Founded in 2013
About the business: Toybrary Austin was created to provide a positive, clean, welcoming environment in which children, parents and teachers can interact and learn.
About Liza Wilson
Liza Wilson isn’t what you’d call a traditional mother. However, not having any children of her own doesn’t make her any less of a formidable mother figure. For nearly 30 years, she’s helped rear hundreds if not thousands of little ones outside the home. She’s been something of a surrogate mom to many, helping engage children’s imaginations for almost a decade with her business, Toybrary Austin.
With a major in English and a minor in French from Rhodes College in Memphis, Wilson found a love of teaching young children from the moment she observed a preschool French class as a student teacher. “That’s when I fell in love with language learning at a very young age,” she says. “I’m still a huge proponent of that. Even as a teenager I was drawn to [children], and they were drawn to me,” she admits. “My mom calls me the Pied Piper.”
A History in Education
Soon Wilson went from observing to taking the reins herself. She taught French at a foreign language elementary school in Little Rock, Arkansas, for three years, then moved to Austin to pursue her master’s in foreign language education. “I started working for Holt, Rinehart, Winston in the French Department, then taught at Austin’s French Montessori School (now Austin International School) and became the director,” she reveals. “After a few years there, I started working as a consultant for Head Start. I then taught French at the Khabele School before founding Toybrary Austin.”
Wilson admits to never having aspirations of opening her own business. “I always thought I would be terrible at it.” But a chance visit to another toy library changed her perspective. She’s now eight years strong with her own take on the toy library concept. As a woman and a mother figure to many, and with nearly three decades of working in education behind her, she certainly has a unique perspective on childhood education and childcare.
“I think everything about playing with toys needs to be reconsidered,” she says. “Most kids have so many toys they can’t see straight. Research shows that kids are only able to focus on and engage with seven toys at a time. What does that mean? A major clean out of your playroom, saving only your kids’ favorite toys. If that ends up to be more than seven, put the rest away in a closet. When the kids tire of playing with those seven, rotate with seven more from the closet.
“Observe what they do,” she continues. “Research also shows that with fewer toys, children concentrate better and play with each toy longer. This is what we want. More exploration, more creativity equals more brain connections. We know that the years between 0 to 5 are when children’s brains are developing the most. It is crucial that they are not bombarded with too much input (toys) at these ages, but it’s also critical that they are exposed to lots of different materials in order to continue to grow and learn.”
Wilson is also a huge proponent of classic wooden toys sans the busyness of lights and sounds, and not just for the peace factor. “They are much better for the environment, as they can be passed down from generation to generation,” she says. “It’s such a sweet tradition too. Plastic toys break quickly and go straight into the landfill, and no one wants that. It’s also much better developmentally for children to make their toys active (talk, move, etc.) rather than passively watching them beep and squeak. Better on parents’ nerves as well.”
Wilson wouldn’t be where she is now, wouldn’t have the connection to children she’s had for three decades if it weren’t for the women in her life who were able to guide her early on in her career. “I watched what they did that worked and tried to do it myself,” she says. “Always using a calm voice and speaking to kids with respect. I also hold firm boundaries and always follow through with logical consequences. Don’t ask a child to do something three times, and don’t count to 10. Ask once, and if they fail to comply, implement what you have told them the consequence will be. If a child is 3 years old, then three minutes in timeout is appropriate, and so on. If they made a mess, they need to clean it up. They are more than capable of using child-size brooms and mops, and they actually love it.”