TIF Toy Bank Donor Highlight: Bananagrams

April 11, 2017 | Toy News Tuesday editors recently sat down with Rena Nathanson, CEO and co-inventor of Bananagrams, Inc. Bananagrams is a longtime partner of the Toy Industry Foundation’s Toy Bank, donating between 300 and 1,000 games per year to underprivileged children since the company’s launch in 2006. Nathanson shared insight on what it means to give back to children in need and how that fits with Bananagrams’ mission to bring learning and fun to all children.  

Bananagrams has been a Toy Bank donor for 10 years now, why is it important for the company to donate to children in need each year

When my father and I, along with our family, created Bananagrams a decade ago, we knew from the onset that part of our mission was always going to be giving back to the community and empowering children. Through the countless hours that we’ve spent playing games as a family we understand the importance of learning and building relationships through play.  We want to give children who are less fortunate the chance to experience that same opportunity and joy.

Philanthropy is key for us. Donating games and paying it forward is something that we’ve done from the beginning and will continue to do.  Whether it’s lending support to school fundraisers across the country or donating to large philanthropy programs such as The Toy Bank, we feel it’s our responsibility to give back.

What are some of the developmental benefits of Bananagrams that kids can learn by playing the game?

In addition to imparting a sense of fun while learning, the Bananagrams game offers a host of developmental benefits including literacy, fine motor skills, sequential thinking, visual processing, and more.

How can these games be helpful to kids who may be going through a difficult time?

Despite being competitive, Bananagrams is a very social game. I know that when we play as a family, all sorts of conversations ensue, and half the time you find yourself relaxing without even realizing it because you’re thinking about the game and nothing else matters, even if for just a few minutes! Players can be as interactive as they want to be. That’s the beauty. You can talk…or not…but always enjoy playing. For kids who may be going through a difficult time, such as those in foster care, the game allows them to take a break from daily stressors and simply enjoy themselves – even if it’s just for a few moments.

You just held the Grand Finale round for the US Bananagrams Challenge, where a student from Lyndonville, VT won this year’s competition. Can you tell us about the event and why Bananagrams launched the challenge?

As part of our mission to get children playing with words, we created the Challenge to help boost vocabulary and spelling skills in classrooms and after-school programs. It was our vision from the beginning to get teachers using Bananagrams in schools as my father and I always felt that our game and education is a perfect match – Bananagrams is a great way for kids to learn without even realizing it…a teacher’s dream, if we do say ourselves!

In 2016, our first year for the Challenge, more than 10,000 children from throughout New England competed in their classrooms over a six-week period. This year, we had upwards of 15,000 students from across New England take part. The top 12 joined us in Rhode Island for a live grand finale where the overall winner received a “Top Banana” trophy and $1,000 for her school. We fully fund the program and donate Bananagrams games to every school that signs up to participate. 

Why is it important for the toy industry to give back?

The toy industry is so much more than just fun and games, pun intended.  We are in a very special position as a group to influence our kids in a positive way when they are young and to continue to help them learn and grow. 

This article is the first in a new series focused on philanthropy that will run quarterly in Toy News Tuesday.