Shopping local doesn’t get any more fun than when hunting for holiday toys from Minnesota makers. The unique toys and activity kits shown here are made or designed by toymakers throughout our state, from rural Lamberton to northeast Minneapolis.
Nichole Smaglick, who works in Minneapolis’ Northrup King building, created a series of all-in-one kits designed to help dads build close, nurturing ties with their kids over making dinner, story time and playtime. Smaglick calls it the “instant Dad is awesome box.” The kits come in a big box every three months, and include projects like a catapult and a floating lantern. They are targeted to boys and girls 5 and older. The boxes are popular gifts in part because they are more about fostering connections and family time than they are about “stuff,” Smaglick says. “I don’t remember hardly any single toy I ever received at the holidays, but I do remember when my parents spent that undivided, goofy time just with me.”
Smiling moon balancer, Smiling Tree Toys
Justin and Kathleen Smith of Smiling Tree Toys are a husband-and-wife toymaking team as well as the parents of four kids. They converted their old red barn in Lamberton, Minn., into a toy shop and started making sweet wooden toys for toddlers and preschoolers in 2011, after their first child was born. Their signature moon toy, a fun balancing game, was one of their first designs. “We believe in living simply and gifting thoughtfully, which is why we offer families keepsake toys that will stand the test of time and be treasured long after childhood,” says Kathleen, who grew up in Lamberton, population 800. “While I didn’t envision moving back here to start a business and raise a family, now I can’t imagine doing it anywhere else.”
PBS KIDS Build It Kit, YOXO
30 piece set, $19.99, yoxo.com
This St. Paul toy company creates open-ended, eco-friendly construction toys that let kids build everything from creatures and robots to vehicles. YOXO gets all of the materials they use to manufacture their toys in the U.S., and most come from within 20 miles of the small startup. They partnered with PBS Kids to create a series of build-it kits, which are designed to help kids 4 and older gain STEM skills. YOXO founder Jeff Freeland Nelson says Amazon.com is the best place to find these kits.
Wee Baby Stella Tiny Farmer Set, Manhattan Toy Company
Despite it’s oh-so-NYC name, for decades now The Manhattan Toy Company has actually been based in Minneapolis, where award-winning designers create popular toys like the Winkel rattle and Groovy Girls and Boys dolls. “We say that we moved from the Big Apple to the Minne-apple,” says Amanda Molstad, a marketing specialist at the company. Their Baby Stella line includes plush dolls in diverse skin shades that have a magnetic pacifier kids love to take on and off. One of the latest Stella dolls is this cute little farmer with a basket and carrot seeds to plant.
The Mini 10-inch loom, Beka Inc.
Founded as a family business in the 1970s, this St. Paul toy company is still in the family, but now largely run by Jamie Seeley Kreisman and his son, Jonathon Seeley Kreisman, who grew up playing with Beka toys. “We really do cherish how fortunate we are to work together,” says Jonathon. The company’s mini loom, made of hard maple, is great for crafty preteens. Its frame can be used to make everything from wall hangings and pot holders to “purses, small bags for treasures, pillow cases and iPad pouches.”