Frequently Asked Questions

GIANT TOY SHOWS (including school assemblies and festival, corporate, museum and arts performances):
What’s the difference between a Giant Toy Show and a workshop?
Which show is best for my group?
How large an audience can you work with?
Do we need to provide any special equipment?
Do you need a stage?
What are your performance fees?
How much set-up time is required?
Can we combine a daytime performance with an evening Family Workshop?
How long are your performances?

GRADE-LEVEL WORKSHOPS (curriculum-based, daytime programs held in schools):
How large a group can you work with?
How much do you charge?
How long is the workshop?
What kind of space is required?
How much set-up time is required?
Do you need parent volunteers or helpers?
Do we need to provide any additional materials or supplies?
What grade levels are your workshops best suited for?
How do schools fund workshops?

FAMILY NIGHT BUILD-A-TOY WORKSHOPS:
What is the difference between a Family Night Workshop and a Class Workshop?
Can we combine daytime programs with a Family Night?

We’re thinking of combining a Family Night Workshop with a Pizza Night, PTA meeting or other family function. Will this work?
How large a group can you work with?
How long is the workshop?
What is the best time of day to hold our workshop?
What kind of space is required?
Do you require a stage?
How much set-up time is required?
What are your fees?
Do you need parent volunteers or helpers?
What toys will we build?
Do we need to provide any additional materials or supplies?

ON BECOMING A TOY INVENTOR:
Do you review new toy ideas from other inventors?
Are there any good books or resources about toy inventing you can recommend?
What about invention submission companies?

What is a toy agent and how do I find one?
Should I hire a patent attorney and/or get a patent?
I’m worried about someone stealing my idea. What should I do?
Should I build a model or prototype of my invention?
Do you have any other general advice about trying to market my new toy idea?
My child loves to invent. Can you recommend any good resources?

 

GIANT TOY SHOWS (including school assemblies. festivals, corporate, museum and arts performances):

Q: What’s the difference between a Giant Toy Show and a Hands-On Workshop?
Giant Toy Shows are large-scale performances designed to motivate, inspire and entertain young audiences. They are highly interactive, involving lots of audience participation,”minds-on” learning and FUN. Giant Toy Shows are not, however, hands-on building experiences in which participants construct their own toys. For information on Rick’s Hands-on Workshops, click here. (top)

Q: Which show is best for my group?
All of Rick’s Giant Toy Shows are top-notch educational entertainment, guaranteed to be among the most memorable and meaningful programs your group has experienced. Each performance stands on its own, but can also be adapted to fit particular themes. The Gears of Invention has a strong emphasis on science, technology, invention, the creative process, writing and persistence. Wonderglobe features toys and stories from many cultures, earth science, creativity, imagination and cooperation. Incredibook emphasizes Northwest history, the Oregon Trail, timelines, survival, and the concept of pioneers past, present and future. The Steps to Imagine is an author’s visit that weaves playful poetry, scientific language, and a focus on the writing process to create a memorable mixture students and teachers appreciate. Science with Giants features gargantuan science toys that demonstrate important physical principles studied in the classroom. The Toy That Math Built celebrates math in its many forms–Number, Pattern, Logic, Problem-Solving, Geometry, etc.– and demonstrates the everyday usefulness of math in the construction of a mysterious and magnificent toy.

Many groups are so pleased with Rick’s performances they invite him back year after year to present a new Giant Toy Show each time! (top)

Q: How large an audience can you work with?
Rick is comfortable performing for large or small audiences and will work with your group to determine the best audience size and makeup. Schools typically hold either a single show or two consecutive shows, depending upon available space, schedule, budget and enrollment. Smaller group sizes bring the audience a little closer to “the action” and allow Rick to tailor his presentation to particular grade levels. However, if time and budget are limited, invite the whole school!(top)

Q: Do we need to provide any special equipment?
No. Rick comes prepared with his own professional-quality sound system, microphones, and all other gear required to make your performance a top-quality experience. Host organizations may be asked to provide one or two folding tables for Rick’s performance.(top)

Q: Do you need a stage?
For school performances, Rick typically does NOT use a stage, preferring instead to work at floor level, with students seated in rows on the floor. For festival, corporate, museum or arts performances, a low stage is helpful but not required.(top)

Q: What are your performance fees?
Performance pricing depends on several factors including audience size, travel expenses, number of shows, and program schedule. Please contact Rick for pricing and availability in your area. (top)

Q: How much time do you need to set up?
Rick typically arrives an hour before a performance to set up. He can work around other activities taking place in the performance space, however it’s nice to have 10-15 minutes of “quiet time” for sound checks and final set-up before a show begins. (top)

