Imagine a store packed to the brim full of all your favourite childhood memories. A store bursting with timeless board games and beautifully designed wooden toys that will make you wish you were a kid again!
Welcome to Childplay, the go-to spot for those longing for the good old days of quality, well-designed wooden toys. With no battery operated toys or electronic games to be found, Childplay stocks the most amazing selection of exquisite wooden toys that will transport you back to your childhood in moments.
Situated in Clifton Hill, about 5km North of Melbourne’s CBD, Childplay have established themselves as the destination for fine quality, educational and traditional toys in inner city Melbourne. With a history that spans back almost 50 years, the unmissable green store is a much loved part of the community, with people of all ages coming from near and far to shop Childplay’s nostalgic range.
We caught up with Childplay owner, Karen, and found out a little bit more about her adorable store, what makes a great toy and why traditional toys still play such an important role in the development of children.
Tell us a little bit about how Childplay came to be.
Childplay was opened in the early 70’s - so it’s a long standing store this one!
There have only been three owners. In the early 70’s a kindergarten teacher owned it and she had it for 10 years. She then sold the shop to a German gentleman who started importing a lot of German toys. A lot of Steiner based type toys and very, very traditional toys focusing on free play - no battery operated toys, but good quality wooden toys. Then I bought the shop 15 years ago and I have had it since then! It has been here for so long that parents who used to buy for their children are now coming back for their grandchildren which is lovely!
We still maintain the same philosophy . We are all about inspiring children to learn through play, to be active, to be creative and to have fun. We offer the customer good quality toys , games & gifts that are often kept in the family or passed onto friends. We generally do not offer battery operated toys.
What can people expect when they step inside your store?
Our store is jammed packed with good quality educational toys and gifts.
We have many categories to choose from and sell leading brands such as Tiger Tribe, Brio, Corolle, Ambi, PlusPlus, Pathfinders, Gamewright, Djeco, Schleich, Papo, Folkmanis, Tolo, Microscooters, Playme, BDot , Britz & Ravenburger
What separates Childplay to other big name chain toy retailers such as your Toys R Us or major department stores?
I believe our service and product lines separates Childplay from major retailers.
We offer the customer a point of difference with our products in store. Our staff have great product knowledge and offer honest recommendations . Customers will enter the store with a brief - what can you recommend for a 5 year old boy? We have many categories to choose from - construction& building, art & crafts ,science , role play, active toys, puzzles , board games, sand & water play, small gifts etc. Staff will spend time helping customers choose appropriate gifts for each child.
Childplay boasts an incredible selection of toys and games, if you had to pick your 3 favourite products from the store what would they be and why?
I would probably choose wooden blocks as one of my favourites. I do love wooden blocks! Blocks are fantastic for children and adults . Your classic wooden blocks offer a variety of shapes & colours and encourages free play and building. Blocks can also be incorporated in role play activities. They are very tactile , creative and improves fine motor skills. There is great variety in wooden blocks today. Many brands offer fantastic quality blocks. At Childplay we stock Ever Earth blocks, Plan Toys blocks, Moulin Roty blocks, Bajo wooden blocks, Artiwood, & Grimms. Sound blocks, magnetic blocks, alphabet blocks, number blocks , coloured blocks, balancing blocks . Blocks that build cities. So I would definitely say that blocks are one of my favourite toys. We also sell Green Hat Workshop Wooden Planks wooden planks which are amazingly challenging and fun for the whole family. You must try them. We aim to purchase products that are environmentally sound . Majority of our wooden blocks are made from well managed forests / plantation wood.
The other would be Orchard toys which are a range of educational based games. We sell them very well at Childplay. I have played many of these games in my time. Spotty dogs was our favourite at home. They are designed and made in the UK . Highly recommended by professionals working with children. The games are colourful , fun , interactive and educational.
The Djeco products are the other range of toys & gifts that I love. They make beautiful art sets, wooden toys, magnets, jewellery sets, board games , wall stickers and mobiles. They design new ranges each year & we look forward to receiving their new products. The artwork is superb . A very inspiring range for children.
In your opinion, what makes a great toy?
Enjoyment - a fun toy . Longevity . A toy that children connect with & want to play with . A toy that runs the test of time. A toy that they can keep , a toy that they can remember. I can remember my first doll . Children do not need a lot of toys just a few good ones.
When it comes to sourcing new products for the store, what do you look for? Do you have a process you go through in selecting new toys and games?
I am usually presented with new toy items all year round . Most of the current brands release new items which is great as we already have confidence in their quality of products. If I like the toy we trial the toy in store in a small quantity first and I take them home to my own children. I may also pass the item onto a friend to trial with their children. Any feedback is great. Parents will always present feedback on toys & gifts which is great. Often if they receive a great toy with success they will come into the store looking for this item to purchase as a gift. That's great feedback for us!
In recent times we have seen video games and electronic toys becoming more and more popular. Why do you believe traditional styled toys, such as wooden toys, are still so important for kids?
There is no screen involved! The traditional type toys are very simple and they do inspire children to actually apply themselves – they actually have to do something with it! I think with a lot of the computer games and a lot of the iPad games while the children do have to apply themselves, but they are also entertained at the same time by the game. Whereas the traditional style toys that we sell, children really do have to apply themselves and they do enjoy it! The games we sell are probably more interactive, especially all the board games, or they are role play. You can’t really get that from the computer games, it is completely different. From 0-6 it is really important children to be able to occupy themselves and play with others whether it's imaginative play, role play, building / construction. An Integral part of development. I think building things is one area that is probably affected by computer game was they are not using their fine motor skills.
Take us through some of the ways the right toy can aid in a child’s development.
The right toy can aid in a child's development in areas of decision making , colour recognition, fine motor skill, positive success, enjoyment , interactions with friends. As an example building a train set & working out which piece you place next to the bridge is decision making , design work & fine motor skills. Pretend play with animal families is a lot of fun & extends the imagination & storytelling. We often have customers requesting specific areas children need to improve on in their development.
And finally, what do you love most about working with children’s toys and owning your own toy shop?
I feel like I am helping! Helping the community and helping the children by finding products or finding things that they are inspired by and love and want to play with! As a parent it is so fantastic when kids can sit down, concentrate and play with something that they love and will go back to. For example, The Sylvanian Families – parents will come in and their kids will have played with them all holidays! A lady came in the other day and said “The TV broke but it was the best thing because they played with their Sylvanian all Summer holidays”.
I also love seeing when we get the Mums who come in when they are pregnant and then, because I have been here so long, the child is coming in and they are in grade 2! I’ve seen quite a lot of kids here and, now that I have been here for so long, there are some that are now in high school! They used to come in and buy a little Schleich animal weekly and now they are coming in with their purses and handbags as little shoppers. You get to see them grow up, its really lovely! I do love it when children just have a chat with you.