ENCINITAS — The teachers at Ada Harris Elementary School have succeeded in doing something that isn’t easy to achieve: they have created a tradition.
That tradition is the sixth grade Toy Fair.
How do you know it has become a tradition? Just ask Kai Murphy.
Kai, along with friends Oliver Hughen and Mark Kazmierowicz, is the co-creator of “Boxed Boards,” a collectible miniature skateboard set that was one of the more than 60 toy concepts on exhibition Dec. 15.
“So we have known about the toy fair,” Kai said, breaking his thought in mid-sentence. “Well I’ve know about it since the third grade, because my brother did it when I was in the third grade.”
Students have been looking forward to this moment for years. That is when you know that you’ve created a tradition.
“It’s become an institution, something that kids are looking forward to watching their older siblings do it,” said Matthew Jewell, a sixth grade teacher at Ada Harris who has been a part of the tradition since its inception in 2013. “We all look forward to it.”
Much like previous iterations, the fair is the culmination of a semester-long project in which each 6th grader, either by themselves or in a group, had three months to design a toy, develop a prototype and create the marketing materials to make the case that their toy would be a hot seller this holiday season.
The project touches on multiple disciplines, including mathematics (the students had to show in graphic form how they arrived at their price point), writing (each student had to write a letter to a CEO of a major toy or department store pitching their product) and, of course, design and engineering.
More important as the finished product is the process, Jewell said. The students had multiple deadlines along the way to show their progress, and received guidance from teachers to help evolve their concepts from prototype to finished stage.
The teachers also brought in local toy designer Mark Rappaport, the Escondido Toymaker behind the “Marky Sparky” toy line, to provide guidance for the kids.
Rappaport, who also attended the 2014 installment, suggested that the teachers continue to refine the focus of fair, giving students finite materials to work with. Rappaport also suggested that rather than the students following trends, they should create toys that set trends.
“I’m a small toy maker, and if I try to follow trends, I’ll go out of business,” he told a group of teachers before the fair.
But the focus of the event, as always, was the long hallway that has become the traditional exhibition grounds full of large presentation boards, wide-eyed kids and curious parents stopping by each of the projects and asking questions of the creators.
Each year, the students tap into the zeitgeist of the trends in that era, making each fair unique.
For example, Nika Fields and Morgan Mullins drew inspiration from the subscription box phase (you know, when you get food or razors sent to your house for a monthly fee? That’s the one.) and created a kid-friendly baking box.
The box, as Morgan tells it, comes with all of the ingredients to make a dessert from a foreign country — in the case of their prototype, German gingerbread — and includes a toy from the country and a “while you’re waiting” where the subscriber can find facts about the country.
Johnny Townsend took inspiration from the bottle flipping craze that swept across the country this year by creating a card game in which contestants draw cards containing flipping tricks of varying degrees of difficulty and score points by successfully performing the tricks.
“I didn’t know any water bottle flipping card games so I thought it would be a unique idea,” Johnny said.
Then, there are other trends that you see at each of the toy fairs, but kids put their own special twists on them.
Collectible figurines have been a staple of the first three fairs, and this year’s fair had the cute (see Lena Daitch, Fortune Latrale and Uma Foster’s “Critter Corns”) and the novel, such as Mallory Oien’s “Jar O’ Pickles,” plush pickle figurines that you can collect and trade with your friends.
And, as usual, there are some toys that are unique in their own way.
Rather than a toy, Bryn Lackey created a line of design-your-own night lights, fittingly titled “Design the Night.”
“I loved mermaids, so I said, ‘I wanna do something with mermaids,’ so, yeah, I came up with this,” Bryn said.
When asked what made her come up with the idea of a nightlight, she gave us the source of her inspiration.
“Actually, I have to give some of this credit to my mom,” she said.
Zach Hertz and Devin Owen created what they believed is the world’s first surfboard-and-detachable-skateboard combination.
“We looked around on the internet and couldn’t find another out there,” Zach said when the partners were asked how they knew the concept didn’t exist.
Jayden McCartney, who created a vintage large-scale two-sided marble maze, found that his concept was so unique it was difficult to find toys on the market to compare it to for pricing purposes.
“When doing that, I compared it to a lot of other toys, but there weren’t many toys like mine,” Jayden said.
All of the amateur toy makers, in the tradition of their predecessors, learned another valuable lesson — perseverance. Almost every one of them remarked that it wasn’t easy making a toy.
“I would have to say that it’s don’t give up,” said Claire Edwards, who designed a large-scale sail-glider that was one of the largest prototypes on display. “At times it was very hard, but you don’t give up, you keep trying and you’ll succeed.”