Genius of Play Ambassador Spotlight: PlanToys’ Laura Dattile

laura-dattile-gop-ambassadorMay 22, 2024 | Laura Dattile’s love for the toy industry started when she worked at her local toy store after college. Now, her expertise spans product design, marketing, operations, and social media, currently working as the community manager at PlanToys. Dattile has a particular passion for environmentally conscious, artisanal toys rooted in her background in art and collecting, making her an advocate for sustainable play.

Toy News Tuesday editors sat down with Dattile about how she got her start in the industry, the importance of playing at every age, and her role as a Play Ambassador for The Toy Association’s Genius of Play program.

What is your background and how did you get your start in the toy industry?

I graduated from Pratt Institute’s fine art department with an emphasis in painting. When I moved back home, I started working at an independent toy store. I enjoyed being immersed in the toy culture, and learning what did and did not resonate with me as a designer, creator, and play advocate. This led to working for my dream company, PlanToys, where I currently hold the role of community manager.

As a Genius of Play Ambassador, how do you inspire others to prioritize play in their lives, especially in today's fast-paced world?

Being an ambassador allows me to spread awareness of the importance of play for all ages. I love that PlanToys developed the Better Aging collection specifically to promote emotional well-being, cognitive health, and multigenerational connections as we age. We must participate in play throughout our lives to strengthen our health, skills, and relationships. Tabletop games can be an effective way to discuss difficult subjects, express emotions, or learn something new about someone. When taking the time to sit down and play a game, it can open up many kinds of conversations. Even with my family, it’s fun to look around and inquire about their belongings. My mom has a charming vintage frog bobblehead with a great story. Many people’s belongings have stories that can help you get to know them personally.

In this fast-paced world, it's important to remember that not everything has to be perfect, and every effort, no matter how small can be meaningful. You may not have the time to build an epic castle with your kids on a weekday, but by reevaluating the activity, you'll find ways to participate, even on a time crunch. Within my family, we prepare for big projects with sketches and conversations over dinner. Even a simple household project such as organizing the garage can be something fun. Can your storage containers have googly eyes? Absolutely. You may just unlock new play traditions!

Play benefits our emotional and physical wellbeing at any age, so what steps have you taken to make play a part of your daily routine both in and outside of work?

I'm fortunate to be in such a joyful industry, surrounded by an ever-expanding collection of beautiful toys and passionate people. I cherish observing a toy's journey from start to finish, reaching the point when it is gifted, played with, treasured, reimagined, and even passed on when the time comes. I believe we are in the golden age of play, where people genuinely grasp its benefits, along with the significance of conscious shopping and reinvention. The play prompts and themed activities brought to life by our community members consistently inspire me. Witnessing children and their families play on social media is the most enjoyable part of my workday.

Outside of work, play is a natural part of my life. I have a passion for collecting vintage toys, especially wooden or handmade ones. I often visit flea markets and estate sales in search of pre-loved items with stories to tell. What I find to be especially meaningful is acquiring a childhood item from its original owner. One of my favorite finds is a wooden toy cabinet with a letter block handle, made by the owner's dad. I take great pride in salvaging and rehoming play relics. I also frequently create flat-lay images featuring my smaller collections, inspired by the I-Spy book series.

Why was it important to you to become a Genius of Play Ambassador and what does play mean to you?

Due to information being more abundant and accessible than ever, I value The Genius of Play as a comprehensive resource that offers people prompts and articles enriched with insights from professionals in various children’s fields. It serves as a valuable source to consistently rediscover the power of play and actively engage with others in the play community. When seeking support or learning something new on the internet, I often find an overwhelming amount of information that can lead to uncertainty. I know that I'm not alone in this, and it can be particularly challenging for new parents and caregivers, which is why I am delighted to be a Genius of Play Ambassador and spread the importance of play.

To me, play is the ultimate way in which you can learn about yourself and others, whether you are involved or a bystander. It was through play that my family and teachers discovered my passions and preferred methods of expression and communication. I am forever thankful for the resources that supported me in expressing myself and the people who noticed and continued to provide me with the tools I needed.

What is your favorite toy and/or play memory?

As a child of the '90s, I must say that being part of the Pokémon era was thrilling. Completing nearly every set of McDonald’s toys is also a core memory. I still have all of my McNugget Buddies. I've also always had a fondness for small figurines. My parents used to take me to the pharmacy in our town, which sold very unique figurines at the counter. My favorite figurine, which I still have, is a dancing anthropomorphic banana. But I can’t stop there, I thoroughly enjoyed Littlest Pet Shops and Polly Pocket as well — and I still have all of those, too! Preserving many of the toys from my childhood has been among my most gratifying accomplishments.

This interview is part of an ongoing series that spotlights the members of The Genius of Play™ Ambassador program. Play ambassadors serve as play thought leaders within their own professional networks and act as key supporters and spokespersons for ongoing Genius of Play initiatives.