Tree Blocks at Toy Fair
Lander Oppen is continuing his late father Karl Oppen's commitment to helping children grow, learn and thrive via Tree Blocks, the construction toy company created in 1995 as one of the first in the U.S. to offer toys and games made from reclaimed, recycled and sustainably harvested wood.
"As a child I played with these toys daily and I’ve helped make them my whole life," said Oppen at the Toy Industry Association's 114th North American International Toy Fair, which closed Tuesday at the Javits Center. "Watching my father invent and create, I have always known and felt the importance of Tree Blocks and his dedication and commitment to children—which has been the biggest inspiration in my life."
Each set of Tree Blocks is unique, being cut individually from sustainable trees. The sets consist of horizontal and vertical shapes, with the vertical pieces precisely cut in two-centimeter increments.
"This allows them to be stacked so that children learn basic math concepts and spatial reasoning as well as construction skills and physical balance," said Oppen, explaining that supporting a horizontal piece with two vertical columns, for instance, requires that the columns be the exact same height, though they can be constructed with different-sized pieces so long as the pieces in both columns add up equally.
"The idea is to have fun—but you can't help but learn because math is involved," said Oppen.
Based in Santa Barbara, Tree Blocks commenced full production in 1996 in Mexicali, where citrus wood was used when water scarcity caused farmers to shift from citrus farming to vegetables. In 2001 the company expanded into Poland, where elder wood was sourced from paper production.
Six years later Tree Blocks opened a factory in Vietnam, where laws demand sustainable forestry. A workshop in southwestern Wisconsin launched in 2011 and uses ash, maple, cherry and walnut woods fashioned in a non-electric sawmill, with discarded off-cuts used to make planks.
"We use only materials that are of the lowest environmental impact possible—95 percent from sustainable sources," said Oppen, "and we use only non-toxic, child-safe finishes, testing each toy for safety before offering it for sale."
"And we teach math by making it fun!" he re-emphasized.