Melissa Pia Bossola Beese is Elizabeth Street’s favorite kind of momtrepreneur. The New Orleans-based mom of two was inspired to start Little Pnuts, a subscription toy service, after her first son was born four months early. To ensure he was hitting every developmental milestone, she had to carefully watch her premature child’s development. In the process, she discovered that the toys kids used most often—the light up, noise-making, press-a-button-and-watch kinds—actually limit creativity and learning. “Kids need first-hand engagement. They need to manipulate objects physically, engage all their senses, and move and interact with the three-dimensional world,” early childhood development expert Nancy Carlsson-Paige told the Washington Post. “This is what maximizes their learning and brain development.”
But Beese’s path to Pnuts wasn’t exactly easy. Finding toys that encouraged child development took a lot of travel—and a fair bit of obsession. Now, her company brings eco-friendly, organic, and educational toys to your home via a quarterly subscription service. Read on for our exclusive interview. —Hally Wolhandler
What did you do before Little Pnuts?
Before I got pregnant, I was working for an advertising firm in L.A. overseeing print media for DirecTV.
How did you become interested in toys?
It all started when I was pregnant and working long hours. I started to have severe difficulties with my pregnancy—I was put on bed rest and I had to take time off from work. My son ended up being born four months early. He remained in the NICU for three and a half months and was on oxygen far longer than most preemies, which normally leads to issues with sight and brain development… I ended up losing my job to take care of him—he required daily activity and supervision at every moment. He was also born with a brain bleed so we had to stay on top of all his development: fine, gross, cognitive, social, verbal, and sensory up until he was three. It was through carefully monitoring every developmental milestone with the therapists that I came to learn the importance of toys. Before they’re five, children really learn through play. We were told that there would be no plastic toys in my son’s future. We couldn’t use walkers and other toys people normally use—he had to develop his muscle tone. He couldn’t use toys where you just press a button and are entertained—we needed toys that made you work with them, so that he could develop thinking patterns. A lot of these kinds of toys really can’t be found here in the United States—most of the toys at big brand toy stores are the plastic toys that do all the playing for you. My husband and mother are from Europe, so I started researching toys that were sold there and having my family ship them to me. I became obsessed with finding these toys. Every time I went to Europe, I would pack a suitcase within a suitcase and fill them with toys to bring back. By the way, my son is now five-years-old and has no developmental issues.
Why did you start Little Pnuts?
The idea came to me when I signed up for a subscription company with the birth of my second son. I felt like a subscription company for toys was missing. I was already obsessed with toys, and I had a background in subscriptions, and something clicked. Then my sister-in-law visited from Germany and told me about this toy fair that was happening in Germany—it’s the biggest toy fair in the world, and she said I should really take a look and see what it was all about. So I went! I had a business card created and a landing page for the website and I pitched my idea to vendors at the toy fair. Thirty-five different brands were on board… In the end, when I look back on it, having my premature baby was the biggest blessing in my life because it allowed me to develop something that I’m completely passionate about. He guided me to something I never would have considered prior to his birth.
How does the company work?
We are a subscription program that is quarterly—which makes us a bit different from all the monthly subscription programs. Every three months, we send out a Special Delivery of age-appropriate toys. The toys are all organic, eco-friendly, naturally, and sustainably made.
So what kind of toys are these, exactly?
In our Special Deliveries we have toys that make music, but the child has to rattle it, or crank it—not just push a button. We have all sorts of puzzles—puzzles that are towns, cars that can be taken apart and put back together again. They’re all toys that you can interact with, blocks, stacking toys, games, and role-playing toys. They’re back to the basics—toys that foster imagination, that create characters and stories, so that they’re constantly using their imaginations.
What are some of your plans for the future?
We’re working with Lighthouse Louisiana, which is a nonprofit organization that serves the blind. Starting with our March deliveries, all of our packages will be put together by people with sight challenges.