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Hershey mother launches educational playset for children

Written by Lee Dussinger, Lebanon Daily News | May 21, 2015 1:00 PM
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Photo by Lee Dussinger, Lebanon Daily News

Creator Laura Barta of Hershey with her Whole Village Playset-China.

(Hershey) -- Laura Barta had the opportunity to travel the world: France, Germany, Poland, Egypt India, and China. It changed her life, and now she is compelled to share that experience with children everywhere.

After nearly 10 years of planning and production, Barta launched World Village Playset-China from Whole Wide World Toys, the company she founded.

"Not everyone can go to China, but I want children to experience openness to different ways of living and being," Barta said. "Ideally, we all would get a chance to travel all over the world and meet all different people, but this is a tiny step in that direction. Hopefully, it will give children the curiosity and the wish to go places themselves."

The China playset, the first of several planned regional playsets, is comprised of a series of unique elements. The fabric mat itself is printed with the colorful images of a Chinese town, based on Suzhou, with depictions of homes, stores, gardens and people engaged in real facets of Chinese life. Painted woodblock figurines portray people and animals and act as characters, in that they can be placed throughout the fabric mat town. A book accompanies the World Village Playset, written by Barta, which serves as both a narrative of two visiting American children and also as a companion workbook and reference book to the playset. Additional stand up wooden buildings are available in an expansion kit.

Barta doesn't refer to World Village Playset as a game. Although there are cards that create storytelling objectives for children, there are no rules, and there is no dynamic of competition between participants. The main purposes of the playset are to facilitate a child imagining the feeling of living in or visiting China and to back up that experience with accurate information about the region and culture. The participants' imaginations, she said, are essential to get the most from the World Village Playset.

Barta steadfastly believes in the capacity of children. She shared a story about an exhibition event for the playset. Families would come up together; the parents would ask questions, but the children would just play right away.

"While we were explaining it to the parents, the kids were just playing. Kids have that innate creativity, and they don't need people to tell them how to play. Kids know exactly what to do; they start to play. They don't need to know anything about what they see, but over time they'll learn so much."

Barta refers to the example of children flying a kite on the playset mat. She imagines that children will be entranced by the appealing images of the flying kite and will be inspired creatively by that. In time though, she anticipates, the children will learn by reading the text that silk originated in China and that bamboo, due to its strength and light weight, make it an ideal component for a kite.

"All the little details are to be explored over time," Barta said. "There are layers of ways to play and learn."

In addition to teaching children, the World Village Playset also has the ability to enhance a child's social abilities. Barta references data that indicate children who engage in creative play of this nature develop social confidence in themselves as well as skills of interpersonal negotiation.

A former development engineer with Proctor & Gamble, Bartan lived internationally for nine crucial years, which furthered her love of international travel as well as the nascent desire to create what would become World Village Playset. An event before her professional time abroad, though, cemented this desire. A high school trip to France and a unique French pastry created that desire in Barta; it made her realize that she was truly out in the wide world, and there was so much more to be explored.

"It seemed like for all the people I met overseas, there was an event or experience that triggered everything that came later," Barta said. "My fondest hope is that this product will be that experience for someone else. That they'll see this and say, 'I remember when I was a kid I had this playset about China and because of that I always wanted to travel there and here I am.'"

Barta plans to create further World Village Playsets and is imagining the next one in Ireland or Spain.

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Photo by Lee Dussinger, Lebanon Daily News

Laura Barta of Hershey hopes that her first educational toy, The Whole Village Playset-China will expand into a series. She's considering a second playset featuring either Ireland or Spain.


This article comes to us through a partnership between Lebanon Daily News and WITF. 

Published in Hershey, News

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