Stepping through the doors of New York City’s International Toy Fair always pumps me up, the air charged with excitement, innovation, creativity, passion and fun!  With a hug from Peppa Pig, I started my search for fun new products embedded with language learning potential. Each year I see more companies going deeper into learning opportunities, especially in the sciences, as projects are linked to real-life experiences and kids are asked to explore, think critically, explain and relate their projects to their world.

 After walking the nearly half million square feet, it is time to put my feet up and share the trends I see for 2017:

STEM is STREAMING: I’m still seeing an amazing emphasis on STEM products that promote science, technology, engineering and math, with the addition of Robotics and the Arts. Thankfully the movement is “growing up” expanding STEM products to relate to real life experiences with guides, questions and prompts to get kids thinking beyond the project, extending and deepening the play experience, building language through critical thinking, reasoning, logic, and comparisons, which are essential skills in the classroom. Guidecraft’s “Block Science” wooden roadway system includes figures sporting math symbols for open ended construction play but adds idea boards to teach concepts such as fractions using large pictures of corresponding structures–bridges, buildings, highways, intersections and further vocabulary–part, whole, divide, add, and total. A new company to the toy scene, Primo, introduced “Cubetto”designed to teach coding to 3 year-olds and up, while moving the wooden robot cube across a colorful cloth graph representing cities, galaxies and oceans, AND the play is based on a children’s story, adding language learning.

Take notice of Toddlers: In the last few years I have seen more emphasis on games for toddlers, started by ThinkFun’s clever “Roll & Play.” Smart move since that is the segment of parents who most often ask me for ideas for toys for their children AND seem to need the most guidance on how to play with them. Peaceable Kingdoms line of toddler/parent games includes “Where’s Bear?” a new take on illustrated stacking blocks where the wooden bear hides under a block for a child and parent to engage in guessing, describing, and deductive reasoning. A parent guide provides many ideas for expanding the play and fun. Geomagworld’s new Magicube sets, encourage toddlers to build polar, river and safari animals and fruit with magnetic illustrated cubes, providing characters for naming and action in later pretend play. Toddlers can join family puzzle play with Learning Journey’s “My First Sing Along Puzzle, Old MacDonald’s Farm, full of large, chunky, colorfully illustrated pieces and a big button to push to start up the sing-along. These new products make playtime fun for kids and parents!

Treat Your Sweet Tooth: Cupcakes are still a hot item but joined by ice Cream, donuts and slushies. Alex Brands’ “Sweetlings” are delightfully cute cupcake characters made 

of whipped clay, begging to be decorated with pretend frosting, sprinkles, and whipped cream. A DIY project turns into creative play as the characters take on their personalities and kids’ imaginations take flight. LeapFrog’s Scoop and Learn Ice Cream Shop is chock-full of learning potential as kids follow the sequence on a card to build their ice cream cone, listening to the oral directions as they scoop, whipped cream and sprinkles. Listening, following directions and patience are all skills that kindergarten teachers value in future students. At Little Kids’ Magic Kitchen demonstration., we made ice cream, pull pops and slushies–the real thing–with easy steps for independent play. Okay, if you’re feeling a little guilty about the sugar factor,  Janod’s “Fresh Market”  stand has multiple props 
to encourage creative pretend play–cash register, scale, fruits, veggies and shopping bags. Cooking, baking, and prep are great language lessons for building math vocabulary, sequencing and following directions.

Classroom Ready Toys: I was excited to see so many outstanding products adding a corresponding curriculum, and lesson plans for the classroom. Teachers and therapists are creative, busy people who really appreciate well-planned, fun activities to support learning in their classroom, as evidenced by the popularity of “Teachers Pay Teachers.”  EQtainment who introduced us to their little monkey Q last year, teaching kids social, emotional skills through their game and book, showcased their new app, “Q-Wunder, Social and Emotional Skills=Fun.” This comprehensive kid-friendly emotional intelligence curriculum includes Q Wunder interactive kids’ show, original pop songs, music videos and fun educational games. I would love to hear about behavior before and after using this curriculum in the classroom. Arckit, the freeform architectural modelling system, has a 10 lesson plan education plan already in place in the UK and is working on one for the US. A Sketchup extension task, asks challenging questions, “What issues can you spot if this is a real build?” and “What improvements can you make?” Students are increasingly being asked to explain, evaluate, and extrapolate their work in the classroom. Mindware’s “Keva Connect” has many complementary lesson plans to teach mathematical comparisons, graphing, habitat awareness, research skills etc. on their website. Get kids up and moving as they build, navigate and create some pretend play scenarios with Weplay’s Icy Ice and Coral Adventure. User’s Guides and website videos are especially helpful to teachers. Investigate Solar Energy with K’Nex Education with a downloadable Educational Guide that includes the Teacher’s Guide with Common Core Standards alignments and ideas like keeping a journal for reflections–taking in the language component.

Tummy Time Tips: My baby visits frequently include parents’ frustration over how to keep baby entertained to add minutes to tummy time. Pacific Play Tents is introducing their first baby product, “Sea Buddies Tummy Tunnel,”  designed with a clear peek-a-boo window for siblings to cheer their new baby along. Baby fits comfortably in VTech’s “Tummy Time Discovery Pillow,”  designed with exact measurements from tummy time testers and multiple activities to hold attention.

Best in Show for Combining Multiple Modes of Learning FunI had to have a category for the toys I was most impressed with that combined multiple dimensions of learning. Kids learn best through many dimensions–hearing, seeing, and feeling so what could be more fun for learning than Spinmaster’s “Soggy Doggy,” game where players race around the board washing the doggy (spraying him in the shower) until he decides to shake himself dry–if you get wet, go back to start. Educational Insights’ “Illumicraft Light Up! Journal,” encourages language expression, writing and critical thinking while kids can “decorate” the cover with DIY illuminated circuits. Talk about combining left and right brain activities! Kids love teddy bears and Seedling’s Parker Teddy fills the traditional cuddly role as well as augmented reality experience as kids can prepare teddy (and kids) for a trip to the doctor, scanning him with the iPad to read film of his heart and bones.