Rebecca Horrace: When in Doubt, Look to the Children, They have all the Answers!

by Rebecca Horrace | 13 Jul 2023

Biographies and Interviews


Welcome to our team, Rebecca! As the new Editor for Play in Education’s newsletter, what attracted you to the Chicago Toy and Game Group, and what goals do you have in mind for the organization?


I value play in all areas of education and think it’s imperative to incorporate educational components into toys and games. I am humbled to collaborate with an organization like the Chicago Toy and Game Group that honors the important purpose of play in education. Educators and play professionals can access a full-range of researched content regarding the benefits of play in education through articles, a newsletter, interviews, etc. which become vital resources for the entire community.


My goal is to continue to provide playful, research-based information while showcasing our amazing advocates and community through additional spotlights, resources for educators, and highlights on up-and-coming toy products and design professionals who value education.


You’re not only PIE’s Editor, you also contribute to our industry in other ways. Can you share how you stay involved?


Two-fold actually: As a play and education expert I collaborate with toy and game companies to provide insights on how to best incorporate educational value into their products, which in turn helps the marketability of their toys. I also partner with educational spaces, such as schools, libraries, and museums to help them navigate the ever-changing educational landscape while prioritizing play for their audiences. My work encompasses the entire spectrum of play and education, truly bridging the gap between these two spaces, which is rather exciting–no two projects are ever the same!


Do you have a mantra that you live by?


From our friendliest neighbor, Mr. Rogers– “ Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”


I use his adage to guide me in my research, my work with toys and education, and with homeschooling my own children. Play is how children learn. It’s how they make sense of their world. Children don’t “just play,” they play to create, regulate emotions, learn rules, develop independence, and conduct really cool science experiments! All of which translate into important developmental skills of how children interact and cope with day-to-day life, and furthermore, flourish into adulthood.


Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?


As a former public-school teacher, I’ve always been an advocate for play, but my doctoral program gave me that final push to enter the industry in a professional capacity. My research centered around the intersection of play and popular media with literacy components as children utilized technology to share in interactions. My participants imaginatively played through the screen with all sorts of toys, from stuffed animals, LEGO builds, and even Pokémon cards. I was fascinated with the bonds children created with their toys and their peers in a virtual environment, as well as how they implemented technology to enhance their play. As I finished my program, I knew I needed to work in this industry, but in a meaningful way–to reignite the dwindling spark between play and education!


What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?


Technology! Sometimes there’s a push to keep children off devices, but that’s not reality. Technology is embedded in our everyday lives. We need to adapt and embrace technological advances, while also teaching children healthy tech habits and digital literacy skills. As demonstrated in my research, children can be in an online environment and imaginatively play with toys. I’m not advocating five-year-olds excessively peruse the internet unsupervised, but finding a healthy balance of technology use is an important life-skill, especially since research shows that not all screen time is created equal.



What is the most rewarding part of your job?


Ahh, a trick question! I absolutely love having the flexibility to homeschool my children. As play is increasingly removed from public schools, I feel privileged to support my children as they explore their world imaginatively through free play, which further supports and develops their creativity while building upon their socio-emotional, communication, and co-authoring skills. Furthermore, it’s wonderful to share my expertise of educational best practice and play-based research as I inspire parents to purchase products with confidence and encourage educators to sprinkle in purposeful play.


How do you jumpstart your inspiration when you find yourself stalled?


I engage with the best play experts, my children! While play is the work of childhood, it is also an excellent release for adults. As we age, we’re conditioned to rid our lives of toys and play, but that’s why I love this industry so much–it’s endlessly playful! But when in doubt, look to the children, they have all the answers :)


Thank you for taking time to answer our questions thoughtfully and with a sense of play!


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