Today Marcia Maynard interviews Jen Dronzak, co-owner of Learn All About It Toys and the mother of two children.
Marcia: Tell us about your decision to start a toy shop with your husband?
Jen: Before we started our store, we shopped at specialty toy shops for kids’ toys. Jeff has a background in business and retail, as well as having worked for an educational toy store chain, and as a speech-language pathologist I have the educational experience and viewpoint in toy selection for play, language, and developmental value. For a while we had wanted to start our own business. Jeff had written a business plan several years earlier, and we decided to combine his business skills with my educational experience and take a risk in starting our own business.
Marcia: Is there anything about your shop that you’re especially proud of and would like to share with readers?
Jen: When we set out to start the toy store, we had several goals in mind. We wanted a very family- and kid-friendly atmosphere with an open layout through which parents could easily navigate their strollers and that would permit them to see their children at play with sample toys, while also allowing for space to hold story time, instructional activities, and events. At the beginning of this year, we relooked at our floor plan, moved some bookshelves, and created a space to hold instructional activities and host birthday parties. We are proud that we have maintained our focus and continue to grow. We happened to open at a time when nobody could have foreseen such a huge economic downturn here and across the country. We have built a great base in the midst of a difficult economy and are proud we have managed to grow as things are starting to look better locally and nationally.
Marcia: Tell us about your children.
Jen: Our kids are really fun! Amanda is a very imaginative and creative 5-year-old. She is almost always smiling, has a great sense of humor, and loves to create and tell stories, play, perform, be with her friends, and spend time at the store. Danielle is 21 months and loves her big sister. She is very curious, loves pretend play, painting, and playing outside, and she keeps very busy at home and at the store. They have both been great greeters when they are here at the store.
Marcia: How do you connect/combine your jobs as a speech pathologist and toy store owner?
Jen: When I look at toys, puzzles, books, and games, I am always looking for an overall value in play, language, vocabulary, concepts, and multiple uses that stimulate and elicit speech, language, and children’s imaginations. Play and language are so important in child development. I have also been leading story time and language-based instructional activities, including “Story Comprehension” targeting understanding and recall of story details, sequencing story events, vocabulary building, as well as some critical thinking skills with making predictions and drawing conclusions. In “Early Language Enrichment,” the focus is on early learning concepts, vocabulary building, hands-on play with concepts, and a related craft activity. As an educator, I have had the experience of working with children who have different learning styles, so I try to tailor the stories, activities, and questions to the group as well as the individual as much as possible in the brief time frame.
Marcia: How do you manage a shop, children, and working outside the shop?
Jen: That is a great question! Some days I have it down, no problem, and other days . . . I frequently ask myself that same thing and have a difficult time trying to figure it all out. It’s also a frequent topic of conversation I have with my friends too. We have great help thanks to our parents who spend time with the kids while we’re both working, plus we try to plan ahead with groceries and meals and just work together, which we have done very well. We have very supportive family and friends who believe in us and have supported us in this incredible journey.
Marcia: What helpful hints can you give to other working moms?
Jen: Have fun, enjoy your family time, and make time to play and be with your kids. Time flies too quickly, as we all know. A friend of mine who is also a working mom gave me great advice: Work hard, but save some of yourself for your kids and family when you get home. After being so dedicated to work during the day, I sometimes come home feeling like I’m running on empty, so this advice really hit home. It reminds me that above all, my family comes first and I want to give the best of myself to them.
Learn All About Toys
300 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886
Marcia Maynard blogs about preschool activities at http://www.readandraise.com