LAKESHORE LEARNING Educational/Play Products for Children- ONE STOP SHOP FOR PARENTS & TEACHERS
Jan 30, 2010 (Updated Jan 31, 2010)
In the past, I have often found it difficult to find educational products for my classroom. I don't mean difficult to find them...but actually to find a company that boasted variety, quality, and a reasonable price. It was interesting, because either the quality was fantastic but the price was astronomical, or the store had no variety of products, or the material was absolute junk (would fall apart in one day in my Kindergarten classroom) but a great price. Ugh... All of that changed one day. I was introduced to Lakeshore Learning. I received their catalog in my mailbox at work. I enjoyed the brightly-colored photograph on the front, with eager children "playing" with their unique and engaging educational "toys." (In my class, using the words "play" and "toys" even when the students are engaged in Literacy Centers works wonders for their learning and motivation!) So, I brought the catalog home to peruse and visited their website as well. I was HOOKED.
First, here is a little background about Lakeshore Learning: Back in 1954 Ethelyn Kaplan moved her family to California to open up a toy store. "Initially, Mrs. Kaplan focused on selling toys to parents, but before long, local schools starting calling her for art materials and other classroom supplies." She, then, sold that toy store and started "Lakeshore Learning." Her sons have since taken over the business since she retired in 1971. This multi-million dollar company is still expanding. They offer 50 retail stores, to date, two catalogs, and a full-service website, meeting the needs of "parents, teachers, and children world-wide." Each and every product is "distinguished by its quality, safety, educational merit, and play value." They even have their own on-site preschool, Kids & Company. "A fully certified Nature Explore Classroom, Kids & Company provides a safe, stimulating environment for children of Lakeshore employees." Educators and parents alike will adore the variety and quality of all Lakeshore products. Whether you are a classroom teacher, a home-schooling parent, or a mom or dad that simply wants quality toys and educational resources for your child, you will probably find what you are looking for at Lakeshore!
When visiting Lakeshore's bright, colorful, and fun website, you will find it rather easy to navigate. Categories for shopping and browsing are located on the left side of the screen, as well as the top.
SHOP BY CATEGORY
They include: active play, arts & crafts, block play and manipulatives, children's books & literature, dramatic play, furniture, infants & toddlers, language, language tools, mathematics, music, pocket charts & activity walls, puzzles & games, science, social studies, teacher resources, and award winners. Once clicking on the category, you will be able to narrow your search by specific categories and grade and age. Along the top of the site, you will be able to search/shop by category and grade/age, as well. I am not sure why they double the links here. I think it would be simpler to just include the top tab, which separates category and age/grade. This would display less "stuff" to absorb on the main page. I prefer a simple, clean website when shopping. If the doubled tabs were excluded, this would be very organized. Although, the site is still rather easy to peruse. This browsing method is best when you wish to find specific category items. For example, when I am searching for games or activities involving story-telling, I would click on Children's Books and Literature to browse my options of storytelling and read-aloud products. You may narrow down by age/grade in the search as well. In all searches, you are able to narrow down by price- lowest to highest. I use this frequently to find a bargain. The award winner's section is helpful as well. I visit there when I want to determine if a product I am thinking about purchasing is favored by other parents and educators. It affects my decisions at times.
SHOP BY GRADE/AGE
When shopping by grade/age, you will be given an extensive range to search within: Infant (0-18 months), Toddler (18 months-3 years), Preschool (3 years), Pre-K (4 years), Kindergarten (5 years), First Grade (6 years), Second Grade (7 years), Third Grade (8 years), Fourth Grade (9 years), Fifth Grade (10 years), Sixth Grade (11 years), and a Teacher/Adult category. I find this search method helpful, to some extent. Since I teach Kindergarten, I often find myself searching in Kindergarten when I simply wish to browse and find some great items, appropriate for my students. Sometimes, however, I find that some Kindergarten items included are too simple for my students. Therefore, I find myself searching in both Kindergarten and First Grade categories. I recommend doing this, if you are a teacher or a parent and wish to browse in this way. You would probably prefer searching by actual age and one grade/age level ahead as well, to receive the full affect of appropriate products.
Another positive I enjoy with browsing this way, is that once you choose your age/grade range, you are then given the opportunity to view all (a staggering, 1,000+ products!!!!!) or narrow down again, by category, new items, and my favorite...SALE! Narrowing the search on Lakeshore provides a much more manageable experience. It is much less overwhelming. I was searching for reading center materials and found some great products through this search, by narrowing Kindergarten to Language categories. Once on a product page, Lakeshore recommends other items down the right side, that you might be interested in as well. I have often found myself on one product page, to find something more suitable to what I searching for, on the recommended list. Great!
