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September 2009 | Vol. VIII - No. 9
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Learning Resources Keeps Teaching in 25th Year

Educational Toys Supplement Academic Core With Hands-On Learning


“Our products don’t replace textbooks, but they help students become engaged …” Etienne Veber, president and CEO of Learning Resources
In 1984, Jane Woldenberg realized a need in the educational market for hands-on elementary school math products. Her solution was creating Learning Resources, a company that now provides products for teaching math, language, science and classroom organization in pre- and elementary education. TDmonthly Magazine spoke to Etienne Veber, president and CEO of the 25-year-old, Chicago-based company about where Learning Resources came from and where it is going.

Learning Resources started with two people in a garage. Now the company employs just shy of 200 people and develops 80 to 90 new products every year. Twenty-five years later, we are the global leader in hands-on teaching material for the classroom.

Our products tend to be on the premium side — high-quality design and durable. Typically, they teach at the national standard required for the grade level.

CLASSROOM TOYS HEAD HOME

A little over 15 years ago, we realized that about half of our products would appeal to parents who want to provide educational opportunities for their kids, so we entered the specialty toy and home market. The same philosophy and concepts apply — some of our products are more fun and kid friendly, but they all have rich educational content.

In 1994, we established a European division to distribute the large part of our product line that fits the international market. While there are some differences — for example, in Europe, centimeters and meters rather than feet and inches are used — we’ve learned how to deal with that.

In 2006, we expanded for the first time through the acquisition of Educational Insights, a well-known specialty and educational toy company based in Los Angeles. We’ve run both companies in parallel for the past three years and intend to keep it that way. We think we have a unique platform, as both companies provide multiple brands that stimulate kids at school and at home.

CASHING IN ON EDUCATION

One of our evergreen best sellers, which continues to do well more than 10 years after its introduction, is the Teaching Cash Register. It teaches kids calculation skills, how to count money, and how to identify coins and bills. Kids can play supermarket realistically.

The Gears line is a series of products that teaches construction and fine-motor skills. Various models can be built — a cart, a dog — and the child learns the relationships of gears and how force is transferred from one wheel to another.

We conduct focus groups with teachers who use our products, and talk about products, concepts, issues that they face, and needs that they have. Our staff is made up of teachers who’ve been in the educational system and they keep up with pedagogy and classroom focus.

We test with local schools if we have concerns. On occasion we’re not successful, but we’ve been nurturing our product portfolio over the years.

STAYING ON SUBJECT

We have a strong presence in math, reading, science, classroom management and social studies. We intend to stay focused on the 3- to 12-year-old age range. There will be a push on science in the next few years, and we intend to focus on that.

We believe we’re unique in our fidelity to our core values — providing new products every year that must meet a certain threshold, along with customer service. Our products don’t replace textbooks, but they help students become engaged by providing a hands-on learning experience.

We‘re coming out next year with the same amount of products despite the tough economic time. We haven’t reduced our investment.

The above-pictured "Rick" is Rick Woldenberg, chairman of Learning Resources.

Below are some products from Learning Resources:




MSRP: $43.99
Age Range: 5 to 8
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Educational
General Toys
Electronic Games



The multi-button, electronic cash register features a functional coin reader that correctly identifies real and included plastic play coins and a checkout scanner equipped with sound. The game will teach kids coin identification, addition, subtraction and place-value.
— Peg Scholtes, owner of Capitol Kids in Madison, Wis., said this product sells consistently well in her store.
— “I would have sold more of [them] had I not run out, but I thought I had ordered [more] and forgot,” Co-owner Mary Sisson of Kazoodles in Vancouver, Wash., told TDmonthly in early 2008.
— This is a best-seller on imaginetoys.com.
— Two of 43 retailers named a product by Learning Resources, including this cash register, when discussing best-selling playsets in April 2010.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 4384      (added 8/31/2005)
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MSRP: $39.99
Age Range: 3 to 6
SKU or Item #: LER6918
Launch Date: May 2009
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Interactive
Educational
Developmental Toys



Kids can splash into undersea adventures with friendly creatures that engage them in early learning games. It includes a treasure hunt and plays eight children’s songs. They press the gem notes to create original tunes. The mat is designed to keep kids on the move with floor play, or for play on a table. It features high-quality audio, automatic shut-off, adjustable volume and Activity Guide. It wipes clean and is for one to three players. The mat measures 34” L x 30” H and requires 4 AA batteries, not included. Launch date: May 20, 2009.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 24320      (added 6/29/2009)
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MSRP: $19.99
Age Range: 2 to 5
SKU or Item #: LER6701
Launch Date: February 2009
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Preschool
Educational
Developmental Toys



