Fossil Island is a place where children can have fun and learn. It's a board game invented by a teacher, created from a perceived need for learning materials that would actively engage students.
Bonnie Hemstad has taught for 28 years, currently teaching second-graders at Baxter Elementary School in the Brainerd School District.
Over the last six years she created a unique, educational game. Fossil Island grew from her belief that winning isn't the most important part of any game.
Hemstad's students served as testers for the concept that evolved from poster board and crude drawing to a professionally designed, marketable product.
"The Small Business Development Center (at Central Lakes College) helped me with practically everything," Hemstad said. "I didn't know where to start once enough colleagues and friends encouraged me to take this idea outside my classroom."
The creative part was easy, she said. "I am learning a lot about business that I didn't even want to know. I just wanted to make my games."
Her creativity continues. The first version of the interdisciplinary Fossil Island features addition flash cards that can adjust for students of all learning levels. The target audience is anyone age 7 and older, but even youngsters just starting school have benefited.
Three children of CLC business counselor Julie Anderholm prove that this game offers multiple play levels. Kaitlyn, 10, Benjamin, 8, and Joseph, 5, seemed to enjoy the game in a recent exhibition at the Business and Industry Center on the Central Lakes College campus in Brainerd.
The Anderholm children tuned in to the adventure of navigating a perpetually smiling dinosaur by answering problem cards and determining the best path to follow. As new card decks become available, the friendly competition can move to learning skills dealing with money, clocks, fractions, multiples, spelling, letter sounds and dinosaur facts.
"Most players won't finish the game in an allotted time," said Hemstad. "Once they learn that being the first done isn't the goal of the game, they have fun."
Getting the game into the hands of other teachers is a critical part of the business plan developed with guidance from counselors Anderholm and Kathy Moore. Sales can be arranged through attendance at teacher conventions and events staged for educational or recreational entrepreneurs.
"I expect to be at the national convention of second-grade teachers in Orlando July 14-17," Hemstad said, adding the October Minnesota Education Association gathering is another opportunity.
But with two mortgages behind the production of 5,000 boxes of games, Hemstad knows she will need a broad reach. Her fans, including teacher-niece Marci Nemec of International Falls, like the odds.
"The world is ready for it," said Nemec. "The game should be available in every elementary school in the country." Her kindergartners seemed to grasp addition at a greater pace and with solid retention as a result of play-testing the game.
Hemstad wasn't too sure back in 1995. She brought the game to her class that September and watched as the youngsters displayed various reactions. By the end of the first day, however, the signs were significantly favorable. Students were asking to stay in from recess to play.
And other teachers liked the concept. "They encouraged me," Hemstad said. She laminated the poster board and strengthened the cards with thicker materials.
The cosmetic turning point came with the drawing and coloring work of designer Chip Borkenhagen, a former graphic arts instructor at CLC now directing a local publication enterprise.
Hemstad said. "I took what I had to him and asked, 'Can you make this?' and it's incredible what he did by freehand, then with watercolor, ink and scanning."
The game came to life. Now it needed a place to live.
No financial institution would bankroll the start-up. There was no collateral.
"I've had a kind of love-hate relationship with it for six years," said business consultant Anderholm. She was directed to research a company that wanted to buy the rights. Nobody wanted to pay what she and Hemstad thought would be an adequate price.
And there were trademarks and patents to consider. No contracts were going to be signed unless specific protections could be obtained.
"I felt a little like an author who gets rejection slips after submitting the work for publication," she said with a laugh.
"I had gone to a convention of school suppliers, then to a seminar. A couple of people who had also created games gave me good advice," said Hemstad. They told her to keep the rights and market on her own.
A Canadian firm was low bidder for the job of printing and packaging the contents of each game box. In Brainerd, Lakes Area Mailing signed up to store the product awaiting distribution. The U.S. Postal Service will deliver it for approximately $3.95 per box.
Hemstad and her consulting team are seeking specialty stores to stock the game. It is already at The Bookworm in St. Cloud and ABC Zone in Rochester. A Web site is in the works for buyers over the Internet.
Selling for approximately $20, Fossil Island is ready to "challenge logical thinking and enable young learners to use independent, self-checking practices while interacting."
For information about Fossil Island, contact White Sand Games, 601 W. Washington, PMB 198, Brainerd, MN 56401. Hemstad can be reached at 829-4133 or e-mail her at email@example.com
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