The Power of Story Telling and Play
Drew is the marketing director for Tonies, where he leads Tonies for Teachers, partnering with schools, museums, and libraries to promote screen-free education for children. His work contributed to Tonies being named as one of Fast Company's 2021 Most Innovative Companies in the Education category.
Prior to Tonies, Drew led the U.S. preschool business for LEGO. Here he created Prescription for Play, building a network of 2,500 pediatricians to promote daily play between parents and children. This program has become one of LEGO's key global social responsibility initiatives.
Drew is also an entrepreneur and started Connecticut's first state-licensed, pay-by-the-hour daycare center. Before transitioning into early childhood education, Drew spent 5 years in beauty consumer packaged goods, where he worked for P&G and Jergens.
Drew has an MBA in Brand and Product Management from the University of Wisconsin, where he was recently recognized as one of "8 to Watch Under 40".
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Welcome to the Heart Soul Wisdom podcast, a journey of self discovery and transformation. Moira Sutton and her amazing guests share real life stories, tools and strategies to inspire and empower you have to create and live your best life. Come along on the journey and finally, blast through any fears, obstacles and challenges that have held you back in the past so you can live your life with the joy, passion and happiness that you desire. Now, here's your Host Create the Life you Love, Empowerment Life Coach, Moira Sutton
Welcome to season three, Episode 57, The Power of Storytelling and Play with our special guest marketing director and entrepreneur Drew Vernon. Drew is the marketing director for Tonies where he leads Tonies for Teachers partnering with schools, museums and libraries to promote screen free education for children. His work contributed to Tonies being named as one of the Fast Company's 2021 most innovative companies in the education category.
Prior to Tony's drew lead the US preschool business for Lego. Here he created Prescription for Play, building a network of 2500 pediatricians to promote daily play between parents and children. This program has become one of Legos key global social responsibility initiatives. Drew is also an entrepreneur and he started Connecticut's first state license, pay by the hour daycare center. How brilliant is that? before transitioning into early childhood education, Drew spent five years in beauty consumer packaged goods, where he worked for P&G and Jergens. Drew has an MBA in brand and product management from the University of Wisconsin, where he was recognized recently as one of the "8 to watch under 40".
So without further adieu. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Drew Vernon. Welcome Drew!
Drew Vernon 2:24
Thank you, it's so great to be here. Thank you for having me.
What fun! You're all about play. So this is going to play in education and creativity and all those all those good things for our brain for body.
Drew Vernon 2:37
That's right, yeah, play is such an important part of our lives. And it's something that I really enjoyed being part of it.
It's not we're talking only about children today. But we're also going to talk about you know, as you get older and into your teenage years, your you know, your, your adult years, your grandparent years, like everywhere in your life play is such a part of our development and to connect at that creativity level. So for what is the genius of play, and and please share your role here as play ambassador, and why you believe so I'm a little chunker ask the questions true or Vernon, and why you believe a child who was a strong player is a strong learner, a problem solver and an overall happier person. So let's start with that genius a play?
Drew Vernon 3:23
Yeah, I'm a play ambassador for the genius who played as part of the toy Association, which is just an initiative to to get people out and playing and, and to try not to take life too seriously. But you know, there's so many positive benefits to play, one of which just being keeping the mind active and keeping the mind growing and engaged. And so that's one of the reasons why play is so important and why I try to advocate for it. In my my job and also in my daily life.
Why do you believe in like a child is a stronger player learner problem solver, and overall a happier person if they're adding play into their life?
Drew Vernon 4:02
Yeah, I think that, you know, children have a lot of unstructured time, I think more so than adults. And I think that as the older we get, the busier that we get, and the more filled in our schedule becomes and so I definitely know that for myself, as I got older, I kind of forgot how to play. And it wasn't until coming back to the toy industry, you know, a few years back that I rediscovered the benefits to play and I remembered a lot of my memories from my childhood. But in short, I think play helps, you know, keep our minds engaged and alive in a kind of takes. You know, it helps us remember to all try to be children at heart.
And you talk about unstructured play that it is so important. Do you mean like just go out and you want to skip on a rope or you want to throw a ball, but it's not structured like our life, you know, it's just it's free flowing.
Drew Vernon 4:59
Yeah, I guess You know, there are many different types of play. And I think unstructured play is one of those, that's where you have some sort of an object, or maybe even no object at all just your imagination, and you kind of make it up as you go. And that's an important part of play. And, you know, more structured play or games or puzzles or things like that, you know, that's a different type of play. And I believe that all types of play, have their own role and place and development of a child.
