By Casey Verderosa
Lee Kaltman felt driven by his experience as a teacher to create his educational toy products, Blox. “For the last few years I’ve been toying with the idea of making tactile products because I feel sorry for kids in school that they don’t get to play enough,” he said.
Mars Flying Saucer Corporation develops educational wooden toys that are made from locally-sourced maple from Cortland, NY and shaped and designed by local artisans. They’re designed for open-ended play and discovery. Some have pictures engraved into them and form together into a puzzle, one is a game involving brightly-colored geometric shapes, and most help kids learn math skills in a tangible way that they can manipulate.
Kaltman, a math teacher at Ithaca’s New Roots Charter School, is especially interested in toys that help kids who are “math-gifted.” One such toy is the company’s version of dominoes. Mars Flying Saucer Corporation partners with Challenge Workforce Solutions, an organization committed to assisting adults with disabilities to find employment, to create the dominoes. Employees there drill the holes and apply a coat of mineral oil to the products.
The toy company is a registered B or Benefit Corporation, meaning it considers how its business decisions will impact its employees, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. Two of those “employees” are Kaltman’s own children, to whom he provides opportunities to voice opinions about the business. Kaltman’s mindset is so kid-focused that he let his children come up with the Mars Flying Saucer Corporation name. “They have to be able to think through their own discovery,” he said.