“Know Yourself” is a company that produces quality entertainment-educational content for kids between the ages of 7 and 12. Just in time for the holidays, the company today launched a 12-part adventure series that’s a perfect educational gift.
The new “Know Yourself Adventure Series” is delivered monthly and contains a year’s worth of original comic books, science projects, historical lessons, and healthy recipes which are all designed to give children the information they need to learn about the vital systems of the body, while also bringing hours of productive entertainment to their families.
The year-long adventure introduces a different system of the human body each month – starting with the five senses – and progressively builds on the previous month’s learning. Over the course of the year, kids will receive creative content that helps them explore the skeletal, muscular, nervous, respiratory, digestive, immune systems, and more.
Know Yourself’s full line of books, comics, and clothing weave together a compelling cast of characters with exciting, interactive curriculum designed to nurture young people’s inherent desire for wisdom and wellness and help them become fully versed in how their minds and bodies work – a process they call “self-literacy.” Recently, CEO Nancy Howes spoke to the Examiner about the company and her hopes for its future:
Meagan Meehan (M.M.): What inspired you to start your company and how did you choose the name?
Nancy Howes (N.H.): When my oldest daughter was 3 or 4, she came running over to me in the kitchen super excited. “Mom feel this!” She made me put my hand to her sternum. “Can you feel that?” She’d discovered her heartbeat. “Mom, it goes like all the time. It never stops.” I laughed and said, “That’s right, honey,” and we talked about how her heart was responsible for pumping blood all through her body. This was just the first of many curious investigations my tiny girl initiated about her body. I’ve found knowing how my own body and mind work mitigates a lot of fearfulness and serves as the foundation of my self esteem, my confidence, and my ability to make good decisions. When my children arrived, I was reminded that this is some of the most important learning I could pass along. I also decided, having come from a family that did not discuss body parts or feelings in any way shape or form, I wanted to be a parent that my kids could learn who they are with—from the inside out. It is such a gift to watch and help my children grow. Teaching my girls how the body works seemed like an easy task to take on, but when I looked around for materials to support my kids’ curiosity around their inner workings, what I found was either too basic “you smell with your nose” or way too complicated “the whole human body book.” I was born an artist with lots of energy, so I started creating the resources that I had hoped to find. “Know Yourself” is the result of this art project. The name comes from the ancient Greek aphorism “Know Thyself”. Still a great idea, we just updated it a little.
M.M.: Growing up, what kinds of subjects most interested you?
N.H.: Art and building things were my first loves. I planned to make them my career, until my father took me aside and informed me that I was “No Picasso” (that’s a quote), and that he wasn’t planning on supporting me for the rest of my life, and I needed to think about a real career. He suggested I focus on a career in “computers”, which I did for 20+ years. As my other love has always been learning, I didn’t mind the diversion. I learned so much. Importantly, I never put my art down. I continued to dabble in many side projects along the way and finally finished my BFA (with High Distinction) at California College of the Arts. “Know Yourself” has allowed me to combine my passion for art with my passion for learning and education. I feel so fulfilled.
M.M.: How did you go about getting your products marketed?
N.H.: We are at the beginning of that process, with our official launch scheduled for mid-November. Our plan is to let our amazing products speak for themselves by getting them to as many children and parents as possible. We plan to market through blogs and product review sites directly to parents of kids 9-14. Our customers are our greatest asset. We fully expect our most valuable marketing will occur through parent-to-parent networking. We know that when we make great products, people will want to share them with their friends.
M.M.: You mostly deal with storylines involving biology. Do you have plans to expand to other topics, too?
N.H.: Our mission is self-literacy, so anything that furthers people’s understanding of themselves is within our scope. That includes anatomy, where people learn how their bodies are constructed, physiology, where they learn how their bodies work, and psychology, where people learn how their minds work, what drives their behavior, and what goes into making good decisions. So yes, there’s a lot more we plan on doing.
M.M.: So far, what has been the most rewarding thing about creating Know Yourself?
N.H.: The most rewarding thing for me is seeing how young people engage with our materials and come away knowing something about themselves. Kids have an innate curiosity about how they are put together. For me it’s incredibly satisfying to see that curiosity cultivated and to imagine how, in doing so, we’re benefitting those kids for the rest of their lives. Whether that is starting them on the road to a successful career in health or science, or simply giving them the tools to explain what they’re feeling in a future conversation with a healthcare professional the ways in which self-literacy can affect a young person’s life are staggering. On a personal level, I love the process of creation and collaboration, so that’s made the journey fun and rewarding. Along the way, I’ve been blessed with attracting an amazing team of collaborators that have brought this company to life. They challenge me every day, intellectually and artistically. The results of this collaboration are incredibly high quality products that have been received by focus groups and initial beta customers with accolades.
M.M.: Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to mention?
N.H.: We’re officially launching our company and our 12-month subscription adventure series on November 17th. We are super excited to get out there and start educating kids about themselves. The third book in our four-book series teaching the 206 bones in the adult human body is at the printer now, and Book 4 is due out early in 2016. Lots of exciting projects to come!
M.M.: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to work as a developer of learning materials?
N.H.: That is a broad question. First, identify the subject matter, objectives, the age group you are thinking about targeting, and consider where you plan on marketing the materials. I spent a lot of time researching how others had approached the subject, what I thought worked and what I thought did not work. Maybe my first piece of advice is to understand those things. That said, I can talk about the most important discoveries we’ve made from developing learning materials that have been historically overlooked, underserved, and not palatable for young audiences, especially those not naturally interested in a health-related career. So, my advice is:
1. Entertain first and educate second. This is most important insight I have (for our target market). Our problem to solve was how to keep kids engaged and maximize learning on a topic that can be fascinating but also intimidating. We developed incredible characters, and storylines that include community engagement, time travel, history, historical figures, AND cultural cuisine, to introduce anatomy, and psychology to kids. Our pedagogy is carefully constructed to weave into story and characters the educational concepts we have in mind. The characters learn about themselves along the way, and so do our kids.
2. Break information into chunks. Don’t worry about getting all the information across at once. Kids are smart and they know how to put information blocks together. That is why I started with the skeletal system, name and location. Muscles and tendons etc., can come later. It will all fall into place like mathematics or reading. You don’t jump right into calculus with kids or reading books. We build to that with chunks of information and build on it. We are approaching our subject matter in the same way.
3. Activities and frequent breaks in dense material like this helps kids remember. Kids have energy. We are talking about the body so we invite them to use it while thinking about it.
4. Mnemonic devices work. Singing, silly sentences etc. Do not be afraid to get silly and have fun. Use color. I can’t tell you how many kids I have seen throw dully colored or black and white materials aside (unless they want to color). We learned things like kids loved our zoids from Book 1 so we made more of them. I was surprised they were so popular. Almost every little kid I see who figures out that there are jokes in the books tries to find them all at once. I suppose it is akin to the joy of a well done political cartoon in the New Yorker (although I certainly read it for the articles).
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To learn more about “Know Yourself” visit the official website.