My toddler and I sat down to review the latest National Geographic Kids magazine–a fun-looking issue with a big sea turtle floating across the cover. I turned to the first page and was just asking him what he thought we’d learn about sea turtles when all of the sudden something else caught his attention. “SPONGE BOB!!” my little guy exclaimed, pointing to the cartoon character on the inside cover.
I was confused. SpongeBob?? First of all, we’ve never watched the TV cartoon show in our house, and secondly, what’s he doing in a National Geographic magazine? Then I realized that the smiling Mr. SquarePants was actually pushing a family resort in the Cayman Islands, whose ad was prominently featured on the magazine’s inside cover.
National Geographic Kids (along with Sports Illustrated Kids magazine) is one of the few leading children’s publications that accept outside advertising. I’m on the fence as to what I think about it. In the magazine’s defense, most of the ads are completely appropriate to its audience and feature products most parents wouldn’t have a problem with–a series of books by an author I read as a child, a healthier kid’s option at a leading national fast-food restaurant, and of course, the SpongeBob vacation package.
My children are still young, and television is extremely limited in our house. I know as they get older, they’ll be subject to more advertising messages. But I’d like to hope there are a few places that could remain pure. Do we have to field questions about whether we can take a family vacation to the Caribbean when we’re just trying to look over a neat science magazine with our kids? The photography and content in National Geographic Kids is great, and I know it takes lots of money–advertising money–to put together such a terrific publication. I just wish my little guy’s world could remain protected from the advertising onslaught for a little longer.
What do you think about advertising content in children’s magazines?
As a mom of two young children, I consider my magazine time to be precious. I rarely settle down with a favorite publication until well into the evening when the dishes are done, the kids are bathed and bedded down, and the house is (mostly) straightened up.
While I love flipping through the crisp inner pages to see what comes next, I’ve usually already glanced at the cover and have an idea about the articles that will appeal to me. There are lots of things I love about magazines, but my pet peeve is not being able to find a story highlighted on the cover once I’m inside the pages. This is true for magazines of any genre, but especially parenting ones–when you need to find your information fast and read it before nap time ends, or you’re called from the waiting room in the pediatrician’s office, or the carpool line starts to move. You get my point.
I compared a few recent top parenting magazines to see which covers were most effective–and helpful. Here’s what I found:
Parenting Early Years magazine wins the top prize. Every article mentioned on the May 2010 cover also included a page number. When I first glanced at the cover, I found myself having a tough time deciding which story I’d flip to first. Though there was obviously a main cover story (about the science behind the mother-child bond) the editors did a great job of writing snappy blurbs about all of the stories–and the page numbers were an added bonus, without making the design too crowded.
FamilyFun magazine was a close second in ease-of-cover-use. While only one story on the cover included a page number, a mini table of contents was included just inside on Page 7 that listed all the stories on the cover and where to find them.
Probably the least reader-friendly cover was Parents magazine (though the cover photo of the little girl sitting by the pool was adorable). Only one story on the June 2010 cover included a page number, and it was the most random story listed on the cover–a humor piece about a dad shopping for diapers. I read the story and it was really funny–but it wouldn’t have been the one I was most dying to read when I picked up the 212-page magazine. In Parents’ defense, it also had an “On the Cover” section in its table of contents, but for some reason it didn’t stand out as much to me as the one in FamilyFun.
What do you think? Are covers user-friendly enough for a busy parent? Leave a comment and let me know what, if anything, you would do to improve them.
Since 1975, National Geographic Kids magazine has been fulfilling its mission of “exciting kids about their world.” Published 10 times a year, the magazine is aimed at 6- to 14-year-old boys and girls. Since my two kiddos are younger than the target age, I asked a neighbor’s 6-year-old son and his friend to look it over and give me a kid’s perspective.
The good news is that they already had a subscription, so they were familiar with it. Much like its adult counterpart, the kid’s version focuses on wildlife, entertainment, science, technology, extreme sports, adventures, amazing kids and world wonders. Each issue is packed full of facts, photographs, maps and pull-out sections and posters.
I found myself drawn to the “Weird But True” section, which had “outrageous” facts such as, “The smallest bone in the human body is shorter than a grain of rice.” Who knew?! My 6-year-old reviewers loved the plethora of facts as well, which were found all over the magazine in other regular sections like “Guinness World Records” and “Bet You Didn’t Know.”
