My Look Inside LeapFrog

I can’t even begin to explain how excited I was to have been invited to visit LeapFrog. It’s like a sports fan being invited to meet their favorite players in the Superbowl and then getting a locker room tour.  The LeapFrog headquarters are in Emeryville, California.  It’s close to Oakland and San Francisco, when I arrived on Monday I had a little sight seeing to do.  To read about that little adventure, click here.
Tuesday morning started in the United States Conference Room.  There were five of us, who were flown in from different parts of the country (although Anna is local).  Here’s a look at my new friends:

The walls were lined with pictures of their products and a few of their older toys.

So many of the toys brought back memories of playing with my kids.

I loved seeing the progression of toys over time.

Right off the bat we were introduced to the CEO, John Barbour.  He introduced himself as J.B.  Meeting him and hearing about his passion for education was a huge honor.  He spoke for about an hour about how LeapFrog began, the philosophy of Pure Learning Fun, helping children achieve their potential, and about the passionate people he works with every day.  
I was struck by the passion in J.B.’s voice and the excitement he shared about seeing children learn.  He talked about how learning can’t always be about what adults think kids should know and how they should get to the end result.  It’s about knowing what kids need, but developing products that kids want and are excited about. He talked about how adults learn best when they are excited about a topic or excited to learn a new hobby.  If there is no joy in the process, then there won’t be much learning.  Learning happens when kids are excited and having fun.  
At one point, as he was speaking, I found myself getting a little choked up.  Anyone who knows me, knows I’m passionate about early childhood education. The idea that kids’ interests can and should drive their learning is something we strive to implement in the classroom, but with current class sizes, it can be hard to achieve. Listening to J.B. speak reminded me of the importance of capturing a child’s passion and steering them in the direction of Pure Learning Fun.  He spoke about the people who work at LeapFrog, and how they are not just doing a job.  The people who work there have passion for what they do.  He said they are walking around each day searching for gems to help children achieve their potential. If that doesn’t get a teacher choked up, I don’t know what does! 

After meeting JB, we learned from some fabulous designers.  They shared the progression of new toy development, and showed us what goes into creating their amazing educational products.  The guys who spoke were truly inspiring.
At one point, one of my blogging friends asked about the designers’ educational backgrounds, which I was dying to know.  We were told that their focus in school was math, science, industrial design, and art. 
As they walked us through the design process, they also showed us examples of works-in-progress from past toys.  Here’s a foam core model of a learning barn that one of the designers created.  All of the part are movable in this model.  You can certainly see how a designer’s educational background comes into play with something like this.

I was so pleased to have met the man in the next picture, because I had a message for him.  One of my students had given me orders to find the person who invented the Tablets and let them know that it was the COOLEST thing ever invented.  We have two LeapFrog Tablets in my classroom and they are a favorite activity for the Listen To Reading component of our Reader’s Workshop.
Message delivered.  Mission accomplished.

During our tour of the building, we were able to sit in on a toy testing session.  
We were able to ask, later in the day, about what they were looking for as they were observing this little guy playing with some toys.

Doesn’t this look like a happy place to work?  It was a really cool, industrial looking, building with open pod-type areas for people to meet in teams.

The recording studio was a pretty cool stop on our tour. We did a little recording as a surprise for our kids.  There were two books in which we became the voice for the characters.  We personalized it for our kids. They will be in the mail to us shortly, and I can’t wait to hear how they turned out.

I can’t show you pictures of the new video we watched… It’s top secret.  The video will be released in March and I know the kids are going to love it.  
Another favorite part of my day was picking the brains of the Learning Experts. One of the designers talked about how she decided to go back to school to work specifically on figuring out how kids learn.  I really connected with this because it’s the part of education that means the most to me.  I’ve always said that it’s my dream to visit Reggio Emilia, Italy, to learn more about their philosophy of education.  It’s very much a child centered approach to learning, where the curriculum is driven by how kids learn and their own interests and passions. Doesn’t that sound fabulous!  
Back to those learning experts… 
They know their stuff!  They are up to date in the most current trends and practices and are able to get these concepts into the newest learning toys within about 6 months.  The same ideas might take years to catch on with curriculum designers in the traditional classroom settings, and quite a while after that until a concept will appear in our everyday material.  These Learning Experts are my idols!  I would love to spend my days researching current educational trends and making sure they are front and center when developing educational toys.  Doesn’t that sound fabulous?
I was also very interested in hearing about Learning Path and the parents’ page discussion.  Last November, there was a relaunch of Learning Path and I’m predicting this will become a fantastic resource for parents, teachers, and caregivers.  Learning Path is a place to develop deep relationships, have authentic conversations, and learn more about early childhood education. 
On a scale from 1-10, my time at LeapFrog was off the charts!  I have a deeper appreciation for the amount of work that goes into making these products.  When a parent asks me why they would want to buy $25 game cartridge versus a $4.99 app on itunes, I will be able to tell them about all of the research, product testing, curriculum design, and multi-level instruction that goes into a game. It’s truly an amazing process!
Happy learning, Friends!
(And thank you so much, to my friends at LeapFrog, for inviting me to be part of this learning experience! I will certainly share what I’ve learned about all of your hard work and dedication!)

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