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Why I Love My Neighborhood Toy Store: Their Game University
by Jennifer Auvil   |   November 3   |   0 Comments
The summer of 2013 will forever live on in my memory as the summer of Sleeping Queens, a card game made by the company Gamewright. Every morning, my 2 oldest daughters (then 6 and 4) woke up and we played, often before breakfast, squeezing in a round or two of the quick-moving card game before swim lessons, summer camp, and work. We took it to the pool, on vacation, and on a visit to the grandparents’ house where we lost the Pancake Queen, setting off a serious search party until she was discovered wedged in between some couch cushions. The game reinforced math skills, reminded everyone about good sportsmanship, and even fueled a few inside family jokes and talk of dressing up as the characters depicted on the cards for Halloween.

We probably bought 9 copies of the game for friends and relatives for birthdays, thank-you gifts, and for no reason at all. And they all loved it just as much as we did. But here’s the thing—we would likely have never discovered this game on our own, if shopping at a big box shop or online. Instead, we have our favorite neighborhood toy store—aMuse Toys—to thank for these memories, and many, many more.
We first played the game at the weekly Game University at aMuse Toys. Their weekly game night started as a reprieve from the summer heat. And then a few weeks in, it became a standard part of our weekly line-up—every Wednesday, we arrived, smelling like sunscreen and ready to master some new games. The staff set up tables for preschoolers through tweens and their parents all around the store, manned by team members skilled in the games. We played Spot It, 20 Express, ChickyBoom, Wig Out, Dweebies, Goblet Gobblers, and Pengoloo. We slapped our way through Slamwich, performed simple calculations while rolling math dice, and spun tall tales with Rory’s Story Cubes. We worked on spatial reasoning playing Swish and stacking Animal upon Animal. And, week after week, I realized that my kids were getting more out of playing games than they would have from any summer workbook.

When the school year started up again, and the polar vortex settled in for entirely too long, my oldest daughter asked if I could buy a game for her class for indoor recess. Each afternoon for nearly 2 weeks, she taught a new group of first graders how to play Wig Out, with tournaments of winners from each round progressing to the next day. My reserved daughter was spearheading this school day initiative, and also raising her hand more in class in general her teacher mentioned.

I had always liked aMuse Toys; after that summer of games, it was nothing short of love.
Baltimore locals are lucky to have not one but two outposts of aMuse Toys, one downtown in Fells Point and the other at a shopping center in Quarry Lake.

And there are more then games to love at both locations. Shelves are lined with an endless selection of creative building toys and art activities, trains and cars, baby dolls and dress up gear, scooters and ride-ons, outdoor toys, and one of my favorite kids’ book selections in town. If somehow you don’t find what you’re looking for on your own, there’s always a staff member nearby happy to make suggestions.
It is our family’s go-to spot for birthday presents—for our friends and even ourselves thanks to the $5 birthday club certificate that arrives just in time for the special day. Each of my kids has a favorite spot to head to when they get to the store. Seven-year-old Olive peruses the rack of charms and bracelets for any new additions before moving on to the craft section. Five-year-old Millie takes a few tries on the marble run before building with Magna-Tiles on the light table. And my rambunctious toddler Bea pokes her head behind the counter to greet the staff and then takes off running, as her to-do list is clearly the longest. She checks that all the balls are appropriately bouncy and she leaves no stuffed animal behind in a long line of hugs. She tears things up during Mother Goose on the Loose (yep, the staff is certified to run these interactive music and story times), and takes plenty of breaks from the actual story to check that all of the trains are arranged on the train table just so.

And whether following the rules or not, she always feels perfectly at home at aMuse. We all do.

About Jennifer Auvil

Jennifer Plum Auvil is a freelance writer and editor whose articles have appeared in a number of online and national publications, including The Washington Post, Go magazine, Destination Hyatt, Baltimore magazine, and the Travel Channel’s website. She is a contributor to the blog She lives in Baltimore, MD, with her husband and three daughters, and her favorite card in Sleeping Queens is most definitely the Rose Queen.

Images courtesy of aMuse Toys' Facebook Page.

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