In true National Geographic magazine style, the photography in the kid’s version is great. You get up close and personal with everything from butterfly wings and tigers to chimpanzees and piglet squids.
The magazine encourages readers’ participation through two regular sections, “Art Zone” and “Back Talk.” Art Zone features original drawings by kids based on a certain theme each month, like amusement parks or how readers would save the environment. And Back Talk is a great reminder of how funny kids can be. Each issue provides a photograph with a blank thought balloon. Kids are encouraged to fill it in and send it back, and the most clever ones are printed in the following month’s issue.
Though both of my reviewers thought the magazine was a little “long” for their attention spans, I think it’s a good sign to parents who want to get their money’s worth out of a subscription. The 6-year-olds went though the entire magazine in one sitting for me, and my neighbor did mention that they normally read it in spurts. They’re also on the younger end of the target audience, so older kids might enjoy digesting it all at once. The magazine’s media kit says that almost 79 percent of kids read the entire magazine the first day they receive it.
My obsession with magazines began around age 7 or so, when I got my first issue of Highlights in the mail. Fast-forward almost three decades later, and I was thrilled when my own child was old enough for a subscription to Highlights High Five magazine, a junior version of Highlights for Children aimed at preschoolers ages 2 to 6. I subscribed to it when my little guy was barely 2, and for him, it was a bit too early. He wasn’t ready to sit still long enough and our magazine review sessions were more frustrating than fun. But now he’s 3, and loves finding each new issue in the mailbox.
According to its publisher, Highlights High Five was “created to help you encourage your young child’s development–and have fun together at the same time.” Each issue is 40 pages of advertisement-free content with a mix of read-aloud stories, puzzles and activities geared toward preschoolers.
Here’s a quick look at some of our favorite features in every issue:
- I remember how much I loved finding objects in the “Hidden Picture” section, which hasn’t changed much since my childhood. My toddler loves it too, and really enjoys marking his finds with a flourish.
- We also
like the “Action Rhymes,” which are a few easy rhyming verses that
include body motions. (For example: You say “big yellow moon shines so
bright, glides across the sky at night” while you make a big round
circle with your arms over your head.) Since little ones are always on the move, the Action Rhymes offer a chance to get up and wiggle around while learning something at the same time.
- You can’t learn a foreign language too early, and the “Read-Aloud” story in English and Spanish is a perfect introduction for toddlers. As a mom who isn’t fluent in Spanish, I’m thankful for the simple phonetic pronunciation guides that accompany the Spanish sections of the story.
- A subtle aspect of the magazine I also appreciate is the diversity that’s included throughout. The illustrated and photographed children and parents on each page don’t all look alike–a great thing for parents who want to teach their kids that the world is full of different people!
I’m always amazed at what a difference a few months can make in children’s development. While many 14-month-olds are starting to walk, their buddies a few months younger have barely tasted solids. Yet just a few years down the road, those same two kids will play happily together with no concern as to who is a few months older.
The development gap between kids of different ages probably makes it challenging for editors of parenting magazines. How do you put together articles that appeal to parents of 2-year-olds and 7-year-olds at the same time?
That’s one reason I really like the way Parents magazine presents its content. Included in the table of contents of each issue is an age-by-age chart that shows the breakdown of feature stories and to which age groups they are most relevant. There are also specific “They Grow” sections dedicated to certain stages. So even if some articles seem light years away from your parenting issues at the moment, chances are you’ll find several things that speak directly to you.
I also like that they cover what I’d consider more substantive subjects. While I do want to know how to diagnose diaper rash, I respect parenting magazines that go beyond the expected content. A recent issue of Parents covered topics such as why there’s a shortage of pediatric specialists and how it can affect your child, how to discipline without saying “No” all the time and money-managing strategies from real couples.
And on the lighter side–I’m always giggling at my child’s take on the world–kids really can say the darnedest things! Parents magazine’s back page “Baby Bloopers” celebrates the hilarious stuff that can come out of kids’ mouths. It’s a collection of those funny quotes from readers’ kids–the kind of things you’d share with your parents, friends and in-laws.