INTERVIEW SERIES | Youngna Park, Strategist, Researcher, Product Leader
Liz + Lizzy sit down with Youngna Park, writer, researcher, Product Advisor, all-around passionate creative to hear about the apps she’s built (and others her kids love), the products she’s researched for NY Mag’s The Strategist (and the ones she’s purchased for her family), her favorite children’s books and the things she always makes or gives as gifts.
Youngna, I first met you through a mutual friend when you were making ceramics while working as a designer for the kids app developer, Tinybop. I remember being so impressed that you were exploring this very tactile, time-consuming, creative pursuit while working full-time in the digital space. And you’ve only continued to expand your work endeavors! You write for New York Magazine’s The Strategist, you speak about kids and tech, you recommend children’s books, you write one of my favorite newsletters, and you’re a mom to two kids. How do you find they inform each other?
I think I’ve finally accepted that I’m a generalist and that not having one thing is an okay way to move around in this world! I think the common thread is to try to go where my curiosity takes me. I’m a fairly extroverted introvert, but having tons of meetings during work days can be really draining (along with having two children), so I think I use a lot of creative side projects to recharge (in a solo way) after spending my “day job” doing a lot of technical and strategic work.
I also really believe in creative momentum—that there are periods for consuming and periods for creating—so sometimes there are months where I’m seeing art, reading, listening to podcasts, and watching movies, and others where I feel like I just need to make stuff.
Tinybop apps Mammals (left), Coral Reef (right)
How has being a parent influenced your work?
I’m really inspired by the worlds of kids and play. Being a parent in 2023 in the US is so... absurd at times. The lack of support, infrastructure, cost of it all....plus the general chaos of being with small, often irrational little people. But, they are so delightful and weird, too. I feel like I’ve learned so much by talking to them, reading with them, and thinking about their questions. So, that also feeds into a lot of what I make/do..
In your Ted Talk on kids and tech, you stress the importance of using the ipad as a medium in which we can help foster curiosity in kids.
I’m just as conflicted about screens as every other parent! Like you referenced, at Tinybop we always talked about how screens are a medium, and there’s good stuff and bad stuff, just like anything else (including books). I don’t mind screen time that asks kids to be active, or follow a storyline and provokes curiosity. It’s less about number of minutes than the level of engagement. Last year my kids watched all 9 Star Wars movies with my husband, which is a lot of hours of Star Wars, but then also were so invigorated over the characters and learning all the storylines and production. So, I like seeing that interest piqued.
ChessKid, Sago Mini School
Tinybop is a great app. What are some other apps or digital content you think do a good job or that your kids personally like?
My kids have played the Tinybop apps, of course, and when they were littler also loved the Sago Mini apps (Sago Mini World + Sago Mini School). They play Chess Kid through their school. My five year old knows an absurd amount about Minecraft, despite only having played it a few times. Ada also plays NYT Spelling Bee with me on the regular. They go on Spotify Kids and make their own playlists for music.
Speaking of screens, managing screen time is one of my least favorite jobs as a parent. Have any tips? I know that’s a big question!
Oof. This is an ever fluctuating topic in our house too! We got so lax over the summer, but during the school year we do Friday movie nights, then on the weekends the kids can do ipad or a few episodes of a show for an hour each day. A lot of it depends on how they handle it when we say it’s time to turn it off. If there are no issues listening/sharing the iPad, etc, we are more relaxed. If they are fighting about it, it’s done, immediately.
There are no rules if we’re flying somewhere. 10 hours of TV? Go for it! As a result of this, and the copious snacks, they think airplanes are the best place ever.
Ha, same here!
You do a lot of research as a writer for the Strategist. You’ve done pieces on the best kids water bottles, how to organize kids’ art and art supplies, the play tents that won’t take over the living room, and so many more. You interview other parents for your articles, and I’m curious if you’ve ever been personally influenced by their suggestions? Have you ever bought something someone suggested? Did it work out for you?
All the time! At least half the reason I like writing those is because I learn about so many great recommendations from people who have amazing taste, have scoured the internet for a solution already, or are an expert on the topic. I discovered Seaesta Surf swimwear via the bathing suits piece, and rediscovered the joy of IKEA through many of Abby Clawson Low’s organizing recommendations. My kids also love the Simple Modern water bottles, which were a rec via a very wise parent. I worked on a t-shirt piece a few months ago and my kids’ favorite tees were recs from that -- Ada loves her Mochi Kids’ Kimchi t-shirt and Julian loves the buttery soft Oso & Me tees.