I have used this method when I am searching for a very specific item that I have heard about or seen in advertisement or from a colleague. This search is fantastic. They included a list of all specific-named products, and you will notice that when you search for something, Lakeshore will include a tab below, displaying your closest matches as you type. I LOVE this. It is so extremely helpful. I have purchased catalog and known items in this fashion, very effectively and quickly. They include a catalog "quick order" tab as well. They are both equally helpful.
On the top of the page, you are also provided with a link to store information. This includes information about the teacher's club, provides information about free craft sessions for children, at participating stores, mailing list info, and information about teacher workshops (including hours, dates, directions, and a description). The store information also includes a store location finder by state and zip code, as well as outlet locations and job opportunities. I was saddened to find that there are only two outlet locations, and both are in California. I feel that they should spread the bargains to different areas of the country as well. Outlets are located in Carson, CA and San Leandro, CA. Being on the east coast, I have not had the opportunity to visit either of these locations. A career center is also included in store information. Career opportunities in Lakeshore's corporate offices, retail stores, distribution centers, and internship programs are all described. They provide handy links to acquire more information as well as links to Monster Jobs for job opportunities within their company. I have never seen such an extensive compilation of helpful resources before, in providing career possibilities. Lakeshore looks like a fantastic place to work! FAQ's are provided galore, as well as employee benefits, departments, and a link to contact human resources. Upcoming store events and craft times are posted as well. WOW. Pretty impressive...I almost want to work there!!
The Teacher's Club card members enjoy 15% off on hundreds of items. They also enjoy special monthly offers, as well. The application is easy and simple. These can be used IN-STORE only. This card is only valid on select, regular-priced merchandise and not valid with any other offers or previous purchases. You must visit to determine what is eligible for discount. I have a card and have only used it once, since our store is new. I visited and saved 15% on my "sticker-stock-up" purchase. Not bad. They should extend this online, though, and set up a page just for eligible items.
This is one of my favorite sections to this website. They include a teacher's corner, craft ideas, templates, customized catalogs and correlations, a classroom designer, grant and organization information, e-cards, and an award maker. This section is the true test to a fantastic site. SOMETIMES, you don't have to necessarily make a purchase when you visit. You are provided with a wealth of information and tons of ideas for working with children. I visit Lakeshorelearning.com often, to browse ideas and sometimes I do not even purchase!
Teacher's corner is very helpful. I have found fantastic lessons, printables, projects, and activities here. Each is based on the month/time of year, so check back frequently. I recently acquired the "Fun in the Snow" lesson for my Kindergarteners. Lakeshore provides the objective, materials, intro, procedure, and guided/independent practice for each lesson, as well as the age-appropriateness. What I found so extremely helpful was that they also provided information about the story used (Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats). They had a link to purchase, (I already had the story, though) and they also provided a link to a "Super Snow" classroom kit (info to purchase) for science/reading integration. I did not use the snow and I already had the story, so this was a FREEBIE! This is pretty smart, however, seeing as how many will purchase materials once they find a great lesson to pair them with. Good business sense here. They also provided the perfect printable for copying and use in the classroom. This was a great journal page. The resources provided to teachers and parents in this section are invaluable. They enhance creative thinking, ideas, and enjoyment!
The craft section provided me with a fantastic craft idea for my students and great for parents at home! Kindergarten is so complex these days (reading, writing, complex math...) we hardly have time for any crafts (shocked faces from people that thought we babysat all day). However, I found a fantastic one. This craft was a snowman, "Frosty Friend." Description, materials, age/grade level, and clear directions for the craft are provided. They also provided links to materials for purchase, as well. I purchased the paper (9" x 12", 50 sheets each of four colors) for 99 cents each pack- $4. I also purchased one pound of collage buttons for $8, wiggly eyes for $5 (300 ct), easy-stick glitter shapes (600 for $8), and a gallon of glue for $12. I was missing or low on these items, so I found this the perfect time for purchasing them. I can use all of these items again, for years to come, so I found the $37 price tag well worth it. The quality is amazing. I already had the yarn and hole punch, as well as the scissors. However, I found a set of scissors, one dozen for $14.00. Great price for when I need them! A colleague purchased this scissor set last year and stated that they were the best quality set of scissors she has ever used.
I have yet to use the templates or clipart, however, they look very helpful for calendar and letter creations!
Correlations and state standards are provided for parents and teachers that wish to align products they are searching for, to the standards. This is ALWAYS a necessity for parents and teachers.