I think something their imagination is powerful. I think Einstein said that imagination is more powerful than knowledge, and is the preview of life's coming attractions. I always like that, like, excited, like, imagine, you know, what you want to create in your life. And, you know, one thing I added that I didn't even know I had the skill of it I was just playing, was I started improving when my husband, when his father was alive, he died last year at 104. And Cliff used to read to him every Friday, so that was kind of playful for his father. And when Cliff would read, I would listen to the words and I started improvising, like walking down the stairs, or, you know, saluting or skipping or, and it was a lot of fun. And I thought, hey, this is really cool.
Drew Vernon 6:12
Yeah, I love improv. That's an important part of imagination. And I think, you know, you said Imagination is more important than knowledge. I think imagination comes before knowledge. Because before you can know something, you have to, you know, you have to see see something or something that may not exist yet, or something that could exist. That's the place of imagination is to take a look at the potential of something and to bring it into the world of reality, which then becomes knowledge.
And you think of improv what I've learned through improv talking to people who do stand up comic and, you know, improvisation is that, you know, it's always the the great thing about it is you're always supporting the other person, like you're listening, and then you don't take like, you know, it's raining out. No, it's not. No, you're like, Oh, and did you hear this, like they add to the conversation? So it's a way to learn a better communication style?
Drew Vernon 7:07
Yeah, it's a great skill to have, I mean, just in regular conversation, or just in different projects that you take on or the ability to, to improv. It's the whole notion of Yes. And you know, you want to shut something down, you want to just kind of go with it. And it's a skill that you have to cultivate. But it's also a mindset where if you say, you know, whatever is presented to me, I'm going to build upon it, I'm going to try to add something, and then I'm going to kick it back over to the other person. That's where the, the juices start flowing, as they say, and that's really kind of a breeding ground for creativity.
I love that you said, building on it. And yes, and yeah, I love that. But you know, the opportunity you had to work at Lego that must have been very, very exciting, like lego toys. You know, we've all had Lego on or if we've had children, we, I'm pretty sure we've all had it in our house. We still have boxes of it from our son, even if he's a lot older. But tell us about the experience here in this managing of the US preschool business.
Drew Vernon 8:08
Sure. Yeah. So Lego has been a part of so many of our lives. It's, you know, been around I believe, since the 1930s. And so we're all familiar with it. I definitely grew up playing with Lego. I still remember the first set that I received, it was Christmas of 1989. It was a Robin Hood set. It was a little castle of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men. And I ended up you know, loving Lego as a child and I had several different sets growing up, and then I got into my teen years, and I put them you know, to the side or I might have sold some at a garage sale, I can't quite remember. But it was having an opportunity to come back to Lego as a marketer. Having gone through business school and spent some time in beauty, consumer packaged goods. That's really kind of what reawakened my childhood is coming back as a marketer, like I said, to take a job at Lego, and to run the preschool business was really an amazing opportunity and something that has kind of reignited my passion for childhood and improving the childhood experience.
I didn't know 1930s I was I was born in 1959. And I don't remember ever having for me any Lego. I did have like my brother, my older brother & myself, not my middle brother. We used to have little dinky cars and I've always liked cars so I played with things like that.
Drew Vernon 9:35
Yeah, yeah. It's originally a Danish company started out actually selling wooden toys and then I believe in the 1950s they started they made a I think they saw like a plastic injection molded at a fair and that's what got them into the plastic bricks that we know and love and then we they ended up coming to the you know, I'd states I think in the 70s. So history isn't quite as long as in the States or in Canada, but But it's definitely been around for several decades here.
Yes, yes. So how did you come up with the idea of creating this prescription for play? You know, what is that? First of all, if you can share with your listeners and and as we said in the intro became Lagos key global social responsibility initiative, tell us about that whole name, even prescription for play.
