Get to Know Us! Featuring Product Manager, Nancy Balter

How long have you worked at Educational Insights?

I started here in 2005, so eight years.

What drew you to working here?

I was a teacher. I had been a teacher for 11 years and I really enjoyed it, but I was ready for a change. I wanted to stay in education, and I found this job off monster.com and it looked interesting. That’s how I wound up here!

So, you taught math and science, right?

Yes, 7th and 8th grade. It’s fun because the kids are old enough to talk and interact with the teacher, but they’re young enough to come running into the room and say, “What are we doing today, Mrs. Balter!”

What was your favorite toy growing up?

It might have to be my stuffed rabbit, Marshmallow, which I still have in my closet.

What’s your favorite toy here at EI?

My current favorite might be the Solar System Mapping Tool, just because that’s my idea. I find it useful, and I think it’s fun and cool to take your class out. I love the idea that you instantaneously understand relative distances in the solar system with it.

In terms of my kids, my favorite toy is the Wonder World Map. It’s a gigantic map with velcro locations that you take on and off; it’s a map of the world. That thing has been growing with my kids since day one. As babies, it hung over the changing table, so when they were frustrated with their diaper changes, they could just pull the pieces off and throw them on the floor. And now as they’re getting older, they’re interested in what’s on the map, where things go, and where we live. My sister’s been doing that with her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter (I gave her one). That map is just super cool. It looks good on the wall! It’s a really great product.

Are there any products that you got the okay for, but never got manufactured?

Oh yeah, there are a whole bunch of things. Last year, we had a math game that the inventor of Inching Along sent us that I liked that involved using a balance scale, and that never got manufactured.

How is your life outside of work? What is life like for Nancy outside of the office?

Chasing two children around. That is all I do. I do love it—sometimes it’s boring, but most of the time I love it. I either pick up the kids or have my husband home with the kids, and we chase them around or try to get them to consume something and change their diaper, or usher them into the potty!

How old are your kids?

I have a 3 –year-old and a sixteen-month old. They’re perfect and they stand around being cute all day.

Do you have any kind of thing you do that gets your creativity flowing?

Right now as my kids are getting older, watching them and seeing what they’re interested in and seeing what they’re doing in school helps a lot in terms of my creativity and coming up with product ideas. Searching online helps a lot. Just before I came here I was actually just looking on YouTube to see what people are doing with the metric system. Seeing what teachers are doing now also helps a lot.

I sometimes laugh that the only free time I have is when I shower or when I drive. And, honestly, that’s when I come up with most of my ideas because you can’t do anything else but think when you’re in the shower or driving. That’s pretty much where I get my inspiration.

List of Favorites:

Favorite animal?

Rabbits.

Favorite color?

Blue.

Favorite season?

Well, I was born on the first day of spring, so spring.

Favorite movie?

I love The Shawshank Redemption.

Favorite food?

There’s a coconut soup that I love at Thai restaurants…and really good pizza. Chocolate, always. The hip things that I love at the moment are goat cheese and balsamic vinegar. Over the summer, blackberries and mangoes.

Get to Know Us! Featuring Product Manager, James Tu

How long have you worked at Educational Insights?

For a very short period of time, actually. I started last February.

What drew you to working here?

Actually, a connection! Nancy Balter is related to my wife. We moved here to California from New York last June. So I left a user-experience design job there.

For that company, we worked on a lot of non-traditional user experiences. One of the biggest projects that we worked on was for the World Expo in 2010. Our company was tasked to design the visitor experience for one of the pavilions, the Shanghai corporate pavilion. We did everything from the queuing experience, lining up to get ticket, and figuring out what to do while you’re getting tickets. We had to design something to do while they were waiting. So we did things like videos and interactivity, where you can control some of the lighting patterns for that building. All in sort of preparing visitors for the inside of the pavilion. So they go inside and they were treated to this multi media show. Some of the stuff is interactive, and in the end, they get lead into this big theatre where they experience this interactive film.