The classroom designer is loads of fun. I used this application when rearranging my classroom this past August. You enter dimensions of your classroom, and can include existing features, move items around, see what looks suitable where, and create new and view sample rooms! Of course, they do try their HARDEST to sell you things in this application as well. They recommend items for purchase in creation and set-up of your room. You have the option to see fitting items/descriptions/prices and add them to your shopping cart. This is pretty helpful for new teachers that might not have anything to start with, depending on the district.
The grant information is extensive and in list form, including links to each. I have yet to use this feature but am very impressed with the initial viewing.
The E-Cards are fun. I have sent them to colleagues before. Kids can send them to each other, if they use the site, as well. They are cute, colorful, animated, easy to personalize and send, and FREE!! There are popular E-Cards, holiday, seasonal, and occasion cards as well.
If you have a colored printer at home or in the classroom, the award maker is great! You can fill in specific information and print right away! I have used the "Happy Birthday" certificates for my students. The fonts are perfect, the colors vibrant, and the quality is fantastic! And, of course....FREE! They have everything from citizenship to star of the week...to writing awards. Anything you can think of is probably included here! This is a great tool for encouraging at-home responsibility as well, including setting up awards for chores and work completed at home.
The parent's corner is also quite beneficial for parents. It includes project ideas and printables, free of charge. There are some very nice ideas here. I had a parent who asked to lead a craft last month. She was looking for ideas, as she had never visited the classroom before (my student is her first child). I directed her to Lakeshorelearning.com's parent corner. She found an adorable idea for an ABC photo book. The children loved it, and she also told me that she found a great at-home craft to use with her daughter...a 3-D Family Tree! She had never visited or heard about Lakeshore before. She was so excited to find out about the site and the fabulous products (which I demonstrated in class).
Sale is a treasured category of mine. I never leave Lakeshorelearning.com without visiting here. Of course, it is not the first place I visit, because there ARE NOT MANY items in this category. I guess when you are a company that provides such quality and assurance, you don't provide many sales. It is truly sad, however, you can still find some great buys here. They also display how many items of each are on sale for the grade/age ranges. I placed an order recently and there were forty items available on sale in this category. I purchased "String-a-Word" Activity Centers- Middle Sounds on sale. Children can build simple CVC words, identifying the middle vowel. Beads and string are provided, as well as a colorful and sturdy word card (one side missing the vowel, the other including it for self-correction). Forty-eight beads and thirty-two cards were included, as well as trays to hold cards. It was $29.95. I purchased it for $17.97. I feel it was a great bargain at 40% off.
You can easily view your cart at anytime...to display your damage!! They offer online discount codes at various sites, however, they are few and far between. My colleague found one for $5 off a purchase of $25. I used this during my last purchase. They encourage you to sign in or start a new membership upon checkout, however, you may checkout without signing up as well. The perks to the membership, though, are that it is FREE, stores billing info for express checkout options, includes an address book for shipping, provides product advice with personal preferences, a wish list for products desired...eventually, order status and complete history tracking, and a saved shopping cart. It is definitely worth it to take the extra minute to sign up. It makes the shopping experience so much easier. Checkout is easy and predictable. Billing/Shipping/Delivery/Review and Payment are the order of events. The only problem you will probably encounter is sticker shock. Although you can buy in bulk (which is cheaper), and find some sales, Lakeshore is not a low-priced discount store. Lakeshore takes pride in quality they provide. You get what you pay for! PROVIDED THE QUALITY, THE PRICES ARE RESONABLE in comparison. Email confirmations are sent in a timely manner, as well, for order processing and shipping.
Shipping charges are 15% of the order total for domestic. Think $7.50 for a $50 order. This isn't too bad. I have seen worse shipping charges. Not bad. Alaska and Hawaii, however, are 20% with a $5 minimum. Truck items will be more based on quote to those areas. 2nd Day Air (2-3 business days) is 25% of total merchandise cost with a $14.95 minimum, and $18.95 minimum in Alaska and Hawaii. Next Day is 30% with a $24.95 min. and not available for Alaska/Hawaii. Check Lakeshorelearning.com for specific information regarding PO Boxes, Canadian, International, and APO/FPO addresses.
You can pay by American Express, Discover, MC, or Visa. Schools that have an account can also pay on account.