Drew Vernon 10:26
Yeah, so it was interesting. So I was working on the preschool business. And for those who may not be familiar that there's two systems of play in Lego, there's the little tiny bricks is called the Lego system. And there's actually a system that has bigger bricks called Duplo. And that was the brand that I was managing as the Duplo bricks. And this was something that, you know, children as young as 18 months would start to play with and start to develop their, you know, their cognitive skills there, they're fine and gross motor skills. And I was taking a look at at how children became acquainted with Duplo bricks. And I thought, you know, there's really an opportunity to integrate Duplo play starting at 18 months, and I thought, you know, every 18 month old, at least in the United States, I can't speak for Canada, but 18 months, that's kind of like a milestone in childhood development, where you'll, you'll go into the pediatricians office, and you'll measure how they're growing and developing, they'll take your height and your weight. And I thought, hey, this might be a good time to promote play, not just for the child, but parent child co play. And so what I did is I created the program and called it prescription for play to really indicate, you know, we give prescriptions to people, which usually a bottle of pills or something like that, but you could really give your child a prescription to play and to take it that seriously to say, Hey, this is actually something you need to do every single day. And not just for the child, but the parents need to be playing with their child. And so through some research, I found that, you know, if parents who spend 15 minutes a day playing with their child can actually accelerate that child's development, their social skills, their cognitive skills, and their fine motor skills. So we created a little prescription card, and when the children would come into the office at 18 months with their parent, the pediatricians would hand them this card, this prescription card as long along with the product sample, and they would encourage the parents to play with their children. And what I didn't expect, you know, I was planning to do this in, you know, maybe 100, doctors offices just as a little pilot program. But just the the power of the program kind of took over. And before I knew it, within a matter of weeks, the network had grown to over 2500 pediatricians, because they all saw the benefits of CO CO play. And they really resonated and wanted to be a part of the program.
Well, just in a few weeks. That's that's, that's amazing. So really, is that the power? Now you have three beautiful children, and of course, your beautiful wife, how do you fit in play every day with your three children.
Drew Vernon 13:08
My children are different ages and stages. And each one kind of has different personalities, as they all do. So my oldest is 12. My middle son is nine and then my youngest daughter is six. And so you know, I have tried to put a focus on play in different ways. So one example is, you know, during the pandemic, my daughter who's six at the time was four, her school got canceled, she was going to preschool every day, and I was working from home. And I decided, hey, this might be a good time just to spend this time with my daughter. And we actually started a podcast. We called it childhood. And it's designed just to talk about childhood, me being a former child and her being a current child. And we really started to implement, you know, this idea of storytelling, and even improv. So you know, is now that we're, you know, several dozen episodes in it's a lot of fun to go back and experience kind of the play sessions that I have had with my daughter and developing her storytelling and improvisation skills.
What a gift and how exciting is that your daughter must just be like, over the charts.
Drew Vernon 14:21
It's funny because you can actually see, you know, over the course of two years, she's grown and developed. And I would argue that, you know, she's a better storyteller at this point than my older children. And it's simply through that repetition of going through that experience. You know, I've taught her different elements of storytelling, you know, most stories will boil down to a hero who overcomes a challenge to get to a treasure or some sort of end goal. She's I've drilled that framework into her I've peppered in a couple other elements of, you know, surprise, or plot twists or things like that. And so even at you know, age five or six She's starting to integrate these into her storytelling. And she's become, you know, somebody who, you know, ask her to tell you a story. And she can just go off the cuff. Because of the practice that she's had.
I could see her writing books.
Drew Vernon 15:14
Yeah, I think, you know, I don't know what she'll end up doing. She's still very young. But I could see her doing something to that effect, or just whatever she decides to do. I think the power of storytelling, that the ability to tell compelling stories, is going to benefit her in whatever she decides to pursue.
Yes. So what was the social emotional impact, we talked about the pandemic for you, it was good, how you worked with your children. But how did the pandemic what you've witnessed, you know, affect the child's growth and development?
Drew Vernon 15:46
Yeah, this is a topic that I'm actually really passionate about kind of leads me to the work that I'm doing at Tony's as well, because it the biggest impact that I've seen as the proliferation of screen use among children. So a lot of you know, the common guidelines that I adhere to as a parent pre pandemic was that, you know, children under two shouldn't really be exposed to a lot of screen time. And children two to five should only be, you know, exposed to screens for an hour a day. And I kind of feel like up until, you know, spring of 2020. That's what a lot of parents I knew, kind of adhere to. And all of that went out the window because school shut down, people started working from home, especially as people were trying to get childcare solutions in place. screentime went through the roof, and then we started to see schools coming back, as virtual. And so you know, as part of the school experience, children are now you know, hopping on Zoom for 234 hours a day. Now, most children are back to school in person, but we have developed all of these, all of this curriculum is now screen based. And all of our habits are to turn to a screen. So we're seeing children who used to spend under an hour a day are now spending 34567 hours a day on screens between their schooling experience and their recreational after school experience.
I know that during the pandemic, what I was witnessing on Cliff and our background is sailing. We lived in the Bahamas for a while way back when we met. And so I see families, some families that sold their huge home in Texas places in the States. And they they took a dream where they were going to have it in the future. And they took their three, four or five children on a boat for a year and sailed and educated them. And those children excelled by being away from screen time and being outdoors and you know, learning about the dolphins going by in that. So definitely being away from the screen all the time, because it's kind of addictive.
