Former teacher opens only educational and sensory specialty toy store in Aroostook

10 months ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A new store specializing in sensory and Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math toys has found a niche market in Presque Isle.

Former prekindergarten teacher Jackie Cyr recently sold her day care Planet Recess in Presque Isle to establish Imagination Station Fun Zone, which opened on July 29. Cyr retired this year after teaching for 23 years at various schools around the United States.

Sensory toys are used for teaching language and social interaction skills while developing imagination in children who have developmental disabilities such as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Imagination Station, which sells primarily STEAM toys, is the only store of its kind north of Bangor. The store comes on the heels of Aroostook’s first inclusive playground, which opened last month in Stockholm.

“More and more parents are getting to know the benefits of [STEAM toys] and now they are seeking that,” Cyr said.

Cyr used personal savings to purchase the store, rather than taking a loan out through the city. She just wanted to provide fun educational toys for kids to learn as they play and prompt them to ask questions through problem-solving, she said.

The STEAM and sensory toys are for children in an age range from babies to 12 years old with some toys geared toward high schoolers as well. If there’s something a parent requests that Imagination Station doesn’t have, Cyr will search for it to carry in her store, she said.

Cyr said she had difficulty shopping for sensory or STEAM materials to teach in her classrooms.

“Some of [the toys] that we offer are based on mental health as well as kindness mission boxes and gratitude boxes,” Cyr said. The kindness and gratitude boxes have activities in them centered around those themes.

Other items in the store are “centering cards” to help regulate daytime or bedtime emotions, and conversation cards to open up communications between children and their parents while developing the children’s emotional literacy.

Cyr tries to keep her prices reasonable in Imagination Station with the most expensive toys priced at approximately $40 to the lowest at $2. It was more important for Cyr to give local kids access to STEAM and sensory toys without their parents having to travel outside of Aroostook County, or order them online, she said.

Imagination Station Fun Zone owner Jackie Cyr (left) gives a tour of the sensory play room located in the back of the store to Easton residents Chelsey White (middle-center) and Kaylee White at 295 Main Street in Presque Isle on Tuesday, August 1. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

There’s a sensory play area in the back of the store. It has soft floors and four play bins that Cyr made on different themes, such as a sensory slime pit where children can connect with nearly all of their senses, including touch, smell, sight and hearing.

There are independent and group play opportunities as well, she said.

“We’ve actually traveled to Bangor for stuff like this before, so it is nice to have it [available] locally,” said Chelsey White of Easton after purchasing some STEAM toys.

White found out about Imagination Station through the toy store’s Facebook page and didn’t recall having a toy store like it in the area. White was in the store on Tuesday, Aug. 1, to shop for three different birthday parties, along with her own kids as they explored the store close to White.

Imagination Station is open year-round except for the week after Christmas and offers birthday party events on Sundays.

“I know that the sensory [toys] were a huge hit,” Cyr said. “Everybody that came on Saturday was super excited to see that because there’s definitely nothing around like that.”