Hannah Carey was looking for that magical balance between motherhood, work and play. With a professional background in preschool and nanny work and a strong connection to meaningful play, Hannah decided to take a chance and start up a children’s toy store with a focus on quality and sustainability.
Hi Hannah. Tell us a little about yourself, your family and your connection to the Barrington Coast.
The Barrington Coast has always been home. I was born in Forster Private Hospital, raised on One Mile Beach, completed my schooling here, and entered early childhood education working in local preschools. I spent about a decade in various areas of Sydney – never truly feeling at “home” – then ventured back to Forster with my two little boys, Alfie and Sebastian, after becoming a single parent. Suddenly I felt at peace and excited to raise my own children in our own paradise. They now attend the preschool I went to as a child – also the first centre I worked in! We call it the “full circle”.
You are a local small business owner, running an online store, Playdreamers. How did this venture begin?
Working in preschools and as a nanny, I always found connection with children through more meaningful play – whether that be adventuring together in nature, creating messy sensory experiences, or through social and dramatic play. When I had my firstborn, I had all the whiz-bang department store toys and was alarmed by just how quickly he was losing interest. I started making a change to the toys we bought and used, sharing with friends, family, and even strangers through social media. I would receive messages daily asking about our toys and books and where I was sourcing them – many commenting that they felt inspired and wishing I’d open a store. With the need to return to work fast approaching, I started to worry about working long days with other children and coming home to my own, drained, and not giving them my whole self.
The thought of owning a toy store quickly evolved from an idea to a dream, until eventually, it was all I could think about. I couldn’t wonder any more, so I started brainstorming names, reaching out to brands that my kids and I loved, and after many months of self-taught web design, branding, and curating stock, Playdreamers was born.
What was your vision for your business, and how do you hope to grow in the future?
I remember how overwhelming it was trying to gather our first collection of open-ended toys. The questions (and products!) were endless.
I wanted to carefully curate a range of products to make this transition easier on others – a store where parents and educators find it EASY to browse, be inspired, and connect with someone they can seek advice from or share their joy with while trusting they were buying high-quality pieces. I wanted to work alongside my children – sharing the things we love with people who share a similar play ethos and those curious or wishing to change the way they play.
Currently, the boys and I pack orders and write thank you notes together – Sebby “boops” all our dolls on the nose for good luck on their journey to their new homes – and they make awesome toy testers! I am constantly adding new products and brands and growing our little community connecting with others through social media.
The big dream for the future would be a storefront, warehouse, and a styled playroom attached, where I can run playgroups and workshops, and customers can freely drop in for a play and a chat.
What products and services does your store offer, and where can we browse your items?
My focus at Playdreamers is quality wooden toys, non-fiction children’s books, and educational resources. I source lots of sustainably produced products – many created by other Aussie mums or small family businesses from around the world. Although I do stock some plastic, I make a conscious effort to find resources that are long-lasting and grow with the child, meaning they’re used for many years and even passed to other kids, rather than breaking and ending up in landfill. We don’t stock anything that takes batteries!
We have a beautiful range of puzzles and travel toys created from recycled materials, felt toys hand-crafted in fair-trade cooperatives in the Himalayas, and an incredible variety of books to blow your kids’ minds!
Coming into the silly season, what products have been your best sellers for gifts?
Silly season, all right! Our first Christmas season since launching in April has been absolute insanity. I have noticed a lot of Petit Collage puzzles flying off the shelves, Grapat wooden toys are being snapped up, books, books, and more books, and we cannot keep our WaytoPlay roads in stock – as soon as they arrive, we’re packing them to post! I have absolutely loved seeing everyone’s orders coming in, filled with thoughtfully selected treasures. I secretly can’t wait to see our wonderful customers’ photos and videos this Christmas!
When you’re not running your busy store, what do you like to get up to?
Alfie, Sebastian, and I love to get outdoors and explore this amazing region – whether that is a day trip to Seal Rocks, heading to Port to pat a koala, racing bikes up Tuncurry breakwall, or rolling down One Mile Sand Dunes. When we aren’t adventuring, you’ll find us hanging out at a local café, catching up with friends and family, or simply lying on the floor at home building marble runs and getting messy with sensory play. It’s a busy life, so when I get time to myself you’ll usually find me curled up with a book or flicking through Netflix — with an occasional night out with mates for good measure!
Thanks so much for having me, FOCUS!