Color Caterpillars are designed as a captivating way to introduce children to colors, patterns and sizes. The big, bright, snap-together pieces are made for little hands to manage as they build cute, colorful, caterpillar friends, develop fine motor skills, and engage in early exploration at the same time. Color Caterpillars encourages creativity with 15 mix-and-match pieces and includes a convenient plastic storage jar. Launch date: February 15, 2009.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 24318      (added 6/29/2009)
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MSRP: $27.99
Age Range: 3 to 6
SKU or Item #: LER9056
Launch Date: February 2009
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Pretend Play
Educational
Candy & Food



Little chefs fill pies, roll cookies and more. This set invites kids to imagine holding a pretend bake-off, making special treats for company, running their own bakery, or entering the school bake sale. It features an egg that cracks open to release the yolk, cookies in four shapes to cut out, and more. The set introduces parts of a whole with a sliceable, three-piece loaf of bread and a pie with three, two-piece slices kids can fill with the included fruit. It comes with 31 plastic pieces, including favorite baked goods, a measuring cup and spoon, and other utensils a baker needs. The rolling pin (the set’s largest piece) measures 8.5” L. "From mimicking what happens in the kitchen at home to imaginative play such as running a restaurant, the Pretend and Play Bakery Set offers a realistic hands-on play experience as well as educational play," Nancy Davies, group account director for Salmon Borre Group, told TDmonthly. Launch date: February 15, 2009.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 24314      (added 6/29/2009)
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MSRP: $47.99
Age Range: 5 to 8
SKU or Item #: LER6962
Launch Date: May 2009
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Educational
Electronic Games
Electronics



Got It Reading & Math Game is a two-sided electronic game with two arcade-style joysticks. Word and math questions appear on the screen and players move their cursors to “grab” the correct answers before they are eaten up by the opponent or the friendly monster (also offers solo play). It features bonus rounds, volume control, automatic shut-off and two headphone jacks that allow quiet play. It includes Activity Guide and an AC adapter is available separately. "This game provides the option of either a reading or a math game, providing immediate feedback and play for one or two players," Nancy Davies, group account director for Salmon Borre Group, told TDmonthly. Launch date: May 15, 2009.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 24308      (added 6/29/2009)
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MSRP: $34.99
Age Range: 4 to 8
SKU or Item #: LER 9212
Launch Date: February 2009
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Construction
Pretend Play
Educational



Kids can name the five figurines and take charge of the day, from writing on the "blackboard" to extra-long recess. This set is compatible with other Gears! Gears! Gears! sets. Kids can follow the color-coded building instructions or use their imaginations. The 60-piece set includes 20 colorful gears, five figurines, playground equipment, a write-and-wipe schoolhouse, a flag, a sticker sheet and a base. All pieces except the cardboard school house are plastic. "Gears! Gears! Gears! School Set is a hands-on educational product that builds fine motor skills while creating positive feelings about school," Nancy Davies, group account director at the Salmon Borre Group, PR agency for Learning Resources, told TDmonthly. Launch date: February 2009.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 23917      (added 5/28/2009)
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Wholesale Price: (Log in to view)
MSRP: $16.95
Age Range: 3 to 6
SKU or Item #: LER-7313
Launch Date: January 2008
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Educational
General Games
Preschool



The plastic play fruits separate into pieces to help children learn number sense, number recognition, counting (one to five) and part-to-whole relationships — a key early fractions concept. The five-piece set also encourages fine motor skills, healthy snacking and imaginative play. Embedded magnets (orange, apple and plum) and friction fitting (banana) make numbered pieces easy to assemble. All five fruits store in 7-3/4" bowl. Launch date: January 2008.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 18462      (added 4/17/2008)
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MSRP: $32.95
Age Range: 3 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Play Sets



Kids enjoy playing school and this pop-up classroom set will give them hours of fun. It includes everything needed for the ultimate pretend classroom: gradebooks, stickers, hall passes, clock, bell, dry erase board, handpointer, crayons, double-sided calendar, double-sided map and much more. Items come in a convenient tri-fold board for easy set up and storage.
— The product “is an example of an open-ended toy that enables kids to use their imaginations. They can make their play whatever they want it to be….Some parents and caregivers use the Pretend & Play School Set to prepare their preschoolers for school,” Kim McLynn of Learning Resources told TDmonthly.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7861      (added 5/12/2006)
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Elizabeth GreenspanWriter's Bio: Elizabeth Greenspan edits and writes for trade and technical publications. She has interviewed and collaborated with some of the top practitioners in their fields. She lives in Philadelphia and travels extensively for her work. Read more articles by this author

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