Drew Vernon 17:49
Yeah, it's very addictive, you know, that there's, you know, the blue light that emits in trance is you. And the other thing is that it's a completely passive experience. Because usually if if you're watching a screen, you know, things are moving, things are animated. And it's very easy thing to sit in front of a screen, and just to have a completely passive experience. And it's the removal of that visual stimulus that requires action upon the person. And in the case of stories or storytelling, the removal of the screen is what actually puts the creative responsibility upon the listener because they are then forced to engage and to create an image of what's taking place rather than than having it presented to them.
So tell us thank you tell us about you know, the Tonies Universe, what does that look like? And what really makes your product so unique from anything else that's out there?
Drew Vernon 18:42
Yeah, so the Tonie box is kind of our flagship product. It's a five inch cube, it says a screen free speaker for kids. And around the speaker is a layer of foam and around the foam as a layer of durable fabric. So it's designed with kids in mind. It's designed not just to be an audio experience, but to be a tactile play experience. And it was created by a couple of dads who met on the board of a preschool together. And the reason that they created it was they saw that their children's teacher was using CD players in the classroom to play different songs and stories and different types of content and they thought to themselves, CD players are old technology at this point, they've been around for 30 years or more. They scratch they break and most importantly, young children can't operate them without an adult talking about children, you know, ages 234 So they created the Tonie box, which is a figure based system. So you have these little figures that they have a magnet inside as well as a little RFID chip. And when you place a Tonie figure on the Tonie box, it will download the content onto the box and it will play whatever it's programmed to play. So anything from storybook characters to songs, any type of audio content. We do mindfulness content we do at Action Songs, bedtime songs, anything that that you'd like. And so it's really this system that kind of took off originally starting in Germany six years ago. And there was pretty much overnight success in Germany, we expanded into the UK in 2018. And then I was part of the team that helped launch this into the United States in 2020.
That's fantastic. I used to talk about mindfulness that is that like a meditation that's on one of the Tonies box.
Drew Vernon 20:33
Yeah, so there's a company called Go noodle, which isn't a lot of classrooms in the states here. And they did were doing mindfulness content, but it was all screen based. And so they came to us a couple of years ago. And they said, hey, we'd like to do this in a screen free way. Where, you know, children can be taken through a guided exercise in a way that doesn't distract them or over stimulate them. And so that was our first collaboration, mindfulness. Now, we're doing other types of content as well. But it's a great opportunity, just again, to focus on one of your senses, you know, you're hearing to be able to relax and focus and really just be present. And so that the Tonie box is a great way to do that, especially in a classroom setting. For young children.
I think many ages would enjoy that I meditate slash prayer, as I call it both every day. And to have that, like you said, the focus on the one sense, like that's a skill that, you know, people can take into their whole life.
Drew Vernon 21:36
Yeah, I think so. I think, you know, there's a lot of talk around being present and being mindful. And I think it just goes to the fact that, you know, we're overstimulated, we're on screens all the time, it's hard to multitask, I think we're learning that, you know, multitasking is kind of like a myth. Because the brain really wants to be able to focus on one thing at one time, and that the more that we're able to isolate that to a singular experience that's going to aid us in being present, which I think you know, a lot of studies will show is going to lead to more fulfilling and enriching and happy life.
Yes, for sure. Talk to me about stuffed animals, people having stuffed animals, and really again, all ages. I know that when Interesting enough, when I graduated from university, people gave me at 21, some stuffed animals, but I love them. And I also know that it's interesting that when I was a young girl, my two older brothers, and myself, my dad came home from work. And he's just announced, you know, the three of you can have anything you want, what would you like? Well, we weren't offered that before. And both of my brothers went around to the store to get the kits that you make cars and things out of, and I said I wanted a poohbear. And the poohbear at the time was not even out on the market. But it was coming from Sears the store, but you had to wait six, eight months, but I waited. And I got my poohbear and I still had brought that Pooh Bear with me all these years later, it's the one and this one stuffed animal I've kept talking about that, like stuffed animals for children. Where do you see that? They're really good for children?
