Phew! I made it through all four days of the International Toy Fair, talking with over 100 companies and seeing hundreds of great new toys and games. Now that I’ve got my feet up and can digest some of the images–remote controlled floating sharks, a 12″ tall laser peg Pegasaur, life-size lego Dora and Friends, and my encounter with Barbie on the Sports Illustrated cover, I can share some of my highlights and takeaways from the show.
Monday I blogged about the trends that I saw at the show. The following day, the Toy Industry Association (TIA) held a press conference to share their top 6 toy trends of 2014. I can’t help but share the language learning and storytelling within each category:
- Larger than Life: from plush to play sets and building toys, these toys engage kids in imaginative role-play activities which generate lots of language and fun! One of my favorite new companies I found was “My Friend Huggles” who make life size rag dolls “to teach beauty from the inside out!” It warms my heart just to talk about them, and it doesn’t hurt that I had a life size rag doll with the same yellow yarn hair when I was little (mine had elastic on the feet so I could slip it under my feet and dance with her). Let’s tell the story about being kind, forgiving, fair and grateful.
- RC Rampage: playtime shifts into high gear with an influx of innovative remote-controlled vehicles. I was constantly buzzed overhead while at the show with mini helicopters and inflatables. Not my usual go-to toy to encourage language but I bet a therapist or two have used remote-controlled vehicles to engage kids:)
- Full STEAM ahead: You can’t miss this trend with science kits, math games and engineering toys everywhere! TIA added the “A” (Arts) in STEM saying, “Toymakers are increasingly incorporating storytelling and other artistic components into science, engineering and building toys to get more kids than ever on board with STEAM.” Manufacturers known for craft kits even added science kits to their product line. One of my favorite STEM companies is “Roominate,” the original wired dollhouse building kit. I had fun talking with engineer founders, Bettina Chen and Alice Brooks about childhood play experiences centered around early engineering skills (since I was surrounded by electrical engineers in my family). From sewing to constructing, girls should be encouraged to pursue activities that build STEM skills in a fun creative way. Make a dollhouse, the Golden Gate Bridge or an airplane and then start a second stage of pretend play with your newly engineered project! Let’s tell the story about empowered girls inventing, creating and using their new projects.
- Frightfully fun, zombies, monsters and more: Okay I’ll admit this isn’t my favorite trend. I don’t get it but I know kids are attracted to the dark side. I saw a monster head for tweens to decorate with several sets of ghoulish eyelashes and hair chalk but quietly passed by. One of the only products I liked that might loosely fit in this category was “Lyla Tov Monsters” in the Launchpad area of the Toy Fair which features new start-ups. I couldn’t help but stop to visit these engaging characters hanging on a display as I rounded the corner. Designed by a 3 year-old to be protectors of a good nights sleep, they come with a book about how they can calm sleep fears. Let’s tell the story about overcoming our fears at bedtime.
- Retro/Back to Basics: parents and grandparents love to play old-time favorites with their kids and grandkids. I found myself being reminded of my childhood play many times whether it was sewing my own doll clothes like those provided with Kathie Kruse dolls or journalling and scrapbooking to chronicle a little girl’s experiences, trips and friendships at PomTree. Let’s tell the story about our day.
- Custom built: the trend adds to the construction rage, now encouraging kids to make their own jewelry, action figures or cars, customizing with personalized detail. A new company I found this year at the show, “Lille Huset,” Norwegian for “little house,” was started by designer Alyson Beaton. Each house has its own story, and kids are encouraged to write their own story about their house after constructing it, decorating and making accessories. These “green” houses, made in the USA fold flat for take-along play and are fully customizable by little decorators. Let’s tell the story about our home.
As usual, I had fun seeing what others don’t as I took my language lens and explored the show. It’s a joy to see all the innovative and creative people following their passion to produce great toys for kids to engage in completely fun play while learning, solving problems, creating and collaborating.