T-Mato Teacher-Made Toys

tmatotoys11My mom often shares this story about a guest in our lake house in Caliraya that’s always good for a few laughs.

The visitor was a little two year old boy who found great joy from his parent’s iPad and all the wonderful learning games they had installed in it for him. But because Caliraya is up in the mountains, the internet signal was spotty and made the iPad’s features not work the way they should.

“Waiiiiii-faiiiiiiii,” the adorable child lamented to his mother. “Sorry, son,” his mom said. “The wi-fi signal here is weak. You won’t be able to play your games.”

When he resigned himself to his fate — in between sniffles and huffs — he promptly did what every child instinctually does best. He turned it into a chew toy. He began to gnaw on the electronic tablet’s corners and entertained himself with its bounty of flavors.

I share this story because I’m always fascinated to learn how children of this generation adapt to the toys we give them. Which is why I was especially curious to learn more about about T-Mato, a locally-made toy brand designed by pre-school teachers. Unlike your usual Toys R’ Us finds, T-Mato believes in creating toys that empower parents to become their child’s first teachers.

tmatotoys1I asked Gretchen Varela, one of the founders of T-Mato, to share with my readers what makes their toys different from others in the market. If interested, I’m offering a few of T-Mato’s toys to local parent bloggers to review. You can read more about this offer at the end of the post.

Cat JL: Hi Gretchen, who are the people behind T-Mato?  

Gretchen Varela: We are two Preschool Teachers who started working together 5 years ago, we have different gifts and talents but share the same passion for kids. Ironically, we both earned degrees in other fields but stumbled upon teaching and eventually became happy and fulfilled preschool teachers.

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Color Popsicles: (1-3 yrs.) Targets color matching, color recognition, and color identification.

What is your background with children? 

I discovered my love for teaching when I was invited to attend a Kindermusik trial class with my two children in Manila. I couldn’t stop thinking about bringing Kindermusik to Bacolod City, so I eventually became a licensed Kindermusik Teacher and then later on, became the teacher of the Toddler and Pre-Nursery Class in Lamblight Catholic School, Bacolod City. During that time, I took up courses in Early Childhood Education at the University of St. La Salle. Within 5 years, I’ve grown in my love, passion and commitment to teaching little children, and am still currently teaching 1-3 year olds.

My partner, Teacher MM Cusi, also discovered her love for teaching way after she graduated from college. While working in Manila, she realized how she enjoyed being around kids. She decided to volunteer in a preschool in Makati to try her hand in teaching. Luckily the school needed an assistant teacher who could draw so they took her in. She enjoyed her teaching experience in Makati so she decided to continue doing so when she returned to Bacolod in 2008. She worked as a Nursery Teacher in Lamblight Catholic School for 5 years while slowly earning Masteral units in Early Childhood Education and became a licensed teacher.

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Stickies: (3-7 yrs.) Targets shape recognition, identification and matching.

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Stickies: (3-7 yrs.) Also targets fine motor skills and encourages creativity.

Why the need to create this toy line? 

As preschool teachers, we continuously search for various materials or toys that will help our students master skills effectively. The idea started when I was planning for the new school year and wanted new materials to offer my Toddler class. Knowing that these materials were not available in the market, I decided to make them myself. Although I was able to successfully make some materials, a lot of my other ideas fizzled because of the limitations in supplies and manpower. I then saw that there was a need for such toys in the market.

With a lot of research and testing, this idea produced T-Mato, short for Teacher-Made Toys. With every toy that we designed, we thought about our students and what has worked for them in our experience. Then, we thought about homeschooling moms, hands-on moms, other teachers and preschools that could benefit a lot from these materials too. We loved the idea of empowering moms to become their child’s best teacher through our products.

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Loop Bands: (2-5 yrs.) Targets fine motor skills, self-help skills, sorting objects, and patterns.

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Shape Beanies: (1-3 yrs.) Targets shape recognition, shape identification, shape matching, and sensory stimulation.

What makes T-Mato different from other toys in the market?

Unlike most toys out in the market today, T-Mato products do not entertain children. Instead, they engage them in long periods of play, that through repetition, will enable them to master specific skills.

As teachers, we have a checklist of skills that children need to learn at different levels in preschool. And just like in school, our goal is to make sure that we provide toys to help children master all of these skills in a very engaging and fun way.

T-Mato products are designed and created by teachers who have had years of experience in using the most effective ways of teaching. Each toy is thoughtfully and strategically designed to help children succeed at their own levels. Depending on how creative and patient the mother or teacher is, a child can learn many other skills through each of the toys. We make sure that these skills are clearly printed on our packaging to help Moms and Teachers know which toy their child could benefit from the most.

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Color Beanies: (1-3 yrs.) Targets color recognition, color identification, and color matching.

What age ranges are T-Mato toys best for?

Each product has a specific age range, which are clearly printed on the packaging. But in general, T-Mato products are for preschool-aged children (1 – 5 years old).

Are the toys designed to be used for various activities? Are there more details in the instructions? 

Each toy has a few variations of play. So depending on what skill you want your child to master, you will find a variety of activities that are described step-by-step on the instructions.

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Stringing Beans: (2-7yrs.) Targets color identification, color matching, patterns, color recognition, and fine motor skills.

What are the toys made out of?

Our products are made of different materials like fabric, wood, paper, etc. and they are mostly handmade or assembled proudly by Negrenses.

How long are they made to last? 

We have placed guidelines in our instructions on how to use the toys respectfully and safely. As long as the toys are properly used and stored, T-MATO products will last long after your child has mastered the targeted skills. It may even last long enough to be used by your child’s younger siblings!

Do you have any success stories from children using T-Mato products?

One of the first Moms who purchased all of our products, expressed how grateful she is for being able to buy these toys and not have to make them herself because she believes these are very helpful to her child.

Other Moms have told us how engaged their children are in playing with our toys and how they have truly mastered the skills that our toys were meant to teach. We look forward to hearing more feedback from our customers, both positive and negative so that we could continue to improve our products.

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Movement Dice: (1-12 yrs.) Targets gross motor skills, following commands, vocabulary, reading.

What other goals do you have for your brand? 

Another dimension to our vision is to partner with other teachers in designing toys that they find most useful or effective. It’s like sharing our best practices among each other to help a wider scope of children. We do not want to limit our clients to our own knowledge and experience and so we are opening up our business to teachers who are willing to submit designs for effective teaching materials. After these toys are approved and produced, they get to earn a commission for every toy that they designed that is sold.

As teachers ourselves, we know that teaching is not a very financially rewarding profession. So it is our hope that in this way, T-Mato could be a blessing to other teachers as well, in helping them earn passive income, while they continue to do what they do best, which is teaching and loving children.

How can people purchase your toys? 

Our business is very new and so for now, our clients may contact us and place their orders through our Facebook page, or through email: teachermadetoys@gmail.com.

We can ship anywhere in the world, but shipping costs will be added on top of the selling price of our products.  We try to keep our prices low (around 100-550 pesos a toy) so that more children may benefit from them.

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Movement Dice: (1-12 yrs.) This is also a great way to get your children outdoors.

T-Mato and I would like to offer three parent bloggers in Manila a chance to receive and review one of their toys. This is a great way for my readers and I to learn more about your sites. The instructions to join are super simple.

1 Leave a comment with your blog site. Let me know which toy you’d like to review and why. 

2 I’ll contact my three winning choices via email by October 1.

3 We’ll then coordinate for pick up of the toys around the Metro Manila area. 

For more information about T-Mato you can email them at teachermadetoys@gmail.com or contact them via Facebook.

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