Q: Can we combine a daytime Giant Toy Show with an evening Family Workshop?
Yes! Many groups have found that combining daytime Giant Toy Show with an evening family workshop is an ideal way to involve the whole community! Ask Rick about his “multi-program” discount if your group is interested in combining programs.(top)

Q: How long are your performances?
Giant Toy Shows typically run 45-60 minutes depending upon program, audience and venue.(top)

 

GRADE-LEVEL WORKSHOPS (curriculum-based, daytime programs held in schools):

Q: How large a group can you work with?
Rick can work with groups as large as 150 students at a time (given enough space in a gym, cafeteria or multi-purpose room) or as small as a single class at a time. Smaller groups tend to allow for more individualized attention and have more flexible space requirements, while larger groups, on average, have a lower-cost-per-student. Rick works with each school to find the best balance of group size versus cost per student. Please contact Rick to discuss your school’s particular needs. (top)
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Q: How much do you charge?
Prices are based on several factors including number of students, number of sessions and distance traveled. In general, the cost per student will go down as the number of participants increases. Rick works with each group to determine the best balance of cost vs. group size, taking into account the age of your students, available space, and budget. Please contact Rick with your school’s specific needs. (top)

Q: How long is the workshop?
Ninety minutes is Rick’s most popular format for daytime, curriculum-based workshops.This offers the most in-depth experience for students at the best value. However, other workshop lengths (e.g., 45-, 50-, 60-, 75- or 120-minutes) are a better fit for some schools’ schedules and can be arranged. Contact Rick with your school’s specific needs. (top)

Q: What kind of space is required?
Every child should have space at a table or desk where he or she can work on their projects. Chairs are optional. It’s also helpful to have space on the floor away from the worktables where students can sit and listen to directions between projects. Space requirements are very flexible. A workshop for two classes (40-50 students) can often be held in a single classroom. Some teams choose to gather as a whole group in one common area for demonstrations and discussions, then go back to their classrooms to build their projects. Larger groups often find it most convenient to hold their workshop in a gym, cafeteria or other large common area, when available. (top)

Q: How much set-up time is required?
Rick usually arrives 30-45 minutes early to set up for a Grade-Level Workshop. He is happy to work around other activities taking place in the workshop space. For very large groups (100+ students), it’s helpful though not required to have a full 60 minutes of set-up time. (top)

Q: Do you need parent volunteers or helpers?
It’s always helpful (though not required) to have a few extra adults on hand during the workshop to help pass out supplies and lend a hand where needed. Parents and support staff often enjoy being part of this super-creative learning experience. Volunteers are invited to join Rick 15-20 minutes before each workshop to help set up the workspace. (top)

Q: Do we need to provide any additional materials or supplies?
No. Rick brings all tools and materials needed to make your workshop a complete success. (top)

Q: What grade levels are your workshops best suited for?
Most of Rick’s school-based workshops are for students in grades K-8. Workshops are tailored to the specific needs and abilities at each grade level. Preschool and high school workshops can also be arranged. Contact Rick for details. (top)

Q: How do schools fund workshops?
Funds for Rick’s school-based programs come from a variety of sources including PTSA grants; field trip budgets; classroom enrichment funds; District Schools Foundations; Arts Commission Grants, private and corporate donors, and contributions from families. Many schools combine resources as well (e.g., a PTSA grant might be “pooled” with contributions from individual students’ families.) Rick accepts payment in the form of checks, credit cards and purchase orders. (top)

FAMILY NIGHT BUILD-A-TOY WORKSHOPS

Q: What is the difference between a Family Night Build-a-Toy and a Grade-Level Workshop?
Family Night Build-a-Toy Workshops are held at night (or occasionally, weekends) and are designed to entertain and engage a wide range of ages from preschoolers all the way up to senior citizens. Intergenerational creativity and play are emphasized. Grade-Level Workshops on the other hand are daytime programs targeting narrower age ranges and specific curriculum topics. Although adults often attend Grade-Level Workshops as volunteers (see below), children are clearly the “stars” of these daytime programs. (top)

Q: Can we combine daytime programs with a Family Night?
Yes! Many schools bring Rick in for daytime assemblies and/or Grade-Level Workshops, then invite families back at night for a Build-A-Toy Workshop. Ask Rick about his “multi-program discount” for booking more than one type of program a day. (top)

Q: We’re thinking of combining a Family Night Workshop with a Pizza Night, PTA meeting or other family function. Will this work?
No problem! Just be sure to add enough time to the schedule to accommodate these extra activities. Food—like toys—is always a big draw! (top)

