Steve Rad of Abacus Brands: When learning goes virtual in a “New Norm” tBR Company of the Week


During these times, when the entire world is suffering and trying to survive a pandemic, we find ourselves at the doors of change of epic proportions. Children worldwide are affected. Many of the simple activities children took for granted are no longer available to them. They may no longer socialize and play the way they used to. Their daily activities must now be carried out with the greatest precautions. Many activities such as sports and lessons are even denied. I would think that the most worrying for parents and children is the fact that school and education have been turned upside down. Families and caretakers are asked to look for alternatives for education as the local governments decide which plans will be implemented. Online learning has become the forefront of a school day while a teacher and classmates have become secondary. How can we keep a child interested in learning and discovery when they no longer have classmates and a leader to guide them through a lesson? How can learning remain fun? How can children learn through play online? And thus the stage is set for virtual reality to shine.

Since the beginning of my career in the toy space, I have always believed that learning should be fun and transformative to keep up with the quick-paced and evolving way children are digesting and processing information. Kids don’t just want to learn anymore, they want to feel, they want to experience. They’re not thumbing through encyclopedias and magazines like their parents did. They are able to access instant information on cell phones and tablets quicker than it would take to just plan a drive to a local library to borrow a book. Abacus Brands and Professor Maxwell’s VR Labs were born out of a desire to connect students with fundamental STEM learning exercises in a whole new way that they can relate to, and make tech learning accessible to kids everywhere. The line is a collection of four new themed kits — VR Science, VR Universe, VR Magic and VR JR Chef — that incorporate augmented reality and virtual reality to make learning fun and cutting-edge tech accessible for kids. Each kit layers the learning process, combining tangible play (such as creating your own compass or erupting a volcano) with immersive digital technology to connect the idea to real life examples (put on the included VR goggles and teleport to see a historic volcanic site in action). Each title includes a beautiful activity book that comes to life with step by step instructions to show you each step of the learning process.

The goal is to explore new ways of learning for kids as they grow and absorb lessons that are critical to their understanding of “how” the world and universe work. It became my mission to bring an educational toy to market that would thrill and excite children by combining emerging augmented reality (AR) with virtual reality (VR) technologies with core curriculum lessons. Through this, I could deliver another layer of entertaining value in educational toys that couples both physical and immersive content for kids to learn, experience and play. For parents, it’s guilt free screen-time, knowing their kids are learning and actually absorbing the material. For kids, it’s like a 3 day camp where they get complete immersion into a subject or theme.

Imagine being able to perform basic science experiments while virtually transporting to a 360-degree lab, or learning about exploring the universe and feeling as though you're actually aboard the SpaceX shuttle. Or bake a chocolate cake and travel to Peru to learn how the coca plant is harvested. Kids can literally travel the world through dozens of VR experiences that reference the world they know.

When I created the Professor Maxwell VR Lab line, I saw an exciting future for children to acquire new skills needed for a successful future. That future is NOW! Now more than ever, children need to be motivated to continue to read about, think about, discover, and question the world that is drastically changing before their eyes. The last few months have forced us to reevaluate how education and play should function together outside of the traditional classroom to meet the needs of our children and better enrich their developing minds.

We, as toy creators, have a new duty to cultivate intrinsic motivation and curiosity in children and foster a progressive approach to learning through play, particularly at home. Studies have shown that when children become active learners and experience concepts and ideas, rather they are able to absorb, retain, understand, and most important explain information and enjoy the fun process of doing so through play. The knowledge and content become meaningful, important, and relevant to them. Amongst all the difficult upheaval and change the novel coronavirus has caused, I have found new purpose with Professor Maxwell VR Labs. My original mission has taken on a new level of meaning by not only entertaining children but encouraging the passion to continually self-nourish the desire to learn. Professor Maxwell VR Labs will encourage children to feel valued, learn, grow, and discover things about themselves and their place in this world through fun and play.

About Professor Maxwell’s™ VR Labs:

Professor Maxwell’s™ VR activity kits are designed to thrill and excite children as they are introduced to STEM learning exercises in a whole new way! With cutting edge Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies, the virtual “Professor Maxwell” guides kids through each diversely themed kit, including Magic, Science, Junior Chef, and Universe themes, engaging them with physical projects while fostering learning through immersive experimentation and play. The colorful lesson book in each kit literally comes to life, with the brilliant Professor Maxwell leading the way through each curriculum. With a “Learn, Experience, Play” play pattern, the interactive kits actually put the kids in the lab and immerse them into multiple layers of mixed reality. Throughout the instructions, children can delve deeper into the VR/AR environments to uncover various “How it Works!” learning experiences, while bringing fun to the discovery of fundamental lessons they explore.

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