Educational Insights, Inc., (ToyDirectory) a leader in the interactive/educational toy market, has been in the business since 1962 when founder Burt Cutler, an electronic engineer, and his wife, Diana, decided to develop a phonics course for their own children. Since then, the company has created more than 800 educational toys for children at home and at school. Educational Insights’ primary market is in the elementary schools--its products have been incorporated into classroom instruction since the 1970s.
The bulk of its sales come from school systems and teachers, according to Jim Whitney, the president of Educational Insights, Inc. for the past 19 years. The benefits of interactive/educational toys in the classroom are that they "free up teacher time, [provide] individualized instruction and reinforcement, and kids are motivated by them because they are fun," he said.
Continued student motivation is critical to success while learning the fundamentals of reading, math, geography and science; the main subjects covered by Educational Insights, Inc. through its wide variety of "hands-on" educational games, kits, manipulatives, books, toys, and electronic learning aids. Its products are most popular with the 5 to 8 year old age group, a period of time when good learning habits and healthy self-esteem are being formed.
Since the days of renowned educational pioneers Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel and Maria Montessori, educators and psychologists have touted the role of toys in the mental, social, emotional and physical development of children. Learning toys (interactive or electronic learning aids) such as those created by Educational Insights, Inc. allow the student to feel good about themselves as they learn how to use the toys, respond within the rules of the toy, master the skills of the game and receive positive reinforcement with correct answers. An additional perceived benefit is the "cross-over" skills that can be transferred to the use of computers.
Examples of some of the types of its educational toys include interactive maps, books, CDs and audio tapes, laptop-like learning tools and novelty-shaped keyboard-type devices. Accolades for its products come from many parent and teacher groups, including the Parents Choice Foundation. A partial list of its award-winning products includes: Antzone, Blokus, GeoSafari, GeoSafari USA Search, Design & Drill Activity Center, Ice Age Dig: Saber Tooth Cat, Learning Circle, Star Gazer Planetarium, States and Capitals Video.
Some of its newest interactive products include Alphabet TRAINer ($16.95; K and up), GeoSafari Quiz Phone ($24.99; K and up) and GeoSafari Talking Globe ($99.95; 8 and up). And company president Whitney is excited about a new batch of upcoming products.
"Most notably a new version of our best seller, Classroom Jeopardy! ®, which allows teachers to create real Jeopardy! games to match their curriculum. The new version will enable teachers around the world to share via the Internet, Jeopardy! games that they and their students have created," he said.
While new products are being developed by the company and embraced by many educators across the country, one hurdle to the inclusion of more of Educational Insights, Inc. products into the classroom is the "marketing drawback" according to Whitney.
"We design products around serious classroom instructional principles, but sometimes people associate them with better known ´toys.´ [The] depth and quality of instruction are often not immediately apparent and require spending time with the product to appreciate," said Whitney.
The debate about whether interactive/educational aids are learning tools or just toys continues in some academic circles. Some of the confusion may lie in the use of the term, "toys." By definition, a toy is described as a noun meaning " an object for children to play with" according to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language . Therein may lie the potential contradiction (and confusion) in describing interactive/educational toys produced by many of today´s toy manufacturers. While these toys are definitely objects used by children, the "playing with" may rankle the makers of these toys and the educators who believe in them.
What are now loosely called interactive/educational toys might better be referred to as tools--not toys--especially in the case of Educational Insights, Inc. The interactive/educational "toys" created and produced by the company are much more than simple playthings. This company may in fact, manufacture interactive toys if your definition includes toys that respond to students´ input, but its major focus has always been and will continue to be on the educational benefits of these "toys."
Sales for Educational Insights, Inc. reached the 21.2 million mark for 2003, and the company is looking for continued strong sales for years to come.