Most of us had a favorite game as a kid and we might have regularly spent an entire weekend or summer doing nothing but playing and exploring the world. Eventually, we were encouraged to “grow up” or “be more mature” and play time morphed into work time and responsibility. Local non-profit Inner Child Studio is on a serious mission to help people question our cultural expectations and become a lot less serious. Whatcom County businesswoman and Inner Child Studio Founder, Rachel Andrews, is bringing creative play to all ages and walks of life throughout the Pacific Northwest. She takes her “work” on the road to veterans, the homeless, people with disabilities, and businesses. In addition to being just plain fun, that play is intended to improve health, reduce stress, teach valuable skills, and improve everyone’s quality of life.
Andrews moved to Bellingham from Tacoma about 15 years ago and attended Western Washington University. “A good friend of mine is mentally disabled,” Andrews shares. “She came over and we were playing with Legos and I could see right away that when we were playing, her disabilities seemed to disappear.” Andrews was immediately inspired.
“I always loved Legos and board games when I was a kid, and I loved anything that had to do with design — anything that was miniature-sized,” Andrews explains. “I have a really big Lego collection that I amassed since I was a child. We took the Legos to downtown Bellingham on a Saturday night. Right there on the sidewalk on Railroad Avenue we invited people to play with us. Everyone stopped, from high school students headed to prom, college kids, older folks, everyone of different age groups were playing together. Seeing people respond made me want to keep going.”
In October 2014, Inner Child Studio held its First Annual Lego Build-Off at The Leopold. “Sharing play with other people has been a real joy for me. Just seeing how much fun adults have playing with toys — along with the nostalgia factor — they can kind of forget that they are grownups for a while and let it all go. It’s a really good stress relief,” Andrews notes of why adults are embracing Inner Child Studio.
It’s well documented that play has many positive effects on the lives of adults as well as children. “I did a lot of research. Play helps motor skills, problem-solving, engineering, physics, teamwork, communication — everything,” Andrews explains. “There is a great need for more play in adult lives. We made it our mission to get more people to play with toys. Video games, tablets, and computers are popular these days and so we’re losing that tactile interaction with toys, playing with our hands, and working with other people.” Andrews does most of the work of Inner Child herself when she’s not running her business, Bellingham Wedding and Event Rentals, but she also appreciates the support she’s received from friends and family members. For events, Andrews relies on the generosity of volunteers that sign up online to help.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Inner Child is that the organization brings the play to you. “We go to places like the Max Higbee Center a lot to work with adults with developmental disabilities and Parent to Parent of Whatcom County, which supports families of children with developmental disabilities, delays and health issues,” Andrews adds. “We’re trying to reach out to wherever we can play and help out.”
That help is offered — free of charge — by Inner Child. “We want to keep it that way so we have local fundraising events where a business will donate a portion of sales to us and we have a donation box so people can support our mission,” Andrews explains. Inner Child’s most recent event was a Lego build-off held at Aslan Brewery. Inner Child also offers children’s birthday party packages as a way to keep their service free to local non-profits.
Legos are of course the most popular item Inner Child has on its slate. “But we also have a lot of other options too that are more appropriate for the elderly or someone who might have a hard time grasping small pieces. We have board games, dexterity games that help with balance, a hot wheels track collection, and fossils that can be dug up,” explains Andrews. “We have lots of educational play for kids and nostalgia and team building for adults.”
Andrews has plenty of plans for the future of Inner Child Studio. “Someday we’d like to have an actual location for the studio, but for now, we love bringing the games to wherever they are needed,” Andrews says. “I have been trying to coordinate a game night for our more complicated games. We have some of the new, trendy games that are still easy to learn but they work your brain in more ways than the traditional ones like Sorry or Parcheesi.”
Teambuilding is another area of Inner Child that Andrews would like to expand. Their biggest fundraiser for this year, the 2016 Great Lego Build Off, planned for April 24 at the Hampton Inn will include an Adult League that is inexpensive to enter. Andrews hopes that businesses will enter their own teams as a way to encourage and practice communication, collaboration and camaraderie between coworkers while competing for prizes. While the children’s leagues will be provided healthy snacks, the adult leagues will have access to beer, wine and other snacks to add to the festivity. “We’d also like to bring our games to businesses to help them see that play is a fun stress reliever, but it can also teach you valuable people skills that you need in the workplace.”
Andrew’s Inner Child Studio is encouraging adults to reflect on the expectations in our culture. “We can ask ourselves why we ever stopped playing in the first place. Because someone would think we were a nerd, because of the pressure to grow up,” Andrews explains. “But it doesn’t really matter. People can bring the frivolity and creativity of childhood back into their lives right now and keep it there forever.”