Tiffney Laing wanted to change the way all kids learn about African American history and decided toys were the best way to reach her target audience. The longtime Ashburn-based educator launched her company Bevy & Dave in 2016 and is developing a line of educational toys with a focus on the positive aspects of African American history and on growing leaders from a young age.
“The company is focused on changing the narrative of black history,” Laing said. “I felt like people should have a holistic view of it instead of it being focused on oppression all the time. People can be inspired by learning about the contributions of African Americans, and hopefully that will help children see themselves as capable because they get to learn about historical figures and relate to them.”
Laing, a former college professor and administrator, had long been concerned about traditional presentations of African American history in textbooks and teaching materials, but when her daughter Beverly, now 7, was born, she decided that teaching through toys made the most sense.
“Children learn through play, and I was reminded of that after having my daughter. I figured if I can give children, parents and teachers alike tools to make this easier, children will be able to get it at a younger age. Before they even get to the textbook, they will already have learned black history in a motivating, inspiring way.”
Her first project, the award-winning History Makers puzzle block set, is an alphabetical block toy featuring famous African Americans along with important concepts like service and commitment. Her latest toy, Inventors Legacy, is a puzzle focused on well-known and less well-known African American inventors, includingGeorge Washington Carver; Frederick M. Jones, who invented mobile refrigeration; Garrett Morgan, who developed an early gas mask called the smoke hood and the three-way traffic signal; Norbert Rillieux, who automated the sugar refining process; and Granville T. Woods, who contributed to the development of the telephone, streetcar and other inventions.
Laing intentionally focused on inventors whose contributions are clear in children’s everyday lives.
“I wanted to make it easy for people to relate these inventions to their everyday lives so people can see that their lives were impacted by people who were brave, who were creative and who were of African heritage so they can see the narrative change,” she said.
The first two toys in the line were developed for preschool and elementary aged children, and Laing says getting the information to them early is key.
“It’s important to do it during their formative years. We want to get them before they get to middle and high school because by the time they get there, they’re already shaped,” Laing said. “I want to help them become remarkable younger.”
Laing, who grew up in California and Buffalo, NY, and has lived in Ashburn for more than a decade, is a former professor of leadership studies and coordinator of student life for Northern Virginia Community College. Her interactions with students over the years helped her see a need for inspiration to develop leadership skills.
“Just imagine what amazing things they can accomplish if we start them off early understanding the concept of what leadership is—that it’s not outside of them that it’s inside them already,” she said.
Her next Bevy & Dave project is a children’s history and leadership book that includes a journal. Laing says all of the toys are tested by Beverly, for whom the company is named, along with Laing’s brother Dave. Beverly has already given her mom important feedback that has helped shape the finished products.
Laing points out that the line also compliments Loudoun County Public Schools’ recent efforts to boost equity and understanding system-wide.
“Having tools like this can be helpful to our community in general,” Laing said. “When we’re talking about equity, it’s more about people not knowing better and just needing more cultural understanding. We’re all products of what we learn. If people have the opportunity to understand that everyone has contributed to the development of our country and our society, there would be less bias and people would feel like we’re more like on family versus having this feeling that someone is less-than. I think having these tools can help with that.”
The toys can not only inspire children of color but also present a more complete picture of history to all kids.
“Everyone should be feeling comfortable learning the stories of other people. It’s not just about learning one story. It’s about learning the stories of how everyone has shared in building our society,” Laing said. “It shouldn’t have to be this uncomfortable thing where you look at a toy that has people of color on it and you feel strange. It should be normal for us to look at toys with different kinds of people and embrace it.”
Both of the toys in the Bevy & Dave line are available at bevyanddave.com. The History Makers toy is also available at a number of DC-area retailers, including Wegmans in Leesburg. Go to the Bevy & Dave website for a list and for more information about the company.