Drew Vernon 23:17
Yeah, you know, I might the first thing I remembered in terms of like a toy, or really even a possession that I can think of was a stuffed animal. And I still remember I still have it to this day, actually. It was from a short lived animated series called the Wuzzles, I think it aired in like the mid 80s or something like that. And the stuffed animal that I had, it was a half rhinoceros and a half monkey. And the species was was called a Rhinokey andI used to take that Rhinokey every Saturday morning when the show was running, I would, I would bring it downstairs and we'd watch the show together. And that's the simple but impactful experience for me, because obviously, it's stuck with me for 30 plus years. It provides provided me comfort, I think, you know, stuffed animals have an opportunity to provide comfort. And I think, you know, when you're a kid, you don't have a lot of things other than toys and toys are what you know, bring your world to life and what you associate with and a lot of times you make emotional connections to the toys in your life.
Yes. Let's say we know into things like, you know, board games and jigsaw puzzles. And why is that so important for play time? Because many families can bring that into their their family or set up a jigsaw puzzle where you can go to it when you you feel so inspired.
Drew Vernon 24:42
Yeah, I think you know that you have different types of experiences with different types of games. But I think what they do is they start to give structure and they start to teach steps leading to a goal and so whether you're you're playing and thinking of monopoly, that's probably not the same. Less one to start with. But even you know, something like checkers or chess, or any number of board games, there's an objective, which leads to a goal. And there's also, you know, in a lot of these, there's an element of competition, which, you know, can help you with motivation and just give give you a little bit of an extra push. But I think that's what it essentially does is it gives you a desired objective, and hopefully some steps to achieve that objective, which is a great blueprint for your life and, you know, moving your way through childhood into adolescence, and hopefully, you know, making your own life, its own kind of board game of objectives and goals.
As this wonderful how you put that competition motivation, I really liked that we, we've paid played for almost 13 years with my mom who's lives with us. We play Scrabble, and we're all very competitive, we're not like, oh, here give you the, you know, we're very competitive for the game. And, and it's a lot of fun, along with jigsaw puzzles, tell me what you mean, by creating prep time to play every day? What does that look like? What does that feel like? And how do you do that?
Drew Vernon 26:12
Yeah, I think it's, it's hard because you know, leisure time, or what you might classify as leisure time is often the first thing to go when things get busy, or when when you have a lot of things to do. And so it really becomes a practice of saying, I believe that this is imperative for my mental health, my happiness, and it's something that I need to prioritize. And so just blocking the time, and having it there, I think is an important first step, and then you know, what you do with the time and how kind of structured you want it to be, is really up to you. And I firmly believe that there's a role for both structured and unstructured play, I think that if you go too far, in one or the other kind of extreme, then you're kind of leaving opportunity on the table. And so I think, you know, just going into your playtime with what you're trying to achieve, maybe you're just trying to relax, or maybe you're trying to blow off, blow some steam, that's totally fine. Other days, you might be trying to create something and have, you know, something come out of it that you can share with other people. So I think it's important to block out the time and define what the objective is, and see if you're kind of tracking against that objective.
Okay, and I think that fits into so many ages, like, you know, from young to youth, to teenagers, to adults, to seniors, you know, just that playfulness, because they always say that when you're playing and you're it brings out that creativity and you learn at a higher level, is that what you've structured or put into your Play that creativity and, and that were more creative, were coming from that playfulness, like in school, if we had more play, and some structure, but more play, we could be more creative?
Drew Vernon 28:00
Yeah, I think so. You know, my experience with creativity is that it's all about creating connections. And it's kind of creating dotted lines to two things, two or more things that are seemingly unrelated. And what play does is it removes the, I guess, the coherence or removes the rigidity of how we see the world on a daily basis, because we're all creatures of habit, we're all creatures of routine. And so oftentimes, we go about our day with kind of the the path of least resistance or doing things the way that they're always done. And play releases us from that obligation, because there's no one way that something has to be achieved. And that's really what opens up opportunity for creating new pathways, and new connections of different ideas that can be married together in new ways.
So you take me to a memory when I was at university, I just mentioned this to my husband, the other day I was in, it was a humanities course. And we used to meet you could go have a coffee, or tea or water or whatever you wanted to get. And we all were in a room that was more intimate. There was couches and stuff. And I guess about only 24 people maybe in that class and the teacher really encouraged us to, to add to the conversation. And I remember one time, he said something, and I put my hand up and said whatever I said, and he said Moira that's very interesting. I don't know how it ties into what we were saying, but thank you for sharing. So it was that improv thing again, you know, he, he, he allowed me to not be embarrassed or something, but to say thank you for sharing. So that just took me there.
Drew Vernon 29:35
So, yeah, that reminds me, you know, it's something that I use kind of in my work is the idea of a like a parking lot where you know, if you have an idea if there's something behind something where you're not quite sure where it fits, rather than kind of put her aside or say that, you know, it's irrelevant, put it in the parking lot and see if you can come back to it because you might find use for it as you proceed.