When I relate my past experience to my experience here, I say that I make large-scale toys. Everything is a user experience. Kids will manipulate things, press on buttons, and listen to the content. When you’re designing a product, you’re really crafting a user experience. I’m just taking my experience from designing things in spaces to products.

How do you like it here so far?

Its great! The people are great; the things I work on are really cool.

What was your favorite toy growing up?

I liked Lego building blocks, and I liked some of the electronic toys like speak and spell with the funny electronic voices. The interesting thing is that now in the age of high fidelity with amazing sound and images, if the use experience isn’t there, it doesn’t matter how good your media is. So although back then those toys were “low tech”, the designs of the products were still pretty good. The speak and spell really taught you how to spell things, and there were others like speak and math.

What’s your favorite toy here at EI?

I haven’t experienced all the products, but we used to carry Blokus. It was a board game that I first connected a product with EI and that’s how I got to know EI. I like KaBam! It’s really cool. Play foam is an interesting product. BBQ Blitz is a good product that I’ve seen kids really gravitate towards. I gave it to my niece and she really loved it; she was flipping the burgers and matching them up. I think that it’s just a nicely designed game for that age group. Blurt is also pretty good.

What is life for you outside of work?

Well right now we have an 8-month-old daughter, and she’s basically everything right now, like our lives center around her. She’s actually an inspiration to me. Well, she’s too young right now, but eventually, hopefully I’m designing things with her in mind. Also, I’m trying to be fit. I used to play a lot of volleyball. I’m a big competitive volleyball player in high school and college, so coming out here to the beach and seeing all these volleyball nets makes me kind of want to get into it. I sort of did, but I need more time!

List of Favorites:

Favorite animal?

This is kind of silly and simple, but I really want a dog! It’s kind of a boring answer.

Favorite color?

Blue

Favorite season?

I really like Fall. I like the changing colors of the leaves, and I actually like fall fashion. Fall is a nice in between where you see people layering.

Favorite team?

I don’t actually follow professional sports in that way, so I don’t necessarily have a favorite sports team. But I’m rooting for Brazil for the Olympics volleyball team.

Favorite food?

I love Ramen.

Favorite movie?

I really like Cinema Paradiso. It’s an Italian movie about this kid who really loves movies. Eventually he becomes the projectionist in this theatre, but they would censor movies take out all these kissing scenes. But in he end, he takes all the kissing scenes and turns into one big movie. It’s good.

Check out our Puppets in Parent’s Magazine!

Kai and Lex are ready for their close-up! Check out our adorable Puppet-On-A-Stick™ feature in the February issue of Parent’s Magazine. Puppet-On-A-Stick™ is a great way to pass the time when that winter chill keeps you indoors. Get your own at: http://www.educationalinsights.com/product/puppet-on-a-stick–8482-+(set+of+3).do

Stay posted for our 2013 Sneak Peek Viewing!

It’s the holiday season and we are just as excited as you are to sneak a peek at the fabulous new products we have coming your way for 2013! Over the next couple weeks, we will randomly post exclusive pictures of our newest products! Check back in later as we kick off 2013’s VIP viewing.

Giftable Goodies Under $25: Preschool Toys and Games

With the holidays around the corner, we understand that shopping can be stressful and pricey! Here is a list of great preschool gift ideas—all under $25!

Puppet-on-a-Stick™ (set of 3)– $23.99

Ages 4+

Three oversized, easy-to-handle puppets on sticks inspire imaginative play with silly faces, movable mouths and endless possibilities.

Get your puppets here: http://www.educationalinsights.com/product/puppet-on-a-stick–8482-+%28set+of+3%29.do?from=Search#

The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game™– $21.99

Ages 3+

This award-winning preschool game develops matching and sorting skills, strategic thinking, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and pre-handwriting skills. To top it off, it’s fun to play with the whole family. What more can you ask for?

