Tiffney Laing has spent most of her life learning about African American leaders. Now she’s turning her passion for history and leadership into a puzzle designed to inspire young learners.
An Ashburn resident, Laing recently released the History Makers Puzzle Block Set, a toy designed for pre-school aged children to learn about African-American history makers. The puzzle set features pictures of some of the 20th century’s most successful African-American leaders, along with historical information, alphabet letters and numbers.
A dedicated educator and faculty member at Northern Virginia Community College in Sterling, Laing said she wanted to find a way to instill a love of history among school-aged students. She said the positive, inspiration effects of retreat-style workshops often fizzle out quickly for adults. Instead, Laing said it was more important to reach people at a younger age to create a life-long passion for learning.
“I wanted something that can be instilled from the beginning because if you can teach them when they’re really, really starting to develop their personality and characteristics, that’s when you got them,” Laing said. ”That’s when you know they’ll get it and live it and have it as part of their life every day.”
Laing realized the best way to reach children was through toys. After conducting a survey with parents that showed books and toys were the best way to educate children, Laing created the History Makers puzzle and a booklet to go along with it that features more than a dozen historical figures.
As the puzzle developed, instead of focusing on time periods of slavery or the civil rights movement, Laing wanted her toy to highlight the accomplishments of lesser known African-Americans in between those time frames. Among the many historical figures, the puzzle includes surgeon Daniel Williams, pilot Bessie Williams and chemist Percy Jullian.
“It’s not about the complaining, and it’s not about looking at African-American history as something where people were victims of slavery,” Laing said. “That’s not where history stands. It’s so much bigger than that.”
Laing is already in negotiations with the recently opened National African American History Museum in Washington D.C. to stock History Makers in its gift shop. She is also looking to market the product to area pre-schools, in addition to selling it online.
Creating the puzzle took several years. Laing works full-time at NOVA, and is also a wife as well as a mother to a four-year-old daughter. Daily she woke up at 3 a.m. to work on History Makers, dealing with everything from creating designs to locating manufacturers. She still follows this tireless routine today.
Laing said creating History Makers, and its parent company, Ancestors & Descendants, was a calling from God. In 2014 she felt called to use her love of African American history and leadership to give back to society. While attending Oprah Winfery’s Live Your Life tour in Sep. 2014, she said she received her inspiration to create her product.
Going forward, Laing hopes to continue developing new toys for Ancestors & Descendants that focus on history and leadership. Eventually, she wants to work full time for her company and one day pass it on to her daughter. In the meantime, she’s grateful for the opportunity to share her passion by teaching others about the accomplishments of her ancestors.
“I feel some people think history is boring or sad. It’s not. It’s all about perspective,” Laing said. “You can’t be a great society unless you honor those who came before you.”
Laing’s company sells the History Makers Puzzle Block Sets on their website https://ancestorsdescendants.com.