I think that's fantastic. Certainly during that, what is it that brainstorming, you know, you have an idea in the middle and you just start writing ideas, and you let you let it just flow and see how it ties in.
Drew Vernon 30:09
Yeah, absolutely. I think you know, the more open you are. Because when you're brainstorming, you don't really want to shut anything down. You don't want to say no to anything. You know, going back to that it's the idea of improv, it's yes. And so something doesn't quite fit. That doesn't mean it's a bad thing. It just means you haven't found a place for it yet.
What play ideas do you have for children who have special needs or disabilities, I've worked in that field, and what are some ideas you have there?
Drew Vernon 30:40
You know, I call myself street smarts or book smart, because I have a lot of passion for childhood development, I need to kind of brush up on the research and take a more academic angle. But you know, I do talk to a lot of teachers and I hear a lot of different things about how to how to work with children with special needs, I know that for a lot of them, routine is is a big part of it, they, they want to feel comfortable with what they do. So a lot of times repetition is really good. The Tony box is actually a great tool for children on the spectrum. I've heard time and time again, and just the ability to hold a figure. You know, in an increasingly digital world, this is something that's tangible, and it's something that you know, children can understand. And so to be able to put a figure on the box, and to hear it play a song or a story to be able to have that control to stop it by removing it. And the 20 bucks itself with its functionality, because there's no screen, the navigation is all done through tactile play as well. And so if you want to move to the next chapter, the next story, you just give the Tony box like a little whack on the side. And that's something that we've heard from children of special needs, they really resonate that because it's playful, and it's also something that puts the control in their own hands. And so whether it's Tony box, or different types of toys, or stimulation, that's what I would suggest is just something that is easily controlled, and something that can provide routine and repeatable experience.
I did a lot of work with like movement and connection. And, the children love that and I also worked with hearing impaired children with again, movement kind of dance and sound, through the boards that they were feeling through the vibration where we would do this movement, a lot of fun. Where do you see the toy and play trends that are happening today? And where do you think it's going in? In the future in the toy industry? What's happening there?
Drew Vernon 32:42
Yeah, I think for every trend, you see, you can kind of see a counter trend. And so you know, we do see kids are increasingly moving to digital games and video games, we see that happening, you know, as young as you know, six or seven, but really, by the time a child is eight, or nine or 10. For a lot of kids, the vast majority of the way they're playing is, you know, on an X Box from Nintendo, and that can be a type of play, and there can be benefits to that type of play. But it is adding to their screen time. And so the counter trend to that is kind of the old school toys, you know, the analog toys or you know, wooden toys, even you know, as you see a lot of companies that are making, you know, what you might consider being outdated toys, or kind of nostalgic or retro toys, but I think there's going to be an increasing need for those types of things. You know, we saw on the pandemic, actually, even though screentime was increasing, there was also you know, puzzles and games and you know, Lego bricks were also, you know, extremely popular items, because it was a counterbalance to the screen time. So that's, that's where I see it going, is you're gonna see both kind of growing in parallel, because they kind of balance each other out.
What do you see with when it like when I grew up my head, Barbie and Ken and I don't think I know anybody that looked like Barbie, maybe some "Kens" out there. But, you know, there was is very gender based what's happening there with toys with today with different, you know, gender based and different ways of identifying with yourself and how are the toys developing in that area?
Drew Vernon 34:29
Yeah, I mean, that can be its own topic. That a lot of discussions about that because you know, do you stick to traditional kind of gender roles do you stick to you know, the Ken and Barbie? You know, do you make blue toys for boys? You make pink toys for girls? Where I come down and at all is it's kind of going back to improv Yes. And now there's a certain number of the population who are going to see things in traditional ways they're going to want you know Blue nurseries for their boys and pink nurseries for their girls. And in my opinion, that's perfectly okay. It's also okay to say I'm going to buck that trend, I'm going to do what's right for my family, and I'm not going to play into, you know, traditional ways. And I think that's okay, too. So, I think, you know, back to my prior point, there's a counterbalance to everything. You know, if you're a toy manufacturer, and you're making, you know, you know, girly toys for girls and, you know, manly toys for boys, you probably do all right, for a while, I think what it boils down to, for me is that children when it comes to like, human or humanized toys, children want to be represented, and they want to have toys that they identify with. And so from that standpoint, you know, I think manufacturers would do well to accommodate that to have, you know, a diverse, and Representative assortment, where every kid has something that they can identify with, and that represents them.
