Teachers Are Truly Tops

Let’s be honest. Teaching is a pretty tough gig. Most teachers wouldn’t do it if they didn’t truly love it. So, whether you were a Front Row Frannie or an I Hate School Hannah, odds are you encountered at least one teacher who truly made a difference in your life. You know, that one teacher who inspired you to try something new, encouraged you when you needed support, challenged you to be or do better, or introduced a new idea or method that proved to be pretty important, in the long run. YOUR Jaime Escalante. In honor of those teachers, and since tomorrow is National Teacher Day, we’re sharing the stories of a five awesome teachers who’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty to make a difference in their students’ lives.

1. A Colorado P.E. teacher is helping her students get fit and healthy in a very different way! When high school teacher Jen Sculley discovered that her kidney was a perfect match to one of her students who was suffering from kidney disease, she didn’t hesitate to make the donation. Talk about going above and beyond! But Sculley isn’t the only teacher giving an arm and a leg, so to speak. Teachers in Ohio, New York, and Texas have all donated kidneys to save students’ lives or the lives of their loved ones. Guess teachers just can’t stand to see their students suffer.

2. One Washington D.C. Kindergarten teacher has got his kids’ toes tapping to a different beat. A devotee of Latin dances, particularly salsa, Mr. Sorto, is not just teaching his Kindergarteners to read and write in English. He’s also teaching them to read and write in Spanish – and to dance traditional Latin dances, too! His 5-year-old students have mastered salsa, merengue, and even the toe-tangling bachata. Mr. Sorto finds that dance keeps the kids engaged and the followers of his classroom Facebook page can’t get enough of his kids dancing. Encore!

3. When one of his students lost both parents within three years, Oklahoma high school football coach Chris Roberts made good on his promise that the team was really a family. Roberts and his wife took the student into their home and became the student’s legal guardians, proving that a teacher’s care extends far beyond the four walls of the classroom (or football field). We’re not crying. You’re crying.

4. It doesn’t take life-saving actions to make a great teacher, though. Mrs. D-B, a fourth-grade teacher in Miami, FL, works tirelessly to ensure that her lessons are not just educational, but fun and engaging, too. And it must be working, because her class nominated her for NPR’s 50 Great Teachers project, citing activities like Spelling Baseball, Writing Idol, and the classroom mascot, Chewbacca the humpback whale (plush, please) as proof.

5. Jones, an 8th grade English teacher in Tennessee, took special care to help assimilate one of her ESL students. Working tirelessly on his grammar, buying him a book of idioms to study, and checking on his progress throughout high school really paid off. The student went on to earn a college degree – in journalism! – and work in the communications field. Guess Ms. Jones really went the extra mile!

Proud to Be Your Parent


It’s almost Mother’s Day! A day for families to stop and appreciate all that the mother’s in their lives do for them each and every day. But, for many mothers, it’s a day to spend reflecting on just what a privilege it is to be a parent, to celebrate the special little humans that we’re so honored to raise, and to say thank you to your kids for letting us be their moms. After all, life is a two-way street.

We sat down with a few of the moms on the EI team, including product developers Janene Russell and Betina Cochran; our publicist, Melissa Smuzynski; our content creator, Amy Opheim; and, of course, our very own Nancy Balter, of Nancy B’s Science Club fame, to get a sense of what they love most about being moms. Here’s what they said:

Janene Russell – Product Development Manager


EI’s newest mom, Janene, says being a mom to 13-month-old James makes her feel complete. Having never known how much she needed him – how much they need each other – Janene loves creating first time moments for James and says that watching her son react to new things makes her feel like she’s seeing the world with fresh lenses. Janene strives to provide a nurturing environment that fosters confidence and kindness in James. In turn, James inspires Janene to be spontaneous and playful. Sounds like a win-win to us!

Betina Cochran – Director of Product Development


Mother of 16-year-old Mariah and 8-year-old Ari, Betina considers parenting her daughter-son duo to be an absolute privilege. She finds influencing the development of another human being to be one of the most rewarding parts of being a mom. That, and all the silliness! Although Betina believes helping to educate her kids – both intellectually and emotionally – is her number one responsibility as a mom, her kids love her for the warmth and physical affection she shows them every day. Her daughter praises Betina as open-minded, saying she feels she can share anything with her mom. Now THAT’S parenting success!

