What follows is an unabashed endorsement of three companies....
While visiting a bookstore yesterday with my two kids, I was reminded that I am consistently impressed with the products of three publishing/gaming companies, DK Publishing, Inc., Cranium and Klutz. If you don't have children, you might not be familiar with them, but they generally publish some interesting and innovative material. Usually I find their products in independent toy stores, which I am always combing for unique playthings for my kids, but increasingly, you'll see their stuff in places like Target and Toys R Us. Incidentally, I have to commend Target for developing a nicely balanced toy department... lots of toys that help children develop their imaginations balanced with the inevitable crap like Bratz dolls.
Anyway, I checked out their web sites and there's some interesting stuff out there that you might not know about. At DK Publishing, which is known for publishing well designed tomes with amazing graphics, there is a section on one of their books I purchased yesterday called PIck Me Up. I found it in the reference section at Borders when I was browsing for nothing in particular. It's really different, divided in to general sections with articles on various topics which in turn are linked by page number references to other topics. It sort is a hyperlinked encyclopedia without being published on the internet. There's an accompanying interactive web site if you're interested in checking this out. On the main DK site, check out their clip art section which features free images.
Cranium mainly produces games which are clever, fun, and innovative. When my daughter was little, we liked this treasure game and we've also been fans of Hullabaloo. We have a couple more games, too, that we haven't broken out yet and I noticed that they've expanded their line to include more learning activity oriented things such as this talking picture book which I purchased for this Christmas for my daughter. Cranium seems to be coming out with new games all the time, and there's one on pop culture called Pop5 . On their web site, you can a round of the game, which includes video clues, and even submit your own video clips for consideration. Even if you're not into the game, I think this creative idea has implications for those of us into moviemaking with our students. Also, you can sign up for a newsletter on fun activities. I wonder if teachers are using Cranium games in classrooms; it would be nice if they had a Cranium for Educators section to their web site.
And finally, Klutz is a company started by two Stanford students and eventually was acquired by Scholastic. My kids love their activity books that come with everything you need. For instance, my son received a Super Hero Starter Kit for Christmas, which comes with a red satin cape and a slew of masks, badge stickers and paper bracelets for creating your own SuperHero persona. It's been a big hit with Henry. My daughter loves their velvet art book and a paper stained glass one, too. I'd much rather have her spend time immersed in these books than playing with the overpriced and poorly made Polly Pocket Cruise Ship that she wanted so desperately.
Kudos to these companies for making quality things that appeal to children as well as parents and that promote criticial thinking and creativity.