Q: How large a group can you work with?
Rick can work with any size group, space permitting. Most Family Night Build-A-Toy Workshops range in size from 100-500 participants. Larger and smaller groups are also quite common. (top)

Q:How long is the program?
Seventy-five minutes is the standard evening workshop length, although longer or shorter programs can be arranged. (top)

Q: What is the best time to hold our workshop?
Many groups find that 6:30-7:45 p.m. is the best timeframe for their Family Night Build-a-Toy Workshop. This gives families time to have some dinner before the event and still get students off to bed at a reasonable hour after the workshop. Occasionally groups prefer a 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. start time, which also works well. Rick will try to accommodate any schedule that works best for your group. (top)

Q: What kind of space is required?
The ideal setup is a gym, cafeteria or other large, open area with tables and seats for every participant. Tables should be positioned to permit the best possible viewing of Rick’s demonstration area.(top)

Q: Do you require a stage?
Rick does use a stage for Family Night workshops if one is available. If a stage is not available, Rick adjusts his presentation and works at floor level. (top)

Q: How much set-up time is required?
Rick usually arrives about an hour early to set up Family Night Build-a-Toy Workshops. For extra-large events, a longer set-up time is often arranged in advance. (top)

Q: What are your fees?
Family Night Build-a-Toy Workshops usually include a base price, per-toy charges and travel fee. Per-toy charges are often collected at the door, but can be subsidized in full or in part by the sponsoring organization. As with Rick’s other programs, exact fees for this workshop are based on a variety of factors including group size, number and types of programs being booked, and travel considerations. Please contact Rick for a price quote based on your group’s specifics. (top)

Q: Do you need parent volunteers or helpers?
It is helpful to have three or four adults or responsible student volunteers assist Rick for about 30 minutes BEFORE the Family Night Build-a-Toy Workshop begins. Once the program is underway, no assistants are required since parents/guardians typically work alongside and help their own children. If per-toy charges are to be collected at the door, you’ll also want to arrange for an adult to welcome families as they arrive and collect these toy fees. Often this person is the PTA Treasurer, President, a staff member, or other individual who’s comfortable handling money and making change.(top)

Q: What toys will we build?
This is one of the fun surprises of Rick’s Build-a-Toy-Workshops. Each year Rick visits a site, he brings a different “Mystery Project” guaranteed to delight, amaze and entertain audiences ranging in age from 4 to 104. One year he may bring a whirling acrobat project, the next year a mesmerizing optical illusion toy. Upon request, Rick can provide projects with specific themes or curriculum connections. (top)

Q: Do we need to provide any additional materials or supplies?
No. Rick brings all the tools, materials and enthusiasm needed to make your Family Night Build-a-Toy Workshop a memorable, fun-filled experience for all. (top)

 

ON BECOMING A TOY INVENTOR:

Q: Do you review new toy ideas from other inventors?
A: Unfortunately, no. Rick is neither a toy manufacturer nor a toy agent (a person who represents inventors to manufacturers), so contacting him about your new toy idea won’t be a good use of your time. Because of the legal issues surrounding the disclosure of new toy ideas, please do NOT contact Rick about your new concepts. It is simply not an area of the toy business he is involved in.(top)

Q: Are there any good books or resources about toy inventing you can recommend?
A: Yes! Without question, the most up-to-date and comprehensive book about inventing toys is The Toy & Game Inventor’s Handbook, by Richard Levy and Ronald Weingartner (Alpha Press), available in bookstores or Amazon.com. This 2003 encyclopedic volume is packed full of important information for inventors, especially inventors new to the toy business. Most helpful are the sample contracts, explanations of the various options and obstacles facing inventors, and the list of established toy agents in the field. Fun to read, tons of valuable information, and a healthy “reality check” for aspiring toy inventors.

Another book Rick recommends is The Toy & Game Inventor’s Guide, by Gregory Battersby and Charles Grimes (Kent Press). Although out-of-print, you can still find copies through Amazon.com and other used book sources. This book goes into a little more detail on subjects dear to new inventors’ hearts including non-disclosure agreements.

Another extremely useful book is Patent it Yourself, by David Pressman (Nolo Press) (800) 992-6652. This book covers just about everything you’ll want to know about patents and the patenting process. It is THICK and COMPLICATED reading. But if you really want to learn the ins and outs of patents and don’t want to spend thousands of dollars hiring a patent lawyer, this is the way to go. Rick has yet to find a more thorough, well-organized or approachable book on the topic.