Get your copy at your local Target or here: http://www.educationalinsights.com/product/the+sneaky%2C+snacky+squirrel+game–8482-.do?sortby=ourPicks&sortby=&&from=Search#

Magic Moves® Electronic Wand– $19.99

Ages 3+

Nothing gets the kids up and movin’ like Magic Moves! Ninety fun physical commands, twinkling light shows, and 26 musical tunes to get little ones up and moving! This powerful wand not only gets them exercising, but it also promotes creativity and listening skills. Perfect for indoor play on rainy or cold winter days!

Check it out here: http://www.educationalinsights.com/product/magic+moves–174+electronic+wand.do#

BBQ Blitz!®– $24.99

Ages 4+

This burger building bonanza helps work fine motor skills, color recognition, and matching while having a flipping-fun time with the whole family.

Get your grill on here: http://www.educationalinsights.com/product/bbq+blitz!–174-.do?from=Search#

Buck, Buck, Moose!™ Game– $12.99

Ages 4+

Buck, Buck, MOOSE! This fast-action, color-matching card game is perfect for preschoolers! This riveting ranger game will help your little ones with color matching, speed, and sportsmanship.

Check out the forest fun here: http://www.educationalinsights.com/product/buck%2C+buck%2C+moose!–8482-+game.do?from=Search#

Working Fine Motor Skills

Earlier we discussed gross motor skills, so it’s only fair that we talk about fine motor skills. So what are they? Fine motor skills refer to the small movements of the hands, wrists, fingers, feet, toes, lips, and tongue.

During infancy, fine motor movements remain unconscious reflex actions. Baby’s grips are clumsy and everything they touch usually ends up in their mouths. It isn’t until they reach about 12 months that they begin to master the pincer grip, an important fine motor skill that develops the ability to hold objects between the thumb and index finger.

Fine motor skills are largely developed during toddlerhood and preschool. Toddlers begin to develop the abilities to twist dials, pull strings, turn pages, use crayons, and much more. By the time they reach preschool, they are challenged with more delicate tasks like tying shoelaces.

Unlike gross motor skills, which call for boundless energy, fine motor skills require patience, which is in shorter supply.  It’s crucial that you encourage the development of fine motor skills in your child’s life. Weakness in fine motor skills can affect their ability to eat, write legibly, turn pages in a book, or even dress and groom themselves.

Educational Insights has a few early skill development toys and games specifically designed to strengthen these crucial skills. The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game!™  is one in particular that helps children develop fine motor skills while learning to match colors and count. (Pictured above)

There are many ways to have fun with fine motor skills; it all just depends on how you and your child use your noggin!

 

EI on Fox’s Save me Steve: Fall Toy Preview

If you’ve ever heard of the Fall Toy Preview, then you probably know that it’s one of the biggest toy conventions of the year where hundreds of toy manufacturers privately show their newest product lines to long lead buyers like Target, Costco, and Walmart. The 2012 FTP took place in Dallas last week and to our pleasant surprise, one of our products was chosen to be featured on a Fox segment called “Save Me Steve”, airing on Fox affiliates throughout the country.  Our very own Nancy B’s Science Club MoonScope was one of a handful of toys chosen for this feature by the Toy Industry Association. This is great news for us, and we couldn’t be happier! If you missed the segment and you want to get a sneak peek of one of our 2013 lines, check out the video through the link below.

Are you interested in being ahead of the curve? Take a look at Steve Noviello’s take on the hot new toys for NEXT year, at the Fall Toy Preview in Dallas. Watch the video here: http://www.myfoxdfw.com/video?clipId=7796092&autostart=true

Magic Moves Featured in Parents Magazine

Magic Moves Electronic Wand

Hooray! Magic Moves was awarded Parents Magazine’s Best Toy Award in the preschool category. Check it out!

http://www.parents.com/fun/best-preschool-toys-of-the-year/

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!