"A lot of learning toys are sort of fancy electronic versions of drills, so they ask questions and have kids practice drills with them. I'm not implying there's anything wrong with that -- and our Story Reader Video Plus does feature learning games, too -- but that our approach is perhaps a little more subtle. We try to be light on the education per se, but strong on the principles behind education," says Taylor.
For example, on the Story Reader Video Plus platform, at the end of the Alphabet Adventure book, there's a game called Antarctic Adventures. Your child plays as the hero, Alphaboy, and spells out the entire alphabet by catching letters. It asks Alphaboy to take a sled, jump up, and crawl through an igloo while chasing the letters.
Story Reader Video Plus features many learning games, like this one.
Even though it isn't a toy, Story Reader has earned the respect of toy critics by winning dozens of American and Canadian awards. It won the National Parenting Center's Seal of Approval in 2003 and the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award in 2005.
Stephanie Oppenheim, founder of ToyPortfolio.com, says: "Story Reader won an award because its books are based on real literature. Every time we go to toy showrooms, we say, 'This would be fabulous if you used real books.' There is no reason but economics for this not to happen."
Oppenheim is referring to the widespread use of licensed characters -- often from current cartoons -- in children's reading toys, and she notes that Story Reader has dozens of them, too. "Our policy is to look under the license and see if there's value to the product itself. And Story Reader has a platform that's easy to use, with no touching or stylus needed, which is great. A lot of times if a product is too complicated, it's not really useful."
To promote reading, Story Reader creator Publications International instituted the National Preschool Teacher of the Year Award, first awarded in the fall of 2006. An independent panel of leading academics in early childhood education chose four winners from hundreds of applications. The criteria included use of creative teaching techniques, how effective a teacher is in generating excitement about learning, and his or her ability to evaluate and address individual students' needs with insight and creativity.
The four winners, on their teaching philosophies:
- Wendy Butler-Boyesen of the EWEB Child Development Center; Eugene, Oregon: "Let children experience things. Let them do for themselves and follow their own interests, which means if a child really wants to put the wrong shoes on the wrong feet, let him do it and experience it and decide for himself if it's uncomfortable."
Geralyn Dunckelman of Oakshire Elementary School; Houma, Louisiana: "I realize that a lot of parents work, but be a parent to your child and make the most of every minute, because you may never have this chance again."
- Lisa Frank of McCloskey Elementary School; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: "I try to read four stories a day to kids while they are with me in the classroom, and I always ask parents to read to their kids at least twice a day."
- Karla Lyles of Our Lady of the Gardens; Chicago, Illinois. "Please, just read to your child, even if it's just a cereal box. At the preschool stage, they're so eager because they want to learn, and they can grasp it."
Those are the underpinnings of Story Reader, the product's basis in educational concepts, and the ways Publications International gets its message to the public.
In the next section, we'll consider how Story Reader works technologically, and how Story Reader books are created.