Inspired by a desire to replace plastic toys with “real” play items for open-ended play, Angela Stone launched ProjectPlay, a family-run New Zealand business that helps parents explore the benefits of heuristic play, and ignite the imaginations of their children. Heuristic play is all about supporting curiosity, wonder, imagination and free exploration. Working alongside her husband Jono, they provide families with open-ended play items, allowing children to select, explore, manipulate and compare items with each other, while engaging in their own learning through play. At ProjectPlay, they value real, authentic play experiences for children. Inspired by Montessori, Rudolph Steiner and Pikler philosophies, they also support the theory of loose parts, offering quality, eco-friendly play items to ignite the imagination.
The passion: What inspired you to set up your business?
ProjectPlay is a New Zealand owned and operated family business based in the sunny Hawke’s Bay. It was born from a desire to reduce plastic toys and replace them with open-ended, “real” play items that ignite children’s imaginations. We wanted to help other parents discover the many benefits of heuristic play to give their children the best start in life.
Our founder, Angela, is a mother to two and a qualified Early Childhood Teacher, with over a decade of experience specialising in infants and toddlers. She has attended many workshops and has facilitated professional development around children’s learning and development. It was while on maternity leave that she found a real lack of heuristic play items available and she now loves to share this knowledge with more families through ProjectPlay.
The launch: How did you start out in the beginning?
In the beginning, like most small businesses, we started our journey making heuristic sets on our kitchen table. It was while Angela, our founder, was on maternity leave with her first child that she learnt how to create a website, figured out packaging, a shipping strategy, and growing social media, all while learning the ropes of motherhood! Then, as our business grew and more and more families learned the benefits of open-ended play, we expanded our product line and moved to the spare room. We now have a much more professional setup that we work from… Although, we still want to grow further!
The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?
Our biggest breakthrough would have had to be when Victoria University placed a rather large order with us! It was an exciting moment, and it was great to know that we were supported by professionals in the education sector. We have also built strong relationships with leading home-based childcare services, Rockmybaby and Tiny Nation, who purchase our heuristic sets for every home-based educator who joins their team. It is certainly a great feeling to be validated and supported by these leading companies.
Yin and Yang: How do you balance work and family?
2020 threw us a giant curveball when Jono was made redundant from his career of more than 20 years. This taught us to really think about what was important to us as a family. This is when Jono decided to join the ProjectPlay team full time. He sees the benefits of open-ended play daily with our children and jumped at the chance to be able to help out. He works hard to ensure that ProjectPlay HQ and our dispatch system runs smoothly. He is also our in-house photographer, graphic designer, and an all-round tech-guru!
Working together has its challenges, but we run a tight ship, sharing all the house duties, and supporting each other where we can. We enjoy the flexibility of working from home, as we work where we can during the day while our youngest is sleeping and most weeknights. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, but it works, and we have found a good balance. We have a fun, relaxed approach to our parenting and we ensure we give our children full attention. It also helps that they have an abundance of loose parts to explore with, as this helps to develop independent play!