Do you know about Ellie Bellie Kids? This Baltimore-based company makes classic toys that cultivate imagination. One of the masterminds behind this simply (cool) local company is toymaker Jennifer Cooper. Today’s parent in the know!

As if she doesn’t have enough to do, Jennifer also is the editor of the Classic Play online magazine and blog. She talks with (cool) progeny today about establishing rituals with your kids (did someone say after school tea?) and getting in touch with your inner creative spark.

Jennifer and her husband Dave (filmmaker/photographer/graphic designer) are parents to two adorable kids Ellie (8) and Jonah(5), who also very much inspire their work!

You’ll find Ellie Bellie Kids’ products in some of (cool) progeny’s favorite local independent stores like aMuse Toys, online and on Twitter.
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What’s the story behind Ellie Bellie Kids? How did it come to be?

When I started off in this parenting gig. I was struck by how few toys I could find that didn’t come with unnecessary bells and whistles. I believe it’s important to guide children, not do everything for them. I also learned from my years of working with kids that most adult brains have forgotten how to play. It’s now wired for things like knowing how to: write in cursive, read big words, work a computer, drive a car, iron clothes and use the vacuum cleaner.* So I, along with my sister and our mom created Ellie Bellie Kids. It was a way to help parents guide kids toward creative thinking and play.

*This list of things grown ups know how to do was generated by my kids.

And what about Classic Play? What’s the story there? (And boy, you must be busy!!)
Classic Play started loosely a couple years ago as another sort of creative outlet. I wanted to create a thoughtful space where writers, crafters and other artists could come together to explore a theme as it relates to childhood or families. We’ve come a long way since the beginning and now it’s developed into a quarterly online magazine as well as a blog.

So far we’ve some of the topics we’ve covered are: music, food, giving, sports and love. Our next issue which comes out in October is all about science. Meanwhile on the blog portion, we’ve been offering up some fun, playful ideas for parents that are intended to spark their own creativity. Us parents need to exercise our creativity too.

We think routine can tell a lot about a person. What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? The last thing you do before you go to bed?
First I hit the snooze button. Then I make coffee and warm up some milk for my kids (it’s a habit I got into years ago and I kept it up because I figured if I need a hot drink in the morning, then hey maybe they do too). After that, everything is a blur until they get out the door to the bus stop. And the last thing I do before bed? I watch something funny on tv. I like to go to bed happy.

What three items are in your dream playroom?

Besides our products? *wink, wink* Let’s see, I’d have some sort of theater type curtain (for shows), a chalkboard painted wall and bookshelf filled with books.

We love to get the inside scoop on where to shop for kids. What are your fav kid-inspired stores in the area? What makes them great?
One of my favorite toy shops is aMuse. Not only do they carry our line, but they really are committed to local designers and are strong advocates for toys that encourage kids to think outside the box. I heart them! I’m also a fan of cosmic comix in Catonsville. They carry a variety of comics for younger kids. Our favorite is Tiny Titans.

What’s the best thing about being a mom?
Oh this is a hard question. I don’t think I can chose just one thing. I love it all. Honestly! I can say that now that I’m in that golden age between tantrumming toddlers and tantrumming adolescents. I guess though if I my hand was forced, I’d say, I love getting to read bedtime stories, peering into a world full of possibilities, laughing together, dancing together, and when they ‘pretend’ they don’t like my singing (what do these kids know anyway). Most of all though, the best thing about being a mom is knowing that these two people are forever going to be a part of me.

What’s your no-fail after school (or pre-school) snack?

I have a couple things that I like to keep on hand. One is mint tea. The kids love it. We started a tradition of having a cup of tea after school when my daughter went to kindergarten and it’s stuck around. Other favorites: yogurt with honey, hummus with pita and apples dipped in honey. I’d say we’re a little hooked on honey.

How do you and your partner balance parenting responsibilities?
Well it’s a juggling act for sure. One thing we’re big on is making sure we’re on the same team when it comes to discipline. If one of us has said something, it stands. As far as day to day operations go, we both pitch in to get them ready for school (he supervises teeth brushing, face washing, hair brushing and getting dressed while I’m on wake up duty, breakfast making and lunch packing) and we also both pitch in for bedtime too.

What do you think is Baltimore’s best kid-friendly place?
The Walters Art Gallery. Their weekend program for the kids, where they can make an art project is the best. Tour the gallery, make something inspired by what you saw. It doesn’t get any better than that. (Note – we love the Walters Art Museum, too! Stay tuned for an article next week about their current exhibit on Walter Wick and thoughts from their education director!)

Favorite children’s book? What makes it your favorite?
My all time favorite is, Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. I still love it. I love that it’s interactive. Everyone gets to participate in it. Plus I love yelling, “LET ME DRIVE THE BUS!!!” We all giggle. As far as chapter books go, I have to say my favorite is James and the Giant Peach. It was the first chapter book I read as a kid and we read it together as a family over the summer. It’s wildly imaginative. I’m also a fan of the Mercy Watson series.

If you and your family were headed out to dinner tonight, where would we find you?
Oh boy! Where wouldn’t you find us? We enjoy eating out. We’ve done chain restaurants and small independently owned establishments. Our favorites though are places with outdoor seating (well in the warmer months at least).

If a movie was made about your life TODAY, what would be the lead song on the soundtrack?
Three Little Birds.