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Melissa & Doug believes in play so much they created an employee award for it!

2018-03-21 by Melissa & Doug

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The Pros of Play: Meet Brett Almstead of Melissa & Doug

Welcome to the first installment of our new series, The Pros of Play, where we showcase people who are truly living the Melissa & Doug mission to Take Back Childhood. These champions of play understand the power of imagination and wonder to transform lives — for kids AND grown-ups!

Name: Brett Almstead, product designer for Melissa & Doug

Home: Ridgefield, Connecticut

Tell us about what you do.

I tell people I am an adult who gets paid to play with toys, which almost always prompts a reference to Tom Hanks in the movie “Big.” I’ve been designing toys for Melissa & Doug for long enough that most parents are familiar with some of the toys I’ve worked on, so I’ll mention a few that I know they’ll recognize.

Employee of the Year

How long have you worked at Melissa & Doug? What are some of the favorite toys you’ve worked on?

I’ve worked and played at Melissa & Doug for 17 years! I have had the privilege of designing hundreds of toys over the years that end up in the hands of children around the world. It’s hard to pick a favorite design; you really get emotionally attached to all of them. But some of my favorites I have worked on would have to be the Wooden Pizza Party, Prepare & Serve Pasta Set, and Safari Animal Rescue Truck.

 

You were recently named as the inaugural Melissa & Doug Player of the Year, and in addition to a $2,500 prize, you and your coworkers get to enjoy an extra day off of your choosing! Tell us a little about what this honor meant to you. And why did you choose July 23? How do you plan to play on that day?

Being nominated as the Melissa & Doug Player of the Year was an extremely humbling experience. I really put my heart into my work each day, and it was wonderful to be recognized in such a significant way by Melissa & Doug. I decided to choose July 23 for a couple of reasons. The 23rd falls on a Monday in the summer making it a 3-day weekend, my kids are off from school, and it’s the day after my birthday. Our plan is to all get in the car and go somewhere none of us has ever been. We’ll have no expectations or plans and will leave lots of room to explore. We’ve done this many times before and we always reminisce about those impromptu family trips.

Brett Almstead and Melissa Bernstein

This has been a banner year for you at Melissa & Doug. You and your colleague, David Dear, won the annual (and highly competitive) Melissa & Doug Halloween Costume and Skit contest, with your parody duet of the John Denver/Kermit the Frog classic, “Rainbow Connection,” as well as a hilarious send-up of “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” You managed to move people to both laughter and tears with your performance! Can you tell us how that all came together and the process of writing the lyrics?

The Halloween costume and skit contests have become a popular and highly competitive company event. Over the years, the costumes and skits have been pretty creative! Last October, my coworker David Dear and I decided to join forces and create a skit that plays on the company’s “Take Back Childhood” mission. We looked back on our own happy childhood memories and decided to recreate a scene from the Muppet Show. The show was hosted by Kermit (with me voicing and puppeteering) and the special guest was John Denver (David’s doppelganger!). David brainstormed the lyrics and we spent some time bouncing them back and forth to refine them. This was probably the most fun either of us has ever had with the Halloween contest!

Brett Almstead Halloween

 

What do you love most about your job and about working at Melissa & Doug?

Besides still being able to play with toys and working with talented people, I love being able to “own” the project through the development process. As a designer at Melissa & Doug you’re involved in the full development of the toy — from concept to completion, it’s your baby! You also work on a wide range of toys, not just one category, which is challenging and refreshing at the same time.

Tell us about your family.

I met my wife Amanda at Melissa & Doug and we now have two daughters, Marin (age 7) and Sydney (age 3). Our favorite family vacation is our annual trip to the beach. We take our dog and spend hours on the beach every day relaxing, exploring, and, of course, fishing! I’ve also had fun collaborating on creative projects with my kids, whether it’s just for fun, or for design competitions that we’ve worked on together.  

 

You have an unexpected free day—no work, kids, or responsibilities. What are you going to do?

I would wake up early and go fishing, take a short nap to reenergize and then probably go back for more fishing!

Brett Almstead

Let’s do “Skip, Play, or Obsess Over” with these ways to play: Cooperative Play, Competitive Play, Imaginative Play.

SKIP Competitive Play: I played a lot of competitive sports growing up, and I loved baseball. These days I have more fun watching competitive sports than playing them.

PLAY Cooperative Play: Most of our cooperative play is working on made-up games with my kids and their cousins or friends in the backyard, whether it’s an obstacle course, building “towns” and roads with sidewalk chalk, or playing endless rounds of hide and seek.

OBSESS OVER Imaginative Play: I could spend hours with my kids (or by myself!) coming up with new ways to play, whether we’re building forts or inventing new games together.

 

What was your favorite way to play as a child or childhood game?

When I was a kid, I loved building pretend theme parks in our basement. My brothers and I would spend countless hours building pretend rides out of anything we had available. We had a blast and usually made a huge mess. If we weren’t working on theme parks, we were recreating our favorite movies with our family camcorder or building our annual haunted house for Halloween, which became a neighborhood legend!

We heard you were friends with Mr. Rogers as a child. Can you tell us about that?

Fred Rogers was a family friend.  We first met him on our annual vacation to Nantucket Island where he had his summer home, and spending time with him became an annual tradition!  He really was the same character you saw on his show: a kind, thoughtful, genuine person.  He would bake us brownies, play the piano for us and sing many of the same songs he did on his show.  When we were kids, he would call us every Friday the 13th in his “King Friday” voice to let us know it was King Friday’s birthday!  We were lucky to have spent time with him; he was a wonderful role model and a great person.

Fred Rogers and Brett Almstead

 

What was the last playful thing you did?

I put on a gorilla costume and rang the doorbell when my daughters had friends over for a party. After the brief moment of terror was over, they were all laughing, but not before one of the kids launched a wooden block at my head in self-defense.

 

Thanks, Brett. Keep up the great play!

*******

Childhood Road

By David Dear, Brett Almstead

Sung to the tune of “Take Me Home, Country Roads”

Almost heaven, was my childhood, playing kickball, fishin’ by the river

Days were long then, sometimes you got bored

So you’d find a sharp stick, and swing it like a sword

Childhood road, take me home

To the time, before smartphones

Crashed my new bike, had a mud fight

Take me home, Childhood road

Burned a Barbie, with a lighter, melted vinyl dripping on my bare feet

Hot and sticky, screaming out in pain

The small fire that I started, is now a roaring flame

Childhood road, take me home

To the time, before smartphones

Crashed my new bike, had a mud fight

Take me home, Childhood road

We made a fort from an old cardboard box

Then the kids surrounded us and pelted us with rocks

And as we tried to run away I could hear them say

It’s wedgie time, wedgie time

Childhood road, take me home

To the time, before smartphones

Crashed my new bike, had a mud fight

Take me home, Childhood road

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Melissa & Doug

Our team of play experts occasionally enjoys sharing news about our company, new product launches, and some of the #CountlessWaysToPlay with our toys, crafts, and games. At Melissa & Doug, we’re on a mission to inspire the innovators of tomorrow through kid-powered play!

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