That's a really good answer. Can you share some of the studies and research that, you know, that are really showing this importance of play in our lives? And how does it really enhance our memory, creativity and self confidence? I know we've talked about a bit of this, but you know that that's really important. Our memory and of course, creativity we talked about, but also self confidence. I think that's a biggie for a lot of us growing up and even into our adult years.
Drew Vernon 36:26
Yeah, yeah. You know, when I was working at Lego, doing Prescription for Play. I work very closely with the Lego Foundation, which is kind of a sister company to the LEGO Group. The Lego Foundation is a nonprofit that does a lot of research in play in five different areas, I think social, emotional, cognitive. And I think fine motor was one of them, I might have missed one. But there's a lot of great research around that. And it's definitely interesting to take a look at all the metrics of the benefits of play, and to take that measured approach. But I think it's also very intuitive thing to say, you know, does it make sense that the more opportunities for play that we give our kids and ourselves that that's going to lead to a positive experience, it makes a lot of sense, the more stories and games that we expose to our kids, the more practice that are going to get. And so it's really just a matter of intuition and natural progression to say, you know, the more that we make available, and the more time that we spend, and the more repetition we have, the more practice we're going to be giving our kids and that's really what's going to lead to that happier, you know, well adjusted, and, you know, productive children, I think,
I know, here in Nova Scotia, the kids are out. Like, they're, I don't know how much they're on computers, but they're, they're out on the lake, they're swimming, they're walking, people walk here a lot, you know, they're biking, they're really out while we're in the country, they're very outdoor kids. And you look at that, or I look at that my husband, I look at that think, Wow, that's a really good way to bring up your children, to be connected to nature, also in movement and not being you know, sitting down at a computer all the time for sure. How can play become the core of observing you talk about this and understanding the world. That's a bigger picture, vision. So how we, how we observe through play, and also this, how it helps us understand the world more, if we incorporate more play into our lives?
Drew Vernon 38:39
Yeah, I think, for me, play comes down to a couple of elements, one of which, that I think is most important is curiosity. And curiosity. I define it as just like a hunger or a desire to, to observe, and to understand what's going on, and to really dissect it. And I think this can be manifested in different ways. My nine year old, for example, is in an engineering mind, you know, he sees, you know, a machine or something, and he wants to understand how it works and kind of what's on the inside. And a lot of times, you know, we're done with something who wants to take it apart. And I think it's that observation and curiosity, that, that drives him because then he can figure out how to, you know, put it back together, so to speak, and how to put it back together in a different way. Or you can also observe, a lot of times play and observation shows you what's not working or what can be done better. And it's that inquiry that gets you going on the process of improvement. If you're not aware or observing the way that something is not optimized or something's not functioning properly, you're not going to take the steps necessary to improve upon that process. And so that curiosity is really what drives improvement, which you both on a personal scale and kind of like a macro scale with society. That's how I think we progress and make the world better. Because, you know, there's so many things going on right now. And so many problems in the world that could be benefited from just an inquisitive mind and the identification of what needs to improve and to take that journey in order to make those improvements.
That's beautifully said, you know, and yes, I know, there's a lot happening in the States right now, too. So versus Canada, but well, not versus different in Canada than then the states. But, again, we have a lot of friends in the States. But that, that taking that way of looking at something for me, this shows about the greater good of humanity, and Mother Earth. So it's about lifting our consciousness. So that expansion there of opening up to possibilities when you become curious, you open it's back to the improv again, Drew, but it's not a shutdown. It's a yes. And it's being curious about something opened your brain up to those, you know, infinite possibilities of how could we work with this for the greater good?
Drew Vernon 41:12
Right. And I think that takes us back to the difference between unstructured and structured play, I think, an unstructured play for me is more in the imagination. And the wonder, there's, there's a nice framework, an author named Natalie Nixon, that I like, where she talks about creativity is the fusion of wonder, and rigor. And so unstructured play, I think leans more towards the wonder of taking a look at the the invisible or the imaginated, or the imagined. And then the structured play is more of the rigor of you know, how does this actually come into reality? How does this become something that is tangible? And it's the the merger of the wonder and the rigor, where I think the power really comes?
Oh, wow, you have a lot of great information. I love how you say it. I love how you explain this stuff. It's just, it's, I'm listening to you very, very clearly. What what's happening today in the early education, is it is it are people incorporating all this that you're saying right now, do you see it improving? Are people the educators that are working with children? Is that better now? And they're teaching the creative process to kids more?