Amy Opheim – Content Creator


Amy considers helping her 10-year-old daughter, Emma, appreciate and nurture the unique combination of gifts that makes her truly special to be her most important job as a mom. Having emphasized kindness – both to herself and to others – as the foundation of Emma’s upbringing, Amy felt like a parenting success when Emma’s teacher shared that Emma was truly a “friend to all.” Emma appreciates that Amy is on her team and always has her back. She knows she can turn to her mom, no matter what, for support, guidance, comfort, and love. Likewise, parenting Emma has provided Amy with a sense of purpose and a liberating perspective on what’s truly important in life.

Melissa Smuzynski – Publicist


In her own, words, Melissa says, “Being a mom is hard. It’s harder than any job I’ve ever held. It’s exhausting, it’s frustrating, and yet it’s the single most rewarding aspect of my life. The insane, indescribable, unconditional love a mother has for her child is beyond any words I could eloquently craft. I’ll just say nothing else compares to it.” Melissa strives to raise 2-year-old Avery Lane to be kind and loving, respectful, compassionate, generous, and accepting – no short order! But it’s all worth it when little Avery asks for kisses at night-night and tells Melissa “I love you Mommy”. In those moments, Melissa feels she is doing something right and all the “wrongs” of her day just disappear.

Nancy Balter – Founder, Nancy B’s Science Club


If you ask Nancy how being a mom makes her feel, she suggests Googling the word “emotions” for the full list. The former teacher, lifelong scientists, and current science product manager feels her biggest responsibility – and privilege – is helping 8-year-old Eric and 6-year-old Clara become independent and happy people capable of navigating the world. An epic undertaking, sure, but so worth it. Nancy loves watching her kids grow, change, and mature and feels especially good when they come to her with their problems and trust that she’s always able to help them. Says Nancy, “It’s a joy to be a part of this process.” And the spontaneous hugs don’t hurt, either.

Advice from the moms at EI:

Janene – Always have snacks with you, buy zip up pajamas, and find time for spontaneous play!

Betina – Listen, read, learn, but always trust your instincts.

Amy – When your child calls for you in the middle of the night, ALWAYS hit the potty on your way to their room. You never know how long you’ll be in there!

Melissa – Accept your children for who they are. Every child is different, so fall in love with those qualities that make them unique. And don’t sweat the small stuff. Things will get broken, things will get messy; in the end… they’re just things.

Nancy – Take all of the advice you receive with a grain of salt! People give SO MUCH advice to new moms and it’s overwhelming. Comically, some of it is conflicting. Sadly, some of it comes off as judgmental (e.g., Don’t be a helicopter mom. Don’t be a tiger mom.) There is no harm in listening, but don’t let it make you crazy. Parenting is a more of a dance between the parent and child than I anticipated. My children are different, and so the way I interact with them is different. This is why one-size-fits-all parenting advice cannot work.

What do YOU love most about being a mom? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to share your best parenting advice for the newbies out there!

Inventor’s Cube Comes Full Circle!

Here at EI we work with some pretty incredible inventors. Some specialize in board games, some in gadgets, and some, like Howard Fleischer, blend the two into best-selling games like our 2016 release, RiddleCube™.

This combination card game, fidget gadget, and creativity cube might seem like the perfect blend of modern day entertainment – and it is! But it’s also got roots that go all the way back to Howard’s earliest days as an inventor. You see, the game is actually a relaunch of one of his very first inventions – the Polygonzo Stretch Toy (we like RiddleCube better – you?). He created the original prototype – out of straws! – as a student in Paris in the 1980’s.

Other than being made of flexible plastic instead of straws, the concept hasn’t changed much over the last 35 years. But Howard’s ability to get meetings with the top toy manufacturers has come a long way since his days on the Champs Elysees. As president and founder of RoyaltyPros, inventor Howard is now also a top licensing agent, negotiating deals with big time companies including Fisher-Price, Mattel, Hasbro, Kellogg’s, Microsoft, SpinMaster, and, yes, Educational Insights, among others. It helps to know five languages and nearly everyone in the toy, game, candy, publishing, entertainment, and licensing worlds.

We love that Howard brought RiddleCube to us. We can’t get enough of the twisting, turning, bending, shape-shifting action – and neither can consumers. This award-winning take on traditional games is one of our best-sellers. And it’s not hard to see why. Great for inspiring a bit of creativity and more than a few giggles and grins, RiddleCube is truly a game like no other.

RiddleCube includes 4 flexible cubes, 100 double-sided challenge cards, a timer, a card case, and a game guide. Players flip a card and the timer, then race to see who can contort their cube into the image named on the card first. For more information – or to order your own RiddleCube Game – Click Here

Go Outside and Play!