To get a feel for the tough, competitive world of toy inventing, try to find a copy of Inside Santa’s Workshop, How Toy Inventors Develop, Sell and Cash in on Their Ideas by Richard Levy and Ronald Weingartner (Henry Holt and Company) 1990. If you love tinkering and dreaming up playful new ideas, this book will get you excited—and quite possibly depressed—at the same time. The interviews with dozens of established toy inventors are inspiring, however the basic message of the book is discouraging: if you’re not an established professional in the field, you’ve got very little chance of making it in the business.

Two other fascinating books about the toy industry are: Toyland, the High-Stakes Game of the Toy Industry, by Sydney Ladensohn Stern and Ted Schoenhaus (Contemporary Books), 1990; and Toy Wars, the Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie, and the Companies that Make Them, by G. Wayne Miller (Adams Media Corporation), 1998. While not specifically about toy inventors, these books provide an excellent overview of the major players and politics in the toy industry.

Another excellent way to supplement your knowledge of the toy business is to read Playthings Magazine, one of the major trade publications in the toy business. You can get more info about Playthings at www.Playthings.com.

Last but certainly not least, if you’re serious about breaking into the toy inventing business, you owe it to yourself to attend the International Toyfair in New York City. Toyfair is held every February in Manhattan and is the major trade show in the U.S. that brings together manufacturers, buyers, sales reps, inventors, journalists and just about anyone else associated with the toy business. More info about Toyfair is available by clicking here. (top)

Q: What about invention submission companies?
A: Rick has never used an invention submission company and has heard terrible things about them. These are the companies that charge you hundreds or thousands of dollars to present items to manufacturers but rarely if ever deliver results. A good toy agent on the other hand (see below), may be a worthwhile alternative. (top)

Q: What is a toy agent and how do I find one?
A: Toy agents are experienced professionals in the toy industry who specialize in sifting through hundreds if not thousands of toy ideas from ‘outside’ inventors and presenting the best ones to toy manufacturers. Toy agents differ from invention submission companies in a number of important ways: 1) Toy agents specialize in the toy industry, are often established toy inventors themselves, and have years of established contacts within the industry; 2) Toy agents typically do NOT charge inventors for reviewing and/or presenting ideas to toy companies (except in some cases for minimal shipping and/or evaluation fees, generally $100 or less.) Agents make their money by sharing in the royalties generated by successfully marketed products; 3) Toy agents will not flatter you with empty promises and compliments—if they think you have a commercially viable product idea they will offer to represent you—if they don’t see the commercial viability of your idea (and this is usually the case!), they’ll turn it down.

More advice about hiring a toy agent, and a list of established toy agents can be found in The Toy & Game Inventor’s Guide (see above.) (top)

Q: Should I hire a patent attorney and/or get a patent?
A: Rick’s personal feeling is that filing for a patent is NOT one of the first things a toy inventor should do. Because of the short product life-cycle of most toys, patents are often of questionable value in the toy industry. Different inventors and toy companies will have different opinions on this topic. To make the best choice for yourself, read Patent it Yourself (mentioned above). On the other hand, if you have lots of money and not a lot of time, a good patent attorney might be the best route for you to take. (top)

Q: I’m worried about someone stealing my idea. What should I do?
A: For a thorough discussion about disclosing and protecting your ideas, read Patent it Yourself and The Toy & Game Inventor’s Guide, both mentioned above. Both books contain thorough discussions of non-disclosure agreements and related issues. (top)

Q: Should I build a model or prototype of my invention?
A: Whenever possible, yes! Nothing communicates the magic of a new idea better than a looks-like, works-like model! Especially for first-time, ‘unknown’ inventors, it’s virtually impossible to sell a toy company on a new product idea without a working model.(top)

Q: Do you have any other general advice about trying to market my new toy idea?
A: The business of bringing new toy ideas to market is extremely difficult. Rejection is the rule. Unfortunately, there are many great ideas that never make it to market, and many poor ideas that do! Success in the toy industry depends on many factors besides the quality of your idea, including: timing, luck, who you know, people’s moods, how good your prototype is, your ability to communicate, timing, and popular trends. Some things you have control over, others you don’t. Rick’s best advice is to enjoy the creative process, have fun, and don’t quit your day job! (top)

Q: My child loves to invent. Can you recommend any good resources?
A:There are many great books for kids about inventing. Two of Rick’s favorites are: Be an Inventor by Barbara Taylor (Weekly Reader Presents), 1987; and Invention Book by Steven Caney (Workman Publishing Co.), 1985. Another book Rick recommends is Making Things, the Handbook of Creative Discovery by Ann Wiseman (Little, Brown and Company), 1973–while not specifically about inventing, the projects in this book are very creative and lend themselves to elaboration by young inventors. (top)