Drew Vernon 42:32
I hope so I see examples of it, you know, through Tonies for Teachers or education initiative. You know, I go to different teacher conferences. I have a lot of conversations with teachers. And, you know, I'm not gonna lie. I think a lot of things are broken right now. I think there are a lot of school systems and a lot of districts a lot of teachers that are overworked, underpaid, understaffed, underdeveloped. And so I see a lot of like, opportunity, I guess you could say, that's not to say that we don't have really great people doing the work. There's, there's so many brilliant minds, and so many, just caring professionals of people who are doing their best. And we see some bright spots in that regard, some different schools, different companies that are aiding to the conversation. But I think there's always a use for more, and there's always just a need to continually improve, because a lot of things are really strained right now. And I think COVID is also done a number on that as well, just in terms of burnout, and, and, you know, just systems, you know, kind of hanging by a thread or running on fumes. But I'm optimistic that you know, things are improving for the better, and that we can give our kids the tools that they need to grow into the next generation of problem solvers, to continue to improve society as a whole.
That's a beautiful vision. So what's what's next on the agenda for your did you continue on your journey as in this area that you just talked about? Or do you have some big like, say five years from now what what do you want to see sort of unfold and what are you working on on the sidelines? I know you're very busy on the front lines, that that, you know, where are you going? What's next for Drew?
Drew Vernon 44:25
What's next for me? Yeah, it's kind of funny because, you know, I went to business school I started out as beauty marketer, I was working on some big, you know, billion dollar brands at P&G and P&G is a great company. I learned a lot there. I have great memories there. But you know, at some point I didn't really want to spend my career selling mascara and selling lotion. I wanted to do something that I felt like I had a bigger opportunity to make an impact and I have been able to find that in the toy industry for first Lego and now Tonies and I think it was through, you know, starting Prescription for Play and seeing that response. And now working with Tonyies for Teachers, I started to think myself less as a marketer and more as just an advocate for childhood. And that's become my main thesis is that number one, childhood matters. The experiences that we give our children do matter. They do accumulate into adolescents and adults and the tools that we give our kids matter in such that the better tools that we give are going to lead to better, you know, children and and better, more capable children, I should say, and more inspired children. And so right now, I'm still working at Tonies still, you know, my title is marketing director, I'm trying to get Tonie boxes in every household and classroom in America. But bigger than that, whether I'm working at Tonies or doing something else, I think my mission as I have found it is to improve the child experience. And that's what I endeavour to do.
I love that... Drew I'd love you to share, as we come to the close of our beautiful, heartfelt conversation was so much knowledge and passion that you've shared, I really appreciate that the special offer and the gift that you're giving today. And please note all the links to connect with Drew to collaborate and whatever way and to help him with his advocacy. And the special offering gift will be below in the show notes if you can share that or that would be wonderful.
Drew Vernon 46:31
Yeah, sure, I'd love to hear from any of your listeners who are interested in the topics that we've discussed today, you can reach out to me on LinkedIn, or email. And in terms of anybody who's interested in Tonies, specifically, we are in several different countries, including the US. Unfortunately, we haven't quite made our way to Canada, but that's coming soon. So your Canadian listeners, I apologize and ask you to hang tight for just a little bit. But for our American listeners, if you're interested in purchasing a Tonie box, you can find that at Tonies.com It's t o n i e s.com. If you put in Toniepodcast one word toniepodcast, that's going to give you 15% off purchase of a Tonie box. We're also available at Target Barnes and Noble, Pottery Barn Kids Amazon. But if you want that discount, that's going to be at Tonies.com with offer code Toniepodcast. And also for one special listener, I wanted to do a tonie box giveaway. So I will leave that up to you in terms of how you select that and I can fulfill that directly. But for one listener, we're going to give a free tonie box.
Alright, I think you were encouraging people to come on over to the site after they listened to this and you know, leave a rating, leave a comment so we can really understand what they took away their aha moments from our conversation and our talk today. And also if they want to hear more about things like this for their children in insights that that would be wonderful. Drew, thank you so much from sharing from your Heart and Soul your Wisdom on the Power of Storytelling and Play. Namaste.
Drew Vernon 48:12
Thank you, Moira. It's been a pleasure to be here.
Thank you for listening to the Heart Soul Wisdom podcast with Moira Sutton. I hope you enjoyed today's episode. Please join our community at Moira sutton.com and continue the discussion on our Facebook page. Create the Life you Love1. You will be part of a global movement connecting with other heart center people who are consciously creating the life they love on their own terms. Together we can raise our consciousness for the greater good of humanity and for our planet.