Go Outside and Play

A brief history of some of our favorite outdoor playthings.

Whether due to inclement winter weather or endless hours of electronics, we’ve all spent more than enough time inside this year. But spring has sprung and it’s time to get outside and play! If you feel a little rusty, don’t worry – the play experts at EI have put together a crash course on some of the classic outdoor playthings you may have forgotten about during your hibernation. From hula hoops to hopscotch, we present a brief history, along with some little-known facts, about your favorite outdoor playthings. Did your fave make our list?


Riding Bikes – Bikes have been around since the early 1800’s. Invented by the Germans and named by the French, the first bicycle had no pedals – riders sat on a seat and pushed the bike along with their feet. Necessity was the mother of this invention, as many horses, a common mode of transportation before the bike, were dying of starvation due wide-spread crop failure.


Skateboarding – Turns out Marty McFly wasn’t far off! The skateboard actually owes its popularity to surfing – skating on a board with roller skates underneath was a way to “surf the sidewalk” when there were no waves. The first skateboards were made and sold in L.A. by a surf shop owner who ordered skate wheels and attached them to wooden boards.


Pogo Stick – The first batch of wooden pogos to hit U.S. soil rotted on the ship ride over, so Gimbles Department Store asked a local toy designer to create a more durable jumping stick. Popularity of his version sky rocked after being featured in the Ziegfeld Follies and today’s Xpogo athletes reach heights of 10 feet and perform incredible stunts at professional pogo events like Pogopalooza.


Hula Hoop – Although modern-day toy manufacturer Wham-O is credited with launching the hula hoop in the U.S., its history goes a bit further back. To ancient Greece, actually. There’s evidence that the Greeks used hula hoops to work their abs. We’re not that surprised. They did bring us the Olympics…


Hopscotch (and it’s very best buddy, Sidewalk Chalk) – Speaking of ancient civilizations, it is thought that we can thank the Romans for hopscotch! This classic game of tossing and hopping was first recorded as “Scotch Hoppers” and is still played by children around the world (Cuban kids know the game as Pon). The first hopscotch squares were etched out using tiles, coal, or chalk, all of which became scarce during WWII. Now street painters use colored chalk and even 3-D glasses to bring amazing works of art to life.

The fact that some of our favorite playthings have been around for several centuries isn’t that surprising. After all, people have been playing outside since the dawn of time, so we’ve had plenty of time to perfect it! You can find additional outdoor play ideas on our Pinterest board. What’s your family’s favorite way to play?

Little Free Library Book


When I retired from my job as Director of Product Development for Educational Insights one of my first goals was to open a library. On October 9, 2016 I did just that, hosting a grand opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, book-themed crafts, games, and food for my neighbors. Dozens of them turned out to bring and exchange books.

The library, a bright blue structure built by my husband from recycled wood, features a roof shingled with discarded CDs and vintage campaign buttons. Stacks of books are stenciled on the library’s sides. Located in my front yard in Manhattan Beach, California, it is a branch of the Little Free Library, an organization that promotes miniature residential libraries in communities world-wide based on the principle “take a book, return a book.” The library has something for everyone, from picture books to popular fiction, even some cookbooks.

I keep my library stocked with contributions from the friends and neighbors and by attending local library book sales where books withdrawn from circulation are offered to the public at bargain prices. Most recently, I picked up a grocery bag filled with hardcover children’s books for five dollars! The sales are a great resource for quality books for my Little Free Library and benefit the public libraries financially as well as make room for their newer titles. Occasionally, I post a notice on our local “free cycle” group and find a bag of books on my front steps.

I love being a library steward and seeing what my neighbors choose and leave in return. Popular adult fiction gets picked up the most. Children’s books about dinosaurs are also very popular. Two gorgeous, coffee-table photo books about Alaska have been the most interesting contribution so far.

I’m always in “steward mode.” I keep a box of books in my car trunk ready to “book bomb” the occasional library I come across in another community, and I research the location of free libraries on the organization’s website map when my husband and I take day trips. Other people have done such inventive things, from café-like touches including benches and tables to mascots like stuffed animals.

Another benefit of being a steward – if someone leaves a book in the library that looks interesting, I get to borrow it first!

Marcia Gresko is the former Director of Product Development for Educational Insights where she worked for 18 years. She is a published children’s book author and a former teacher. In addition to being a Little Free Library steward, she volunteers with a creative writing program in Los Angeles and at the museum of a local municipality. She is training to become a docent at a historical home in Los Angeles.