Every year I get so amped for The International Toy Fair in New York City–no caffeine needed–as we scour the isles of the Javits Center for fun new products embedded with language learning potential. The creativity, passion and spunk of toy designers/companies inspires and excites me. Each year I see more companies calling out the specific learning skills in their toys and introducing products that make learning fun for ALL kids. After walking the nearly half million square feet, it is time to put my feet up and share the trends I see for 2016:
Whoa Horses! Working in homes, I see horses are a hot item in the playroom so kids will have some fantastic sets to choose from this year. “Janod’s Country Club Riding School” is new to their Cardboard World with a tack room and stable opening up to to reveal 38 accessories while closing back into a suitcase–don’t we love a take-along story starter? Ride the rails to Brio’s “Countryside Horse Set” to groom your horse or teach him to jump, inviting creativity in pretend play.
Try a Little Tech: Traditional companies that we love who produce kid-powered toys have added a tiny bit of tech to engage kids but not overwhelm them, maintaining the core values of their brand. As I cradled Corolle Dolls’ Bebe Bisou and pressed her tummy, she replied with, “MaMa” and a “smooch” right on my cheek. Brio, known for kid-driven sound effects and power, has added a remote controlled train to their track sets and it’s easy enough even for me to operate. Pairing traditional play with technology, but strictly adhering to high quality learning, Tiggly is coming out with another outstanding app to use with their physical shapes, “Tiggly Shapes Got Talent,” as circles and squares compete in a clever star search, led by you-know-who, the STAR.
STEM Adds an L? Okay, this is for all my clever readers, can you come up with a way to add an “L” to the acronym STEM since language is a crucial component in the critical thinking, problem-solving and drawing conclusions necessary in the sciences? I was thrilled to see companies going deeper in their design of STEM toys, adding a Language dimension. Guidecraft’s Power Clix Explorer Series has added figures and original cartoons (created by a 16 year-old) to start the story and get imaginations churning in their magnetic building sets. Women CEO/designers saw the gap in their daughter’s toys and are giving us STEM building sets that emphasize constructing a corresponding story, stretching language skills. Build and Imagine has led the way, encouraging girls (boys love them too) to build structures providing the setting for pretend play with figures. Roominate adds electricity for options to open and close a garage door or drive the elevator in their new “Mansion.” New to the group, Wonderhood, has introduced a fabulous Hotel and Corner Shops. STEM careers are presented through story-based building in K’Nex’s new “Mighty Makers.”
Girl Power: How fun to see the new curvy Barbie up close at Mattel’s event. Her pear shape resonated with me for obvious reasons. New options celebrated “being me” on either side of the Doll aisle. I met “Naturally Perfect” dolls who are celebrating the natural beauty of girls of color with kinky/curly hair. Since I threw out the flat iron last summer and freed myself from all straightening attempts, I can relate. They are beautiful, with the right message. The Queen’s Treasures will be coming out with a new Jane Goodall line of doll accessories continuing to celebrate real people who’ll inspire new generations of creators and discoverers. Go! Go! Sports Girls led the way for girls to”appreciate and be true to themselves.” Check out their new doll and book sets.
Woodland Story Themes: Alex Toys is known for its activity cubes jam-packed with exploratory learning. A favorite this year is their “Woodland Wonders Activity Cube” with such a variety of hands on discoveries around the outdoor theme–letters and even a pond on top–giving parents plenty to describe using new and challenging vocabulary. Kids will live and eat among the trees with Playmobil’s new “Adventure Tree House” while Lego Friends’ new “Adventure Camp Tree House” provides a challenging climbing wall, turning bridge obstacle, slide, and tire swing.
Best in Show for Combining Multiple Modes of Learning Fun: I had to have a category for the toys I was most impressed with that combined multiple dimensions of learning. Faber-Castell’s Spark Lab was created in conjunction with the Smithsonian taking young entrepreneurs through the steps to invent and eventually sell a product–super shoe, toy, money or robot. Planning, problem-solving, critical thinking, and negotiating, are all language skills that go into creating a product. WonderForge did it again, making us laugh and learn with their “Thing Two, Thing One, Whirly Fun” preschool game, challenging kids to work together (social skills, language) to clean up fast after The Cat in the Hat and his helpers make a mess of the house (inspires pretend play) before mom gets home (fine motor skills). I’ve seen and played with a lot of trains, but the new Hape Railway has a fresh, ingenious take on the preschool rail adventure, led by animal rail cars. Stocked with original sensory, manipulative activities along the way. Toddlers activate monkeys jumping up from the trees, shape sorters, run across a xylophone, and enter a jungle car wash.