Genius of Play Ambassador Spotlight: Marie LaPlante of Learning Resources
May 4, 2021 | Marie LaPlante, chief marketing officer at Learning Resources since 2016, has spent over 30 years leading brand marketing strategy at companies such as Orbitz and AT&T Wireless. Given her relatively recent entry into the world of toys, Toy News Tuesday editors spoke with her about her first impressions of the toy community and her role as a Play Ambassador for The Toy Association’s Genius of Play initiative.
TNT: How did you get your start in the toy industry and what are you doing now?
ML: When you compare my resume to some of my colleagues, I am relatively new to the toy industry, with Learning Resources being my sole endeavor. After my tenure in the tech and services industries, I wanted to try my hand at consumer packaged goods. I knew I wanted to make that shift, but I wanted to ensure that I was also marketing something meaningful.
When I first started talking to Learning Resources, I was excited about their mission of education through fun, engaging play. I come from a family of educators and had raised my daughter with educational toys and books nearby – so I was personally invested in their mission and anytime you can find your work personally rewarding, you are in the right place!
Since joining the Learning Resources team in 2016, I have been a part of many great product launches and initiatives, including having helped transform the company into a digital-first enterprise, which has really set us up for success during the past year and for years to come.
TNT: Why was it important to you to become a Genius of Play Ambassador and what does play mean to you?
ML: The Genius of Play aligns directly with Learning Resources’ mission of helping kids love to learn, so it was a no-brainer to become an ambassador and help spread this powerful message. I believe we become who we are as people through play; we learn through play and we become social through play, so it’s quite literally a key cog in beginning to build someone amazing.
Play is a child’s language, and the child’s “job” – so the job of play is serious business! That said, just because something is serious doesn’t mean we can’t make it fun, and that’s why I enjoy my role at Learning Resources, and now with The Genius of Play.
TNT: Play benefits our emotional and physical wellbeing at any age, so what steps have you taken to make play a part of your daily routine both in and outside of work?
ML: I try to play at work every day and encourage my team to as well; we try to think of it as on-the-job research! Even though play means different things to a child vs. me and my team, the sentiment is still the same. For example, coming up with creative ways to get our adorable learning toys in front of moms and teachers is a form of play for me. I love brainstorming sessions with my team as that is when we get to flex our creativity, our social skills, etc. We also have fun team and company events every month where team members are encouraged to have fun outside of a meeting room.
Outside of work, I try to play outside when I can (sometimes it's difficult in these Chicago winters). Walking outside with friends (with masks on, of course) when it is above freezing is one of my favorite activities. I try to limit my screen-time outside of work, so I only allow myself to binge-watch shows when I’m on my treadmill (even if I’m walking really slowly!) I also love spending time with my teenage daughter. Singing together in the car are among the playful moments I will cherish forever. Of course, when we are not dealing with a global pandemic, I like to view the world as a giant playground, so travel is a big part of our lives. I have been making a list of places I’ve never been before and look forward to being able to start checking them off my bucket list once things settle down.
TNT: How do you think we as a society can better incorporate play into our lives?
ML: Simply put, we need to make it a priority, and by that I mean to be mindful about including it in our daily lives. Play doesn’t have to mean the absence of responsibility, it can simply be an injection of light-heartedness or levity into your day. Have a spontaneous conversation with a coworker or a Zoom coffee date with friends. Whenever we have the opportunity to remind ourselves and each other that play can change lives, we need to take it.
TNT: What is your favorite toy and/or play memory?
ML: This is a hard one, but I would have to say my absolute favorite was playing with dolls as a child. I had quite the Barbie collection growing up and spent many hours playing with them all in my room. I loved the pretend play aspect that allowed me to determine how the story was told, which I think over time spurred my love for creative thinking. Even though I wound up selling them at a neighborhood garage sale to buy myself a bike, I believe there are aspects of those hours spent playing that continue to help me to this day, including helping other moms build their “someone amazing” with great educational toys.
Marie LaPlante is CMO of Learning Resources, Inc., an educational toy company based in Vernon Hills, Illinois. Learning Resources sells more than 1,000 hands-on learning products in more than 80 countries. She is a graduate of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and received her MBA at Northwestern University. Marie has spent over 30 years leading brand marketing strategy at companies such as Orbitz and AT&T Wireless. She is married with a teenage daughter who loves to learn!
This interview is part of an ongoing series that spotlights the members of The Genius of Play Ambassadors program, who serve as play thought leaders within their own professional networks as well as key supporters and spokespersons for ongoing Genius of Play initiatives.