensory play. Another favorite is our Oli and Carol land-to-water floating boat and bug car because they’re made from plant-based rubber (and make bath-time a cinch!). The toddler years are when play really starts to take off as their imagination blossoms, so all of our toys are a welcome pick! The perfect toddler toy chest would include a set of building blocks for cognitive development, a transportation toy for physical growth, a few pretend pals for emotional and social learning, eco-friendly art materials to nurture creative expression, and a set of “manipulatives” for learning math concepts and inspiring pretend play.
Go visit the Rose + Rex store to get 10% off any purchase and a FREE tote bag, using the code HeyMama