Toy store in Orenco inspires education
iSpark Toys doesn't sell video games, it gives kids the tools to make their own.
iSpark Toys in Orenco isn't your typical toy store.
Inside, customers won't find action figures, dolls, or ponies. Instead, they'll find build-your-own-robot kits, beginner's coding manuals, gyroscopes, microscopes, telescopes, and the materials to build miniature medieval siege weapons.
"Toys should be about having fun, but also learning," said owner Hande Buyuksahin, who opened the store last year, dissatisfied with the toy options for her children. "The thing I wanted to offer was unique toys that would be more engaging make kids think, make them work."
Rather than peddle the same generic playthings found in the toy aisles of every big box store, iSpark Toys, 925 N.E. Orenco Station Loop in Hillsboro, sells scientifically-minded educational games, books, crafts, and yes toys.
"Sorry, no Monopoly," Buyuksahin said. "They're over that. The kids these days, the things they play with are so different. There's so much information available to them, we have be ahead of it."
For the past year, that's exactly what she's done, but it hasnt been easy. Breaking the social norms that dictate which genders play with which toys is difficult.
Finding the toys she wanted to include in her shop wasnt easy either, she said. It took two years to work out which toys would be on display at the store.
"I started doing my research first, and as soon as I started digging I realized it was not going to be easy it was going to take some time," she said.
The idea for iSpark, Buyuksahin said, came from her experience searching for toys for her 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.
"The more time I spent looking for good quality toys for them, the more I was getting frustrated," she said.
Along with reading blogs and looking at toy reviews, Buyuksahin visited toy stores across Washington County, and she searched online for toys that would provide her children with more than five minutes of fun.
Not finding what she was looking for, Buyuksahin chose to provide it to others herself.
"It was my dream," she said. "One day I said, 'Nope I'm going to do this. We should demand better toys for our kids.'"
It was childhood memories of being relegated to toys made for girls that pushed Buyuksahin to seek something more for her daughter, she said.
"Growing up, my brother always got the coolest toys," she said. "I got the ponies and he got the Legos, or the cars he could put together. I always envied that."
Now, Buyuksahin said, she sees girls light up when they're given an opportunity to look into a microscope or build a robot.
"I want the girls to be more into science and engineering, and I want to break this whole 'girl toys versus boy toys,'" she said.
Buyuksahin said her son is often limited in the toys he plays with, as well.
"No one gives him a microscope or a telescope," she said. "We have to start raising our boys in a different way if we're going to make this work for them, too."
Changing mindsets with Minecraft
Though her favorite toy at iSpark is a build-it-yourself trebuchet kit, Buyuksahin sees technology as the future of the world.
Kids have easy access to YouTube videos that provide them an informal and limited education, she said, but parents seem to have a hard time understanding what's going on.
Even videogames as seemingly simplistic as "Minecraft," allow kids to teach themselves coding to some degree, but they need more hands on assistance.
"My goal is not to fight against all of this (new technology), but to be a part of it," she said. "And clearly, we as parents have to educate ourselves. We have to learn from them, too."
Buyuksahin first tests the toys and games she sells at iSpark with her own children, she said, to see if they're of the quality she wants. She encourages parents, grandparents and teachers who enter her store to do the same.
"I love to see what they think," she said. "As a business owner, I want to see what works and what does not. But more than that, I want this place to be a hands-on learning place so we can play and explore together."
I wanted parents to be comfortable talking to us because many of them don't know about robotics and coding," she continued. "It's more like a consulting service for us. I want them to ask questions."
Yet in her first year, it's not parents who most often visit iSpark, Buyuksahin said. Teachers are some of her top customers.
"They shop for the classrooms or make wish lists for their grants," she said. "And I'm here to help them."
Buyuksahin wants iSpark to close the gap between what kids are doing at school and what they have available at home.
And she hopes to become more involved with local schools through partnerships that allow her an opportunity to exhibit what iSpark has to offer.
"Learning, in my opinion, can and should be fun," she said. "It shouldn't be scary."
By Travis Loose
Reporter, Hillsboro Tribune
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