Last week, the American International Toy Fair in New York City was a blitz of excitement, innovation, creativity and fun. I look forward to it every year, as I make my way through the acres of booths filled with 150,000 toys and games, on the hunt for 2013’s best new products to build language.
The Toy Industry Association’s Toy Trend Tea for the press is a favorite stop, partly because I can finally sit down and refuel as they hand out snacks in a retro, metal lunch box. I appreciate the trends and toys they showcased that evoke nostalgia with vintage and retro styling, combine real and virtual worlds, entice teens and tweens, play off of pop culture, and encourage construction. But I step in a bit further, looking beyond the flying fairies or iPhone controlled helicopters, through a specialized lens to identify, sort, prioritize, and gauge the language learning elements designed in a product that also maintains a personality of fun!
I see companies digging deeper and intentionally layering levels of learning in their toys and games. Many have consulted with teachers and developmental specialists to add images to words, pretend play to their games, flexibility to their stories and multi-dimensional learning styles to their products to benefit ALL kids. Naturally my favorite toy trend is products with a depth of intended learning within a wildly fun play experience. Within this category I also see more emphasis on products for toddlers as well as pretend play back at the forefront. Here are some of my favorites:
- Wonder Forge’s “Disney Eye Found It! Game” connects 12 beautifully illustrated Disney environments to search for objects within a theme, as collaborative teams race to the castle before it strikes midnight.
- Innovative Kids’ “Little Book Tower-Colors” digs deeper beyond just picturing colored objects, by offering a descriptive sentence, introducing the use of each object “eating juicy purple grapes one by one,” expanding the language experience.
- Infantino’s “Critter Ball Set,” took some input from their team that includes parents of children with special needs. Those in the know can see beyond the cute animals to the varied textures, faces, and sensory and language experiences available.
- Plan Toys’ “Frog Life Puzzle” teaches kids the life cycle of the frog, as they stack eggs, and tadpoles into the pond, finishing up with their bug-eyed friend.
- Brickstix consulted teachers for a list of common sight words and simple nouns, learning the importance of having an image associated with the word for beginning readers using their “MOD MiniTYPE” reusable stickers for plastic bricks, combining construction with reading.
Focused on the Toddler set:
- Thinkfun’s “Hello Sunshine” joins last year’s sibling “Roll ‘n Play” designed as a toddler’s first game. Hide Sunshine according to picture cards depicting positions such as in a box or on top of your head!
- Learning Resources’ “New Sprouts Ring It Up! My Very Own Cash Register” lets kids two and up play store and learn to count. Press numbered buttons, match coins to slots and watch coins disappear into the cash drawer, as you shop.
- Lego’s “Toddler Starter Building Set” for 1 1/2 years of age, includes slightly larger than Duplo-sized plain and patterned pieces and of course two faces with big eyes to stir up pretend play and dialogue.
- Wow Toys has recently introduced playset themes like “Sammy Sea Patrol,” joining the popular kid-powered vehicles. The vehicles have been given names, encouraging animation while building connections as cherished toys to be passed down through generations.
- Corolle’s new dolls that love the water, include “Bébé Bath & Accessories.” Filled with beads that dry quickly, she is ready for snorkeling adventure in the tub, complete with floaties, flippers and a snorkel mask!
Pretend Play/ Multiple Use:
- Lilliputiens’ “Ophelie And Her Chicks” has three levels of play starting with plush mama Ophelie, a hand puppet whose tummy is stuffed with a soft shape sorter housing numbered and different colored chicks. Could there possibly be more learning in one toy?
- Step2′s “Pet Rescue Rider” takes toddlers on the road equipped with their first aid kit tucked in the front of their vehicle, ready to aid their pets with a stethoscope or shot.
- Manhattan Toys’ new brand, imagine I CAN role-play kits give kids the tools to inspire imaginative play. Secret Agents have invisible ink and finger print powder among their gear, while pirates carry a compass, map and sword, all housed in cool portable tins.
- Wonderworld’s “My Portable Cooker” takes pretend play on the go, folding into a compact size with a carry-along handle. Little ones can take their kitchen on the road.
- HABA’s “Puppet Theater” starts as a peek-through curtained puppet show but transforms into a toy or food market when the stage swivels into a counter and two hanging boxes are easily added to hold your inventory.
- GoldieBlox inspires the next generation of female engineers with her storybook, “GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine,” DIY projects and character figures acting out the story.
- Folkmanis’ new “Alpaca” puppet’s ultra-soft, realistic fleece makes it perfect to join into delightful pretend play or just hang around for a cuddle.