What fun to step right into the parade lineup as I started my adventure through the New York Toy Fair last week! The opening ribbon cutting ceremony unleashed thousands of international buyers and press to see what’s new in the toy industry. I was pumped up with the excitement, energy, innovation, passion and fun generated by seeing the hottest new toys, games and entertainment products come to life. I loved discovering more companies intentionally building learning opportunities into their products, and calling out the skills on packaging, in lesson plans and parent guides!

After walking the nearly half million square feet, it was evident to me what was trending among products that can deliver an outstanding playful learning experience, with rich repeat play potential:

STEM +Story: STEM is STEAMing ahead with many products designed to build science, technology, engineering and math, even for babies and toddlers. What’s new is many companies are now adding a creative story element (read that “language/literacy  learning”) to their building and construction play. Build and Imagine and Wonderhood Toys have been favorite leaders in this rich pairing. Thankfully more companies have stepped up this year to deepen the learning by inviting kids to author the story as they build. Thames and Kosmos introduced Pepper Mint (“The Great Treehouse Engineering Adventure”) who visits her scientist aunt in the rain forest, equipping their tree house with mechanical equipment using pulleys, winches, and gears, and even light up the jungle with a string of LED lanterns! Geomagworld engages preschoolers with their Magicubes, adding magnetic blocks to combine for people, animals and jobs, expanding mix and match story-telling opportunities.

Portable Play: After visiting companies specializing in larger play schemes, I saw an emphasis on sliding parts, and fold up play products for easy storage or take-along play. I know my Grammy friends were very interested in several of the larger pretend play toys that could be minimized for storage when the grandkids go home. One of the most innovative products I saw (and others were talking about it too) was Kangaroo’s “Pop-oh-Ver’s”  Stove and Market, a fabric stove, oven and microwave that is so cleverly designed by a mom of 7, that it fits over a chair! Talk about lots of pretend play potential that you can fold up and put away. The microwave door opens to a clear pocket to insert your bacon. So many of Simplay3’s products have design elements for take-apart packability. Their “Carry and Go Track Table” is fun ready to happen. The sturdy vehicle track has play options on both sides–race and train tracks, and an easy to carry handle. Kids bring the cars and people to the set for their own story.

Strong EQ:  EQtainment is leading the toy movement with outstanding new products every year for parents and teachers to provide excellent content for kids’ learning to name, regulate and understand emotions, while building kindness, compassion and understanding. This year’s “Moment AR App,” utilizes AR technology, helping children to identify their feelings and emotions with the use of unique 3D images of characters representing emotions, in the palm of their hand. Guidecraft’s Kai Kai and Xin Xin dolls have facial expression features to add to the face that can change the doll’s emotions, inspiring discussion about how one is feeling. Faber Castell’s “My Story Dolls Express Your Mood, “  starts with a clothespin, as kids choose a face that reflects their mood–calm, happy, sad, determined etc. and then decorate the doll with fabric clothes, tape, stickers, embroidery floss hair, and rhinestones to communicate emotions. What a creative beginning to bringing about a conversation about feelings! Hoyle’s “Super Me” memory card game teaches kids empathy, helping others and social skills as they match an emergency situation with the appropriate superhero response.

Expanded Play set Props: I am always excited to see some of my favorite toys I’ve used in therapy be surrounded by new playset props to expand and inspire story telling.  Schleich has added beautifully detailed “worlds” on the Farm and at the Horse Club, with characters, buildings and props to their collection of animals for work, play and secret getaways.  These play sets offer a starting point for kids to take off and be the director of their play, enriching the learning experience.  Planning, critical thinking, negotiating and reasoning skills are tapped as kids join together in pretend play. Corolle, known for its huggable,  sweet scented dolls, has stepped up the pretend play factor providing accessory packages for “A Day in the Life of a Toddler.”  With breakfast props (the toast pops up), and snacks, kids can exercise cognitive language skills through imitating real life. Park your car at  Plan Toys’ new “Parking Garage,” and get some extra reading and writing practice as the road surface is friendly to chalk messages. Kids can write directions, name a service or even the price to park.  Strictly Briks, is rich with new accessories to expand open-ended brick building play, from tracks, cubes, and 3D bricks including their newest “Trap & Gap Baseplates,” inspired by the CEO’s play as a child.

Games and Puzzles Rule: Games and Puzzles continue to be the fastest growing category of toys as families seek more quality time with the kids. Thinkfun’s “Shadows in the Forest” is a game played in the dark.  A team controls the movement of cute little Shadowlings who freeze when exposed to the light by the Seeker and need to be freed by collaborative effort. There has been much written lately about kids’ declining social skills due to increased time on their phones and devices rather than face to face interaction. Assembling a puzzle can be a wonderful opportunity to gather around the table and connect socially.  “Volkswagon T1 Campervan 3D puzzle by Ravensburger appeals to the adventurer and surfer dude in all of us. I can’t wait to watch and listen as some brothers work together to assemble it. The Learning Journey’s “Glow in the Dark Pirate Ship” puzzle takes you through a day in the life of a pirate with lots to talk about.

Pet Play: “Cutie Paws Puppy Stroller” by VTech is sure to be popular with the preschool set, as they take their doggie for a ride. Alex Toys’  “Snap-To-It Vet” looks like a traveling vet van that opens up to all the accessories for grooming and a good exam with props that are attached to the fabric book with button like snaps for kids to set up the scene. Folkmanis’ “3 Stages of a Frog,” will delight kids just like their caterpillar to butterfly puppet did. Perfect for learning in and outside the classroom, this 3 part puppet teaches metamorphosis from the egg to the tadpole to the frog.