Photo by Danny Fulgencio
Lauren Wallace didn’t know how to play with her daughter, Caroline. She bought more toys that briefly captured Caroline’s attention, then were thrown into the toy box and forgotten.
Most parents have been there. Lulled by the hope that flashing lights and repetitive noises will stimulate their children, they forget that a few measuring cups and a bin of Cheerios will entertain their kids for hours.
“Caroline played with that longer than we ever played with anything,” Wallace says. “When kids are given the opportunity to create in their own way, it creates hours of play, rather than just a few minutes.”
Wallace shared her experience with friend Stevie McCartney, and together, they started making open-ended play boxes filled with sensory items, such as felt balls, pipe cleaners and wooden figures, for their children.
“Both our daughters suffer from high anxiety,” McCartney says. “My daughter had been in therapy, and no one ever told me to do sensory play. But I saw it working. I saw her happier.”
With the goal of helping other families prioritize play that engages the senses and sparks the imagination, the two Lakewood moms launched Twig & Olive, a business that sells themed Imagination Boxes that include a book, homemade play dough, cookie cutters and loose accessories.
Wallace and McCartney recommend different ways to play with the boxes, such as taking out all the red materials or listening to one of their custom Spotify playlists. But there are no rules, directions or end results.
“That’s the hardest thing for moms,” McCartney says. “They say, ‘What do you do with this?’ You can do whatever you want. It’s good ol’ fashion play.”
In addition to themed play boxes, Twig & Olive sells kits of rainbow rice that help children calm and regulate their emotions. It’s a sensory tool McCartney has used for years with her 4-year-old son, Bowie, who was diagnosed with autism. When Bowie hears the satisfying crackle as he digs his hands into the crunchy texture, he can’t stay upset for long. After seeing its success with Bowie, the moms began selling boxes filled with 3 pounds of rice dyed in rainbow colors.
Since rolling out the first Imagination Box in December 2018, Twig & Olive has gone on to sell hundreds of boxes in Dallas and across the United States. The products are marketed toward elementary students but are useful resources for children of all ages, as well as adults.
When Caroline started kindergarten, Wallace had to get the play dough back out to stymie the tantrums that ensued when her daughter got home from school.
“I got Caroline coming down from high anxiety,” Wallace says. “I missed my little girl who would share things with me, and I needed to find a way to get her back to me.”
Learning to grow and market the business was an initial struggle for Wallace and McCartney — neither of whom majored in business. Over the past year, they discovered how to use their different strengths to become successful partners.
Wallace is the creative dreamer, and McCartney is the self-proclaimed dream crusher. Although those differing personalities drew them to different social circles while attending high school together at Bishop Lynch, they reconnected when their daughters attended the same preschool.
Together, they package mini and full-size Imagination Boxes with themes that range from dinosaurs to sweet treats. Each kit also comes with an idea for reuse, such as decorating the box, wrapping it and giving it to a friend as a gift.
Boxes are sold on the Twig & Olive website at the beginning of each month. They’ve become so popular, they sell out within days of being released. Wallace and McCartney could make more, but they say it’s important to regulate growth so they can spend ample time with their families.
“We don’t play enough as adults, and that affects our mojo all the time,” Wallace says. “Parents say, ‘My kids are too old for this’ while they’re playing with the play dough on our table. Out of all the things we’ve had to learn, it’s how to turn our brains off and just go back to hanging with our kids.”
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