My most recent order was purchased on January 16th. I received my order standard shipping on the 28th. In my opinion, it takes a little long for shipping. However, I guess that is dependant upon where you live as well. The company is out of California. I am in Connecticut. It still seems rather excessive in time, though. And, every order I have placed with Lakeshore has taken long to receive. However, I will state that their shipping quality is fantastic. The quality of boxes used to ship items, and the way they are packaged and supported within the shipping box is shocking. I was very pleased with how considerate they were in packing my products to arrive safely. Well done! That beats the box of glasses I ordered from a major department store two weeks ago. The laptop-sized glass box arrived in what looked like a comforter box with about ten packing peanuts in it. The glass box was shuffling around and of course, half of the glasses were broken. Therefore, this from Lakeshore is a wonderful surprise. LOVE IT!
Customer support (live) is available at 1 800 421 5354, Mon-Fri from 6am to 6pm PST, and on Sat. from 8:30am to 5pm. The site provides extensive customer support information as well. Information regarding product safety, guarantees, availability, FAQ'S, gift wrapping, order changing, order status, and returns/exchanges are provided. An email address for support is also provided. I have used order status and return processes here. Before I became a member, I was only able to track my order status by calling or emailing Lakeshore. I didn't care for that, especially since many sites allow you to check online. The only way to check your order status online is by becoming a member BEFORE you place your order.
Returns can be shipped or brought to a store location for full refund/exchange. Before Lakeshore moved to Connecticut, I shipped a returned item. Our principal had purchased something for our K team and apparently I purchased it a week after she ordered it. Therefore, I packed the books back up, and filled out the back of my packing list and included it. You must return by UPS or Parcel Post. If it is a very large item, calling them will secure smooth arrangements. The store returns are always going to be much easier, as long as you have your receipt. Although I have never had the experience, Lakeshorelearning.com claims that damaged items are accepted/exchanged and arrangements are made to pick-up the damages. Credits are quick and processed in about a week or two. Mine took two weeks from sending to credit.
Privacy and security are very important to Lakeshore. They protect information through SSL technology and VeriSign.
Requesting a catalog is easy and they give you grade/age specific options.
Lakeshorelearning.com even provides you with extensive "shopping basics" including easy to understand information regarding how to order, shipping policies, mail preferences, gift card information (which ship free in 3-5 days), FAQ'S, and an easy to use site map for alternate navigation. The FAQ'S are separated into helpful categories including, ordering and checkout, shipping, order tracking, gift services, returns, and registration, email, and password help. They even gift wrap for $4.95!
Lakeshore supports Head Start and Early Head Start programs with customized catalogs, floor plans, material lists etc...The also just recently advertised cut prices on over 700 items. Ahhh....the economic times of now. They are low, but don't expect deep discounts here, as I said before. Quality, Quality, Quality.
Lakeshore supports their community, immensely. I was so pleased to see how much they give back to the community. They have a "Nature Explore Classroom," (preschool), provide assistance to the Gulf Coast Child Care Community, they advocate for the learning and physically disabled, and assist students and schools is so many ways that have been affected by natural disasters or tragedies. I am proud to purchase from and support a company that cares so much about our future in children!
Lakeshore's product safety is also admirable. A letter from the president reveals that with growing safety concerns in children's products, they are fully compliant with "all U.S. safety regulations and also have (their) own in-house Quality Assurance Team." They rigorously inspect and test every item they carry. Every item "meets or exceeds all of the governmental safety requirements...or (they) don't carry it, period!"
There are also links to connect to Lakeshore's Twitter and Facebook pages, as well.
Products are superb in quality. I have purchased from many different companies and have yet to find one that supplies the safety, quality, and variety that Lakeshore does for a child's educational and social needs. I am so pleased with each product. I have had Lakeshore products from day one of teaching and have since discarded other brands that have fallen apart in despair. All of my Lakeshore products are holding strong and will last for many years to come. The price is a reflection of that. Any products that include mats or cards are double-laminated by me, however. Lakeshore's card quality is excellent, yet I feel for my students and their age-group, that they need that extra lamination. I am picky, though.
Some possible improvements include: enabling teacher's club card members to save 15% online too, making order status available online for non-members, and speedier shipping time.
FINAL THOUGHTS (FINALLY....RIGHT???)
Parents...teachers...here is a place for you to enjoy browsing. This is a place that will carry all of your child's educational and play needs. Anything you can imagine to motivate and inspire your child is here. Have fun! Browse, shop, and know that you are receiving quality and safety with every product that you purchase. Enrich your child's life and ensure their social and academic success! Lakeshore's slogan is "products designed with learning in mind!" While children enjoy every moment of using their products, they are also learning so very much!
**A VERY SPECIAL "Thank You!" to meagandowney for adding this site!!**
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