The excitement of learning something new should not stop when visitors leave your museum. Offering guests educational products is one way they will both remember their stimulating trip and enhance and extend the experience of your institution.
“People want to learn something new. Anything that makes them say, ‘hmm…I didn’t know that’ is what you’re looking for, and chances are, if they say that, then they’ll buy the product,” says Kay Kay Zimmerman of GrandmasUnplugged.
And while Jamie Lapetina of Design Master Associates adds that the long-standing trend of learning through playing still holds true, it doesn’t mean educational products need only be the for the youngsters. Learning is a lifelong adventure, so while you’ll want to stock items that are able to teach and reinforce a child’s interests, you’ll also want to source items that appeal to young and mature adults alike.
Visitors of all ages like to interact with merchandise so “have samples sitting out so that people can touch or play with the product,” suggests Lapetina. Interesting displays that invite shoppers to interact can turn browsers into buyers. “While this does require writing an item out of inventory sometimes,” she adds, “there is benefit in a customer being able to touch and play with a toy or game.”
GrandmasUnplugged produces postcards, note cards and more using a museum’s images and educational information related to the photo. For these types of items, Zimmerman recommends spreading them around the store. “Place them in vignettes with other items. Don’t place them in just one spot,” she says. “Have one packaged item open so the customer can see what they’re getting. Make a framed sign repeating one of the facts in the note cards, a ‘Did you know X?’ People have short attention spans these days, so if you can educate them with short factoids, they like that.”
In addition to creating enticing displays in your store, keep the educational conversation going online. “Pose a question to your audience,” suggests Debbie Kirkham of GrandmasUnplugged, citing the power of social media. “The question could come from one of your educational products. Questions make people interact, and that’s what you want.” Utilize Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as outlets to tell the stories of your merchandise but don’t overlook your store’s website as well. Keep it fresh with both content and images, and if you haven’t already made the articles and images on your site easily shareable—think quick buttons that allow browsers to share the item on Pinterest, Facebook and other platforms—consider an upgrade. Look to the following vendors as you contemplate your educational products assortment.
Petite Pastiche, a Mensa Select award-winning game from Eagle and Gryphon Games, challenges two to four players to recreate famous paintings during 30-45 minutes of play. All 23 commission cards are master-pieces from the past six centuries. Players score their commissions by mixing primary colors through clever tile placement and recreating the palette of colors used by the masters. Entertain families (ages 10 and up) and friends while viewing and encouraging a discussion of art!
Custom envelopes, note cards and post-cards are available from Hamilton, Texas-based GrandmasUnplugged. The company uses your images—from upcoming exhibits or permanent collections—and adds their edgy perspective to create something new. The company owners pride themselves on researching each museum along with their subject matter. Historical and educational information is on each and every card. All are created and made in the US.
Founded in 1982, Golden Island’s mission is to bring out the fun in science. The company offers miniaturized models of classic museum fixtures like the Newton’s Cradle, Tesla’s Plasma Sphere and the Cosmos Planetary Orbit Kinetic Mobile. Sandscapes, kaleidoscopes and more iconic toys and novelties are available from the Los Angeles-based company.
Mudpuppy’s new Mosaic Animals Magnetic Build-it set encourages freestyle fun with shape, color and form. Includes more than 90 interchangeable magnetic pieces and four background scenes, so those ages 6 and up are able to build any creature they can imagine using the brightly colored geometric shapes. The design is inspired by Chinese Tangram puzzles. All pieces are contained in a metal tin to which the magnets adhere, making it a great travel toy.
Educators have long recognized that toys can be invaluable teaching tools. In centuries past, playthings, such as dice and cards, were often imprinted with educational devices—including alphabets, numbers and even historical facts. The Numbers Dice Game from Design Master Associates (an employee-owned company located near Williamsburg, Va.) is inspired by this long-standing tradition of educational toys. Games and activities include basic number identification, counting, addition/subtraction, practice with place value, rounding and simple multiplication/division.
New from EDC Publishing are: “Peek Inside the Zoo” and the “Big Book of Stars & Planets.” The first (ages 3 and up) is written by Anna Milbourne and gives readers a peek under leaves and behind doors to find noisy parrots, playful monkeys, tall giraffes and more. The second (ages 4 and up) is written by Emily Bone. Open the giant fold-out pages to discover the wonders of space, from the sun and the planets to massive stars, enormous galaxies and more.
The Chihuly Mille Fiori 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle is fun for those ages 12 and up. From the Italian for a “thousand flowers,” the Mille Fiori series is comprised of a variety of work that truly create a mystical garden of glass. The Seattle-based Chihuly Workshop didn’t make this puzzle easy, but it is worth setting aside a weekend or two to put it together. The color is vibrant and the image is stunning.
Learn to draw and paint with Kimberly Watercolor Pencils in this complete kit from General Pencil Company. The kit includes six watercolor pencils, a sharpener, one paintbrush, pre-printed watercolor paper plus a 24-page step-by-step instruction booklet in color. Learn four basic and five advanced skills including color theory, blending and mixing. All of the products are American-made and come from the company’s Jersey City factory.
In a world of digital technology,Madison Bay Company offers a glimpse of how it all began through its historic American reproductions such as slates and nib pens. During the 19th century and into the 20th century, writing slates were a staple for school children. Nib pens that accompanied inkwells were then used into the 1930s and 40s. The East Berlin, Pa.-based wholesaler also offers compasses, spyglasses and much more, and introduces new items each year.
Among the best-known schoolbooks in the history of American education are the McGuffey Readers. These popular and effective textbooks provide a fascinating look into schooling of the past and are still used today by homeschoolers. Applewood Books’ paper-back facsimiles of the American Book Company’s 1879-1881 revised editions include: “McGuffey’s Eclectic Primer,” “First Eclectic Reader,” “Second Eclectic Reader” and “Spelling Book.” The company, founded in 1976, has more than 5,000 titles in print.
The tawny brown-and-white Wolf Pup puppet from Folkmanis is more cuddly than fierce. The hand puppet is 13-inches long, features moveable muzzle and forelegs, and has a suggested retail price of $29.99. Folkmanis, a family business, was founded in the 1960s and today offers more than 200 heartwarming and realistically designed plush puppets. The puppets are consistently awarded excellent marks by such independent toy evaluators as Dr. Toy, Parents’ Choice and Oppenheim Toy Portfolio.
New from the award-winning line of Creative Whack products, the Big Ball of Whacks (ages 14 and up) enhances hands-on creativity with a bigger, better ball. Comprised of 36 magnetic design pieces and two pyramids for greater challenges, the 192 rare earth magnets inside make constructing shapes a snap. Includes a 96-page creativity guidebook. Also available in a six-color version.
New books from Thames & Hudson! In “Art and Architecture in Mexico,” James Oles offers a new interpretive history of Mexican art from the Spanish Conquest to the early decades of the 21st century. Oles proposes new readings of prints, photographs and more. In “Neanderthals Rediscovered,” readers learn that the common perception of the Neanderthal has been transformed due to new discoveries and paradigm-shattering scientific innovations. Their behavior was actually rather modern.
April Miller is a Cleveland-based writer and a regular contributor to Museum Store.
Design Master Associates
Eagle and Gryphon Games
General Pencil Company, Inc.
Golden Island Int’l Inc.
Madison Bay Company
Thames & Hudson Inc.