Get to Know the EI Staff: Product Manager, Marcia Gresko!

How long have you worked at Educational Insights?

I have worked at EI for 14 years.

What drew you to working here?

I’m a former teacher. I was a teacher for 15 years. We do materials and products that help kids in the classroom and help kids learn at home. It seemed like a natural extension of what I had done before, but it was also something different. After teaching for 15 years, I was looking for something different as well.

What did you teach?

I taught high school English for 8 years, I taught preschool for 7 years, and I worked in a pull-out program for a year with gifted kids, but I don’t really count that with the 15 years because it was part-time. I still volunteer in a classroom every week. I work for an hour in a local literacy program teaching struggling readers.

What was your favorite toy growing up?

[laughs] If I tell you that, then you’ll know how old I am! Did they have toys? Let’s see, we played with sticks! Well, I can tell you what I remember. Well, I loved skates. I had skates when I was a kid. Back in those days, parents just let you go anywhere. My mother wanted me and my brother out of the house. We skated everywhere. I also loved my hula-hoop. I had a doll that was called a Patty Play Pal that was 3 ft. tall. My uncle was in the toy business; he was a distributor. He got me this Patty Play Pal for the holidays one year…it was huge!

What’s your favorite toy here at EI?

Well, of course, Magic Moves wand. It’s my invention from last year and its fun because it’s deceptively simple. It really does teach kids a lot of things even though you’d think it was just a movement toy. The biggest thing is that kids get up and dance and move creatively, but it also teaches vocabulary. I had a lot of sophisticated vocabulary for the age group it’s designed for. It’s really designed for three-year-olds to maybe five-year-olds. It uses words like slither and soar, but it also uses bounce and jump, which are really simple words. It uses sophisticated words so that they are exposed to some rich vocabulary, which I think is really important for kids.

There are some technical things that as a teacher, if you were to work with kids moving to the tunes that I would actually do that would help kids surprisingly with things like the alphabet. So, if you swim and if you cross what’s called the midline of your body, that’s really that kind of physical activity that is supposed to be good for beginning readers. You move fast, and you move slowly. It’s really just a kind of deceptively simple thing. It’s well designed. I worked really hard with the team here. I worked with an outsider. I’m really proud of it and it’s doing well.

What inspired you to make that? What was your most unconventional inspiration?

What inspired me to make that game was that I was a former preschool teacher, and again, back in those days [laughs], we used records. I used records and I would give the commands like, “Okay, stomp like a dinosaur!”

First of all, it has all the light shows and everything, so it’s not just a command. It has entertaining and colorful light shows. It also allows kids to lead a musical session. It’s not always the teacher in control. So, when we filmed our little commercial here, one of the kids was actually in charge. It really allows kids to build self-esteem and build some element of control.

What’s a typical day like for you outside of work?

[Laughs] Who’s outside of work for enough hours for it to make a difference? The weekends are probably what I can speak to. Around here, we work very long hours, especially during the summer because it’s our busiest time since we’re trying to get product out.

I run errands. I love to bake. I love to read.

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From Inspiration to Conception: Puppet-on-a-Stick

EI toys and games manager Brent Geppert has something up his sleeve — a puppet! Raised on The Muppet Show®, this former college radio DJ and longtime puppet lover puts on nightly puppet shows for his two sons, complete with voices and sound effects.  Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at his award-winning invention: Puppet-on-a-stick!

All kids love puppets, yet most puppets are difficult for kids to operate. I set out to make a puppet that was suitable for little hands: a puppet that would inspire instantaneous puppet show fun.

 

I experimented with various form factors like dry erase, Mr. Potato style pieces, removable hair, fixed hair, bendy arms, no arms, etc. But, after I presented my idea to the team, we all felt that a standalone puppet with no removable parts would be best.

This is the original idea I presented to the team in December 2010.

[First working prototype, January 2011]

I eventually made a second working puppet out of a solid wood ball I purchased at a furniture parts store. After that, I applied a clay skin, added googly eyes, then “bada-boom-bada-bing”: Puppet-on-a-Stick was born!

[2nd prototype, February 2011]

The new prototype was an instant hit with the team.  My manager said, “Make two more faces—and we’ll have a set of three.” So, after some internal “clay-storming,” I came up with two more faces.

These are the final clay and wood prototypes that I sent to our factory for production.

Here are the internal mechanics that we have under “patent pending” status.

[“gray hand samples” from the factory]

These are the puppets that the metal injection molds would be made from.

[Final production images]

Psst! These puppets make great stocking stuffers!

 

From Inspiration to Conception: Magic Moves

Marcia, here. I’m the product manager for Language Arts and Teacher Resources, and I make toys for Educational Insights.

Here’s one I invented last year — Magic Moves. It’s my absolute, all-time favorite.

There are thousands and thousands of toys in catalogs and stores! Where do they come from and how do they get there? Magic Moves started with an idea from my past life as a preschool teacher. For seven years, I read stories, did arts and crafts, dug in the sandbox, turned a jump rope, and “Hokey-Pokeyed” my way about. By far, circle time was my favorite time of day. It was cut-loose fun where we sang, danced, and got the wiggles out assisted (back then) by a tape player!

Fast forward 20 years to working in product development for an educational toy company. I wanted to make something that would make circle time magical, that parents could use to inspire their kids to be active, and that was simple enough for preschoolers to play with themselves.

I put my idea – a talking, musical magic wand that would promote creative movement play – down on a piece of paper and pitched it to the team here. I wish I could say its brilliance cast a spell over them, but it actually took me three tries to convince the group that it would be successful. So, if you think you have a great idea, stick up for it!

After the idea was approved, I hired an industrial designer to draw a picture to show the factory what it would look like.

I worked with a programmer to write a document to show the factory how it would work.

I worked with a musician and lighting designer. He wrote the tunes and designed the light shows that go with them. He also designed this cool simulation to show us how they worked together.

I had taken some wonderful workshops on creative movement and music and wanted to make sure the wand had a variety of musical styles so we incorporated Latin, Afro Pop, and techno or “club” style music.

I also wanted to inspire children to move in different ways so there are slow tunes and fast tunes; heavy, ponderous tunes for stomping, and sinuous, mysterious tunes for slithering. And, that’s another thing. I wanted the children to hear rich vocabulary in the course of their movement play – stomp, slither, and strut, for example.

In the meantime, the factory made me a model so I could test its size with children. It turned out to be too big so they made me a smaller one to test with kids again. This one worked.

Next, the factory made me what we call a breadboard, a circuit board with switches that simulate how Magic Moves would work. It’s kind of weird looking, isn’t it? This helped me test the wand’s programming, lights, music, and speech.

The factory also made me a plastic model with nothing inside. That model was used for photography for the wand’s package which our Creative Dept began designing. They also designed the decorations that add to the wand’s magic – like the stars and swirls.

At this point, the factory made me another model. This model looked like and worked like the real thing only the electronics were outside the toy. It had to be tested and tested some more so that we could determine that it was working as expected.

Finally, in October, everything was ready for production to begin. The factory started making Magic Moves. The first shipment of the toy arrived in our company’s warehouse in December – ready to ship to the toy stores that ordered it. From concept to shelf, it took over a year and a half to develop Magic Moves.

I’m so proud of it I want to ….strut like a peacock!