COLUMBIA — The faint chatter of her children playing across the street, the rustle of leaves in the yard and the meek tweets of birds overhead inspire Chris Willow-Schomaker to create something good for children and for the world. She is the founder of mamaroots, a line of toys she makes out of her home from all-natural materials.
For a look at Chris Willow-Schomaker's toys, go to http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=5484968
Using wool, cotton and wood, she draws from the Steiner-Waldorf holistic education philosophy and teachings — that is, she incorporates the use of imagination and noncommercialized and simplistic elements in the toys. Minimalist features and simple designs allow the children to project their own emotions while playing, versus the toys telling them how to feel, Willow-Schomaker said.
The evolution of her products has paralleled the growth of her children, Jasper, 7, and Silas, 3. When Willow-Schomaker was pregnant with Jasper, she began making merchandise — necklaces and "blessing way" kits, for example — for other pregnant women.
“That’s kind of the neat thing with mamaroots," she said, "because its roots are in really mothering, and I wanted to make gifts for someone who was pregnant."
After giving birth to Jasper, she shifted to creating items for babies, like teething toys; and as Jasper grew, she moved to toys for older children.
“Someone who was thinking about creating their child, then to being pregnant, from birth to postpartum, and then the natural progression was toys,” Willow-Schomaker said. “Now my focus is mostly on toy-making because that’s where they’re at in their place as children.”
After cutting and sanding the wood, typically poplar, Willow-Schomaker applies a coat of nontoxic paint and beeswax sealant to the toys. Some of the shapes of the wood resemble the natural world — trees, acorns, pandas and seahorses, for example — or they may take the form of dice, which eventually are stamped with numbers or letters using the nontoxic paint.
“If you’re working with wood, then I think in itself you want to use something that’s nontoxic because the whole idea is that you’re creating a product that’s as natural as can be,” Willow-Schomaker said. “For a population that puts things in their mouths all the time, I think we need to make it safe for them.”
As a book buyer for 10 years at University Bookstore, Willow-Schomaker loves stories, a feature also in the Waldorf tradition that she tries to carry over into her toys so children and parents can play out a familiar tale or create their own.
“I love any point in time where we can get back to a place where we’re engaging in storytelling with our children,” Willow-Schomaker said. “If we can get back to where we’re sitting down with our kids and we’re sharing stories — whether stories we’re creating or stories from oral traditions like Grimms' Fairy Tales — any time I think it creates that human connection with your child.”
The storytelling for Willow-Schomaker and her children, as well as some of her customers, can happen at their nature table, a place in the household where objects are collected either for aesthetic purposes or for a chance to gather around and create stories about the items that may change with the seasons.
Amber Dusick of Los Angeles bought a wooden morel mushroom from Willow-Schomaker for her 2-year-old son’s fall nature table through Etsy.com, an online market for buying and selling handmade products.
“I try to buy, especially for my son, all natural materials,” Dusick said. “No batteries, no plastic. Etsy’s a great resource for natural and handmade toys.” Etsy.com has givenWillow-Schomaker the ability to not only sell her products locally, but also worldwide.
“My hope is that I can create something both for the local people in Columbia and for people across the country. And I’ve had some international customers as well, like Australia, England and Canada, so far that I’m creating a toy for them that they’ll hand down and that could get passed down to children or grandchildren,” Willow-Schomaker said.
The idea of sharing with others her passion for nature and creating something that may become generational makes Willow-Schomaker smile.
“To know that makes my heart really, really happy. Just to think that that’s one more child that has a natural toy,” Willow-Schomaker said. “To progress from a person that loves wood toys and brought them into my family to be that person that’s making wood toys is really fun.”