Take A Record: Have Fun With A Purpose At Ohio State’s Highlights For Children Exhibit

Do you hang up your wet towel, or do you toss it on the floor, hoping that someone else will pick it up and hang it up for you?

OSU Highlights for Children exhibitionIf this makes thoughtful Gallant and thoughtless Goofus come to mind, you’re likely familiar with the fictional twins from the pages of Highlights for Children magazine. The pair conduct themselves very differently as they provide examples of socially acceptable behavior, reminding young readers that doing the right thing makes them likeable. There’s some of Goofus’s carelessness and Gallant’s consideration in all of us, but the power of positive suggestion helps us show our best self to others.

Goofus and Gallant’s adventures are featured in Fun with a Purpose: Highlights and its Contribution to Childhood Education, on view in Ohio State University’s Thompson Library Gallery through September 4.

Highlights for Children was created by Garry Cleveland Myers and his wife, Caroline Clark Myers.

The couple grew up in Pennsylvania, met while attendOSU Highlights for Children exhibitioning college, and married in 1912. Caroline taught school while Garry earned his doctoral degree in child psychology at Columbia University.

During World War I, Garry taught soldiers how to read and write, while Caroline became the U.S. Army’s first female teacher. Together, they developed a picture-based intelligence test, the Myers Mental Measure, and wrote The Language of America, a series of books on how to teach English literacy. In 1920, they moved to Cleveland, where Garry headed the child psychology and parent education departments at Case Western Reserve University.

The couple took copious notes on their three children’s OSU Highlights for Children exhibitiondevelopment, recording observations on topics like “Boy-Girl Relationships” and “Keeping the Child Happily and Profitably Employed” on the pages of small looseleaf notebooks organized with alphabetical tabs. This was such a frequent occurrence that their son, Jack, would say to his parents, “Take a record,” when he wanted his parents to write down something that he did.

As their careers developed, the couple became known for their work in child psychology, education and parenting. They traveled across the country, talking to parents and teachers on topics like “Helping Our Children Succeed at School” and “How We Parents Annoy Our Children.” They reprinted those lectures in a children’s magazine called Children’s Activities, of which they were the editors. Dr. Myers wrote “Parent Problems,” a syndicated newspaper column that was published for more than 40 years.

By the time they were 61 and 58, Garry and Caroline started thinking about the possibility of producing their own children’s magazine that would focus on family life and help young people become happy, satisfied, productive and compassionate adults. They hoped that young readers would really interact with it, being inspired to play games, reOSU Highlights for Children exhibitionad poems and stories, tell jokes, think about open-ended questions, undertake craft projects, sing songs, draw pictures, write letters, and solve puzzles presented in simple illustrated stories that were written especially for them. The magazine cultivated “Fun with a Purpose,” through content that produced concentration, promoted curiosity, encouraged learning and critical thinking, provided satisfaction, and motivated children to want more.

The first issue of the magazine was published in June 1946. Since then, it has become the most-read children’s magazine in the world. Many of its much-loved features that exercise the mind, elicit conversation, encourage attention and successful discovery while helping to develop reading skills continue today.

Generations of children have pored over intricate “Hidden Pictures,” a perceptual puzzle that the Myerses invented and made popular. First presented as a black-and-white drawing, then in full color, and now in an internet-based click-and-play version and an iPhone application, Hidden Pictures invites exercises the mind. Early versions of Hidden Pictures revealed which skills were taught through the drawing at the bottom of the page. In this early Hidden Picture, can you find the fish, bird, turtle, hammer, shoe, arm and hand, woman’s face, child’s face, dog’s head, fairy princess, alarm clock and umbrella?

OSU Highlights for Children exhibition

Each month, hundreds of children write to the magazine to share their stories and ask for advice. Because their friends at Highlights share the Myerses’ belief that children are the world’s most important people, each child receives a personal answer. Dr. Myers continued answering children’s letters until his death in 1971.

OSU Highlights for Children exhibition

In 1962, the magazine hired a world editor, whose job entailed traveling around the world, celebrating diversity by interviewing children from different cultures. Highlights publications are translated in many languages for audiences around the world.

In 1954, the Highlights for Children cover changed to feature a design by Munro Leaf, the children’s author and illustrator best known for best known for The Story of Ferdinand, which featured a black-and-white cartoon drawing of two characters with a teaser for a story about them inside. OSU Highlights for Children exhibitionIn 1957, the cover design changed once more to feature geometric shapes in two colors, with the title presented in a font described as “the smiling ‘happy H’” logo, which became the magazine’s recognizable brand. In 1981, the cover featured full-color, full-page artwork, followed by more content teasers.

Although the magazine started in Pennsylvania, in 1960, its headquarters were relocated to 2300 West 5th Avenue in Columbus, near Riverside Drive, after the Myerses located a printer with an ample supply of paper at a time of a widespread paper shortage. Eventually, the Myers children became involved in the business; Garry, Jr. started a well-known program in which copies of Highlights with tear-out subscription cards were placed both in schools and in doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms.

Later, Highlights acquired the Zaner-Bloser Company, a Columbus publisher of research-based handwriting, reading, writing, spelling and vocabulary programs. A Manuscript Alphabet wipe-off mat and accompanying wax crayons or grease pencils is on display; this was included in a writing kit for parents and teachers to help children with their reading and writing skills.

My favorite part of the exhibition was listening to an archival recording of the Myerses.  They talked about their ideas about family life and the power of positive suggestion in shaping children’s attitudes toward taking responsibility, being kind to others, fostering good relationships with siblings and parents, being careful with the property of others, and even fair, honest dealings with other children on the playground.OSU Highlights for Children exhibition

Visitors to the interactive exhibit are encouraged to post their memories to the “Things Remembered” wall, play games, find hidden pictures, color pictures in the Highlights Hidden Pictures Coloring Book for Grown-Up Children and take photos of themselves as if they were appearing on the magazine’s cover.

For more information about Highlights for Children, see Highlights for Children: A Study of the Editorial Development of a Children’s Magazine, 1946-1968, by Barbara Cordle Ball; The Highlights Way: Inspiring Children to Think, Feel, Connect, and Respect, by Katharine Greider; and a DVD titled The Story of Highlights: Fun with a Purpose. The Highlights for Children Archives, 1946-2007 is a publicly accessible collection of issues of the magazine, letters to the editor, selected children’s submissions, and Garry Myers’ personal papers at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library at Ohio State’s Thompson Library. 

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