Colorwheel Toys

Interview – Mike Johnson of Playground Dad

Posted on: January 16, 2012

This week, we wanted to find out as much as we could from parents of elementary school aged children. With regards to the parents, we need to understand:

  1. Why they buy certain toys
  2. Which toys their children prefer
  3. How much say the children have in which toys are purchased
  4. Difference in play styles/ interests across different ages and genders

On Friday we met with Mike Johnson, creator of the blog Playground Dad (  From the blog’s about page:

“Mike Johnson is the founder of Playground Dad, a brand dedicated to dads spending better time with their kids. A veteran of the video game industry, Mike has been an expert of online marketing and social media for over a decade. As a founding partner of Next Impulse Media, he specializes in building niche websites for the modern man.

A graduate of Amherst College and a Playground Dad himself, Mike and his wife, Nellie, are the parents of 4 daughters – Ella, Sadie, Lilian, and Cora. They live in Palo Alto, CA”

With his wife often working weekends as nurse, Mike started the website as a place to discuss to discuss things for dads to do with their kids. He found that most dad advice sites were targeted at stay at home dads, not dads with just one day per week or a weekend to do something fun or enriching with their kids. His daughters are 1.5, 4, 5, and 10 years old.

Key Insights:

  1. His wife is “crunchy”/ bay area now, and likes to buy their kids wooden toys. Parents only care about that kind of thing in Seattle, San Francisco. In his community, buying these sorts of things with green materials and packaging makes it feel like you are buying a smarter toy than you would at Toys R Us.
  2. Legos are expensive, but “parents feel good about themselves when they go to the lego store”.
  3.  Lots of imagination is involved in their play. The favorite Christmas present this year was a set of simple foam blocks, which was a last minute addition on the part of the parents. The girls spend a lot of time building up settings and role playing around the blocks. Sometimes they build something up, then knock it down immediately and start again.
  4. The best toys his daughters ever had was a fort kit by Cranium. They built different forts all over the house, eventually wearing out the pieces.
  5. Daughters are into crafts kits, for example Klutz brand products.
  6. The girls also ask for toys based on their branding – they are heavily influenced by ads on tv.
  7. The only products the parents really push back on are Barbies and Bratz dolls, which the girls often ask for. The parents also consciously try to “even out” the amount of overly pink girly products. Mike says that he rolls his eyes a bit when he sees all of the overly girly products his daughters are gifted at birthday parties.
  8. The girls are not interested in the Wii or Kinect because when anything is slightly buggy, they immediately lose interest. They are more interested in games on the iPad, it seems that the tactile response is very important to them.
  9. Adding to the previous point, when toys can be connected to the computer or the internet, if there is any bugginess, the girls are put off immediately.
  10. Their oldest daughter is all about self expression. There is no room left on the door to her room. She has also asked to be able to design her own wall stickers.
  11. Girls obviously want to build – the challenge is to figure out how to do without insulting them, the SIMS got it right by accident, but many other companies have gotten it wrong.

Kids’ Favorite Toys:

  1. fort building kit
  2. foam blocks
  3. tegu – magnets in beautiful wooden pieces
  4. dress up

Next Steps:

  1. Check out that museum where start ups can test out toys on kids .
  2. Look at nickelodeon site and other similar sites to see how they break down/divide by ages.
  3. Check out berkeley mothers group.
“Something I’ve built or engineered while keeping my self expression”
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