Technology is entrenched in our lives. It makes things easier, more efficient. It streams endless entertainment and knowledge in seconds. But with unfiltered access comes the need for a filter. We put our phones away at dinner and close laptops in meetings. As with any stimulant, moderation becomes the name of the game.

That game is an especially tricky one for parents to play. In a world increasingly reliant on technology, how do you expose kids to the right amount while also using more hands-on, even screen-free, methods of learning?

That question is one of the reasons we visited and profiled Makers Kara Dyer and Sara Argue of Storytime Toys for our Meet the Maker series. It’s a question at the heart of their work helping young children develop the foundations of critical-thinking, problem-solving, and imaginative play with no technology at all.

Well, except for all of the technology they use to create the product.

A combination of CAD software, Adobe programs, and laser cutters bring their products to life, but the tech stops when the product is shipped. The sets can be assembled without tools and there’s nothing to recharge.

Their own story starts about a decade ago. Kara and her husband, Bobby, both mechanical engineers, were messing around with an idea for a cat toy and needed an artist to complete the design. Kara’s nanny mentioned it to her roommate, Sara, a young artist who possessed a certain playfulness to her style that seemed to fit the project’s needs.

It should come as no surprise given the chemistry they exude in the video that Kara and Sara immediately hit it off. They finalized the design and sent it out for manufacturing, but when they got the first batch back, it was almost completely destroyed.

The setback prompted the question many entrepreneurs ask at such moments: are we still in this? For them, the answer was no. They loved working and creating together, but the cat toy itself didn’t really speak to them. Not as much as a toy for kids. One designed to stimulate and grow their imaginations. Something Kara was just starting to get a sense of as a new mother.

With only expensive and bulky or cheap and flimsy dollhouses on the market, Kara imagined a toy of her own. One that a child could build themselves. No screens. No batteries. Just uninhibited creation. Naturally, she took the idea to Sara who was instantly on board.

Sara had just moved to San Francisco when they started on Storytime Toys. It was the start of what remains a remote working partnership. Such a setup requires exceptional communication. That’s true for any business, especially a new one. It’s a skill they have in spades. They launched the product on Kickstarter in 2013 to an enthusiastic reaction. A year later, it was featured on The Grommet where it has been ever since.

Sara is now back on the east coast in Portsmouth, NH, with her husband Johnny and 10-month-old Raluca. Kara is just 50 minutes down the road in Concord, MA with husband Bobby, daughter Mae, and son Daniel. They Facetime throughout the week and Slack message constantly to brainstorm and share updates on what they’re working on.

Currently, their primary project is a series of playsets for PBS Kids and Arthur’s 25th anniversary which debuts in just a few months. To have the support of legendary author and illustrator Marc Brown is a dream for the duo. And as you can see from the video, the prototypes look great.

‘Foundation for play’ is their common refrain. Give kids enough to start playing and allow plenty of room for growth on their own. To them, an ideal turn with one of their playsets starts with a re-creation of the story it’s based on and evolves into an entirely new adventure dreamed up by the child.  

Kara and Sara hope their toys inspire parents, grandparents, and relatives to read to their kids. They hope it builds creative skills and collaboration. But more than anything, they hope kids surprise themselves with new ideas and discoveries every time they sit down to play.

Learn more and shop for Storytime Toys.