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Q&A with Kate Olden of La Luciernaga Toys and Games — Part I

Join us as we chat with Kate Olden, Owner and Founder of La Luciernaga Toys and Games.  A former stage manager, international early childhood educator and researcher, and pre-K teacher, Kate now runs her own business AND continues to consult and tutor struggling elementary school readers.  She’s the Renaissance woman of the entrepreneurial crafting world, and we’re so excited to hear her thoughts on new motherhood, early childhood development, and the power of parent-child play.  Read on for part 1 of our Q&A!

Congratulations on your new little bundle of joy/product consultant, Kate!  What has surprised you most about motherhood?  What has come more easily to you than you anticipated?  How has your partner inspired you during his own journey “coming into” parenthood?

My son was born in early September, so he’s just now five months old. I’ve been amazed by how primal motherhood is. It’s very, very grounded in the physical. As a more intellectual person, I don’t think I could have really been prepared for this. I couldn’t imagine it. Breastfeeding has a lot to do with this. My body will tell me when the baby is hungry. I can be out working with a tutoring student, but I’ll know that the baby is probably getting hungry based on what my body is doing miles away!

I also take every baby I see so much more seriously as a person, now. I am so aware of them, of what they are looking at or what they are trying to communicate, of how individual they each already are. My husband and I love to dork out on nature shows, and I can’t take it when there’s a baby animal getting preyed upon or starving or whatever. It’s just gut wrenching for me now. It’s something I never expected.

My husband, Luis, is amazing. I could talk about all the ways he helps out as a father, but we both think that’s pretty sexist—as if a man isn’t supposed to change diapers, take night feedings, do laundry while mom sleeps, etc. And the ways that Luis’ support is amazing go way beyond the day to day care of our son. He’s handled my health issues and unemployment with such grace, even though they’ve significantly affected our economic situation.

Especially on a tired day, I can sometimes approach our son as a puzzle to be solved: what inputs is he looking for? Luis tends to approach the baby as an emotional being, with feelings and motivations to be considered. He keeps me grounded in being the kind of parent I want to be. It’s been amazing to watch him become a father. I’ve had years of experience with young children, and there’s a lot I didn’t know about babies until I had one of my own, but he’s really had the monster learning curve.

How did you generate the idea for La Luciernaga?  How does it compare to other handmade toy companies?  What questions do you ask yourself as you design and/or curate products?

I’ve always wanted to own a business, and I’ve always loved creating materials for my classrooms–and the feedback from students and other teachers indicated it was something I was especially good at. I loved the idea of working for myself, without the stresses of meeting the demands of the many stakeholders who have pull over teachers.

I chose the name La Luciernaga because it means “firefly” in Spanish, my second language. I love living in two languages. We are raising our son bilingually. And fireflies have always seemed magical to me. I can sit and watch them for hours. It’s that kind of wonder I want my products to inspire in children.

Every product I make has to meet certain criteria. It has to be high quality, meaning that it is safe and durable. It has to meet children’s developmental needs at multiple levels, because children learn more when they engage deeply and repeatedly. Of course, every design has to be practicable. I have to be able to make it at a profit.

My toys and games are different than other handmade toys because they are designed with a real understanding of how children learn through play. Each toy and game is designed to engage children both individually and WITH their parents and caregivers, because children learn most through interaction and positive relationships. I include guidance for parents with every toy or game on how to simplify or extend play based on children’s abilities, a detailed explanation about what children are learning through play, and ideas for enhancing children’s oral language development.

In your professional opinion, what are some must-have types of toys for the 0-12 month set?  Why?

My toys! All of them! (Just kidding.)

My rule for choosing a toy for my son is the extent to which I feel inspired to use it to play WITH him. If I don’t know what to do with it, how can I make it interesting for him?

I love to offer babies a variety of textures for them to interact with—and put in their mouths, of course! Soft books that crinkle. Rattles they can grasp easily. Tag blankets. Textured balls.

I personally wanted to buck the Sophie the Giraffe trend and got Zeta the Zebra from New Little Wonders on Amazon. It’s got the ears and the textured neck for teething on now, as well as the legs that can go way back in the mouth when those molars start coming in.

We spend at least a half hour a day under our Leka Baby Gym from IKEA. I’ve added different toys to it over time using stroller links.

Blocks for stacking (and more importantly, knocking over! There is no greater game than “Demolition!”).

High contrast visuals for quiet gazing. Especially in the crib. It’s amazing how often these have bought me an extra half hour of snoozing in the morning while he just happily examines them hanging from the top rail of his crib.

Mirrors. Even before they know it’s themselves they are seeing, just the light being reflected is awesome for them.

But to be honest, the best toys are Mom and Dad. My knuckles are my son’s favorite teether. And my legs his favorite ride-on toy. We do airplane and galloppy-trot and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” multiple times a day. We do belly button kisses and tickles and bicycling legs while he lays on his floor mat. The point is that we are together and being social. It’s not always easy to do. Play is hard for us adults. But it is so good for our kids to have us play with them.

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