Knowing how researched you are on all things, I’m flattered that your kids (ages 5 and 7) are Lewis fans! Do they have opinions on what they wear?
My kids are 5 and 7 (or “almost 6 and almost 8,” as they would say) and have been Lewis fans since the beginning! We had your Radish Crib Sheets until our kids moved to twin beds. Julian (5yrs) loves your Geese pattern and is a big sweatshirt guy. Hoodies, crewnecks, you name it.
Ada is extremely opinionated about her clothing, and has been since she was 18 months old. At the moment, she loves tie-dye, denim skirts + jean jackets, attire featuring “cute food,” her Blundstone boots, and is adamantly anti-dresses. She also has a great sweatshirt collection and loves a fuzzy sweater.
You always have wonderful and interesting book recommendations for kids! (I’ve been influenced by your recs more than once!) Do you have favorite baby books you either personally loved or love to give?
I’m obsessed with Remy Charlip, who was an artist, children’s book creator, theater director, choreographer, and more, who made a lot of incredibly clever and weird books for kids. Someone gifted me his book, Fortunately, when I was pregnant and it’s a favorite to give to others (Arm in Arm is another of my kids’ favorites—a hybrid of art book and children’s book). Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis is a longtime favorite that both my kids still love. Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert was a favorite forever. I love the Sato the Rabbit series by Yuki Ainoya. I’ve read Crictor by Tomi Ungerer at least a few hundred times and love all his slightly dark work. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett is also among the most read in our home.
I love hearing what creative people choose to gift friends and family. What are your go-to gifts for friends and family?
For new parents, I like to bake something or drop off food that is easily freezable. Recently I made the Alison Roman raspberry ricotta cake for friends, and dropped that off with a few baby basics and some of the books above. We also have made this delicious Senegalese peanut stew for friends a few times. My other go-tos are silicone bibs, which are the only bibs that actually make sense once your kid starts eating solids. I also love this Fog Linen blanket that we had when our kids were babies and is just the softest and best blanket. Collegien slipper socks are a great gift and the best footwear for a kid who is starting to walk.
For kids, I’m really into art supplies or building toys, which are really the only two groups of toys that I don’t feel like kids age out of. So, Magna-tiles or Duplos for little kids, or Plus Plus blocks, Clixo, and marble runs for slightly older kids. I think high quality colored pencils—like these Prismacolor ones—are a game changer if you’ve only used crappy Crayolas. My daughter is obsessed with these markers called “Marvin’s Amazing Magic Markers” that have a color-changing “magic” marker, and brings them everywhere with us.
You live in Brooklyn, and you value and love the natural world and the outdoors. How do you encourage that love for your kids living in a city?
We are fortunate to live a few blocks from Prospect Park so spend a *lot* of time there and in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. But I think more than that, it’s trying to notice and talk about the changes we are seeing on our block or in our neighborhood. Like, when the crocuses first come up in spring, they are always the first flowers, and now our kids know to look for them. Then we see the daffodils and the magnolias, then the cherry blossoms, then the azaleas. It’s talking about the moon when it’s unusually beautiful, or noticing when the leaves are changing. So, I think we are always trying to point out how things are changing and blooming and shifting here, even though we’re in the city.
And finally, we’d love to hear your recs for visitors! If someone is coming to New York City for the day with their kids, let’s say ages 8 and 6, what are a couple things you would recommend they do or see?
I think about this in terms of itineraries. For a South Brooklyn day, I would recommend Brooklyn Bridge Park, a trip to Books are Magic, then going to Chilo’s in Greenwood for tacos and letting the kids run around. You can walk around Greenwood Cemetery, which is beautiful and has some incredible trees.
My kids are obsessed with Peter Pan Donuts in Greenpoint, so you could also head there for the best bacon, egg, and cheese and old fashioned glazed donuts, then play at Domino Park, then get pizza at L’Industrie or a slice at Upside.
In Manhattan, I’d recommend starting at the Natural History Museum (my kids especially love the gem room and the Hall of Biodiversity), going to eat at Joe’s Steam Rice Roll a few blocks away, then stopping at the Chelsea Waterside Playground on the way back downtown. My kids would probably also request a trip to Kinokuniya, the Japanese bookstore/gift shop, or the LEGO store.
These are great local recs! So many things to bookmark in here. Thank you so much Youngna!!
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