Every year I feel like a kid in the candy store as I span the New York International Toy Fair’s nearly half million square feet encountering a talking dinosaur, life-size lego R2D2, Worry Eater, flying helicopters and minion mobs. I’m pumped up seeing all the innovation, creativity, and energy as I search for new products with fantastically fun learning potential. Now that I can take a breath, put my feet up and digest all the new products from over 100 companies we saw, here are the trends I see:
1. Dinosaurs are hot in anticipation of the June release of the movie sequel, Jurassic World. But honestly, just take a walk through preschool and kindergarden classes and you’ll know that kids are fascinated with these prehistoric animals with or without a new movie coming out. Peaceable Kingdom’s new game, Dinosaur Escape, is one of their creative cooperative games that preschoolers love, as you race the board to get your dinosaur safely home before the volcano is constructed and erupts. HABA’s Sand Glove Dinosaur allows kids to slip on a life size digger for pretend play, while Galt Toys added a sibling to their highly popular playnest family with Playnest Dino, whose large smiling head invites conversation with little ones. Wonder Forge commands preschool games with another Eye Found It! game, where players have to spot objects in any of the 4 time periods from prehistoric (dinosaurs) to the present, learning a little history along the way.
2. Creative Design/ Customization became an extension of last year’s STEM and STEAM trends. I am seeing more depth in the science, engineering kits to allow for more open ended learning and play (reinforcing language) with what kids construct. Thinkfun’s Maker Studio puts the pieces of learning in the hands of kids as they take off making it their own. Learn the concepts of friction, torque and propulsion while making your own car out of a Wheat Thins box, becoming the centerpiece of later pretend play. Love that Tegu has added magnetic blocks with a hint of a face to bring up the language level of pretend play in their Stunt Team and Future series. Goldieblox continues to intersect engineering, language and creative play with their new Movie Machine, allowing kids to create their own movies. One of my favorite new companies, Build and Imagine has 3 sets in the aquatic theme with magnetic story walls to construct and many magnetic props to add to the wall as kids invent and re-invent the story.
3. Open Ended Play thankfully is a recognized toy trend this year by the Toy Industry Association. I wish it were on the list every year, because that’s how kids learn through play, with fewer directions and less prescribed instruction. One of my favorite new products this year is Haywire’s Worry Eater which has been wildly popular in Europe and I expect the same in the US. Kids simply write down their worries, unzip their fuzzy friend’s mouth, tuck their slip of paper in and whoosh, the worry is gone. It can bring on a chat about feelings, naming emotions and problem-solving while building language skills. Doll play is wonderful for open-ended imaginative play, especially with a few well-thought through props. Corolle’s new Mon Premier Bebe Bath Fresh Riviera has a new retro clothing design and is ready for the beach or tub play with the Bath Accessories Kit. Plan Toys’ modular Creative Playhouse uses so many interchangeable pieces to change up the function and story. Flip over a solar panel and you have a garden or tennis court. Janod’s Princess Palace cleverly uses the box to become the palace with wooden figures to attend the feast.
4. Real Talk With Dolls and Characters. Okay I am tip-toeing through this category because the “less is more” speech therapist in me has always wanted less talk by the toy and more by the child. I’ve seen how too many automated responses in a toy can actually inhibit talking in your kids as they are stopped mid-talk, get distracted and lose their focus and attention, But now I hear that Mattel has found that the number one request from girls is to have a Barbie that talks back and forth with them and these new conversational toys have come a long way from my favorite doll, Chatty Cathy, whose pull string activated several recorded responses. My own research causes me to take note–when I showed a girl a doll this week she said, “Does she talk?” I stand open to trying these new toys and will let you know what I think and see when reviewing them with kids. Mattel was showcasing both a talking Hello Barbie, connected to the cloud, with many branches of conversations based on a child’s response and preschool character, Bright Beats Dance & Move BeatBo,who has lots of recorded educational content but also records your message and turns it into a song–mine was “I love New York!” Talk to Cognitoy’s GreenDino (ages 4-7, available in November) and it feels a bit like conversing with Siri, although the voice thankfully has a more child-friendly feel. They’ve partnered with IBM tapping into Watson, the supercomputer.
5. Tweens’ Crafts are everywhere, sometimes taking over a booth that had much more variety last year. How many pieces of jewelry can a girl make? Apparently a lot! One of my favorites is Wooky Entertainments’ Charmazing kits where tech meets arts and crafts as girls customize their do-it-yourself charm bracelets that name their attributes. The free app gets the conversation going with other fashionistas and encourages trading charms.
6. Several big names in infant/baby lines are featuring a Toned Down Infant Palette when it comes to baby equipment and toys. I’ve seen the move to “grey” nurseries in the homes I’m in each week, and get that parents are the ones buying the products and desire something more serene to fit into their home decor. But, let’s not forget that babies and kids love and are attracted to bright contrasting colors. Who knows, maybe they sleep better without all the high impact jungle, forest and circus themes. I will say Hape’s Kruse, the beautifully re-branded line from German doll maker Kathe Kruse has added their signature “K” organic fabric stuffed animals, nickibabies, and blanket babies in Tiffany-quality boxes with silver K charms to other colorful collections. I was delighted to see Yookidoo again as each of their baby and preschool toys have a special learning edge AND they still believe in bright colors. Their Gymotion Activity Playland (I declared, “Finally something new in baby toys!”) sports a motion track buggy over the top that can come to ground level too to transport any of the soft characters and move those that baby wants to swat.
This year I had fun shooting about 21 short videos of the learning edge I saw in new products. Stay tuned as I will start posting those next week. Here’s a sneak peek: