Toy Guy delights BI students just before Christmas

One of the benefits of online learning at Wilkes Elementary School in Bainbridge Island is that every once in awhile they get to learn how to make a toy.

Mr. Toymaker recently showed some 300 students how to do just that right before Christmas.

Rick Hartman, also known Toy Guy or Mr. Toymaker, gave a virtual presentation to some 300 students from Captain Charles Wilkes Elementary School in Bainbridge last Friday, Dec. 11.

“It was a fantastic experience for everyone involved,” said Rick Hartman, who also is sometimes called Toy Guy.

Hartman visited the school in person last year and was asked back by popular demand from students and the Parent-Teacher Organization.

“You never know when you go into a new environment how things are going to go, especially in the virtual world, but one of the things I really appreciated was the teachers and principal felt that the kids were super engaged and that the program was able to maintain the wow factor of a live performance,” Hartman said. “Of course you would rather be live, in the venue, but this was very exciting.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hartman was doing up to 400 shows a year, visiting several schools over the course of a day. He had to take some time to rework his business model, as some of the live programs would be logistically impossible to do online.

“I’ve had to redesign most of my projects so that they can be built without some of the materials that I typically would have in a live presentation,” Hartman said. “It (COVID) was kind of a shock and a challenge and also a disappointment for everybody involved. I’ve become a sort of regular visitor at many schools.”

For the students at Wilkes, they got a virtual tour of Hartman’s workshop and got to learn about the forces of gravity, watch him build a life-size abacus, and learn the history behind some of Hartman’s toys and how they were patented, as well as make some toys of their own from household items.

Hartman’s toys have been featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Discovery Channel and The Ellen Show. All of his creations have their foot in education as prior to becoming Mr. Toymaker, Hartman was a teacher. He put himself through teaching school by creating and selling toys to gift shops in Bellevue. While teaching he also learned how to patent, license and sell his own toys to larger commercial interests.

“About five years into teaching I realized that I loved the peak creative moments of the classroom, and I wanted to really focus on those. So I left teaching and began developing these programs, and I’ve been doing that for twenty-seven years,” Hartman said.

“For me the best part of classroom life was to see when kids were furiously engaged in an activity, learning like crazy and having a great time.”