Just walking into the New York Toy Fair got my heart pumping to the beat of the drums as the parade of characters assembled to lead the opening of my 11th Toy Fair. You can feel the air charged with excitement, innovation, creativity and novelty as brands bring their newest and best toys, games and entertainment products to life. Each year it is gratifying to see more companies valuing language learning and therefore integrating it into games, STEM projects and play, calling out the language skills on their packaging.

I’m always interested in the toy industry’s trends (Unboxing, Compound Crazy, Throwback Toys) but I choose to look at the trends through a learning lens, providing parents, grandparents, caregivers and educators a peek at the newest products that inspire learning through incredibly fun play.

Here are my 2019 Toy Trends:

Fun Food Prep:  Combine food and pretend play to create a rich language learning environment as kids act out scenarios common to their everyday experiences,  whether selecting ingredients at a the Fresh Market, or creating in the kitchen, at a crepe cart or barbecue grill. Favorites this year include Hapinest’s “Make and Bake Cooking Sets”  as kids lead the playful learning in their little fox, snowman, bunny or unicorn aprons, roll out the dough to the perfect thickness and use the 5 themed cookie cutters. Kids can head out to Leap Frog’s “Smart Sizzlin’ BBQ Grill,” adding pretend corn or a hot dog to the rotisserie initiating a silly song, while learning colors, vocabulary and counting integrated into the play.  Add a message of kindness, and inclusion to your food prep with Plan Toys’ imperfectly shaped “Wonky Fruits and Vegetables.”  Carl Carrot, Adam Apple and Tommy Tomato Heart become wonky pretend play heroes in their campaign to fight food waste. Flag down your little friend at Janod’s Crepes & Co. as they roll the cart to offer waffles and donuts, my mainstays, as well as fruit and check you out at the cash register.

Take Note of Toddlers: Personally toddlers are some of my favorite little people to play with because of their curiosity, boldness and hunger for learning. Parents are often stumped when it comes to finding appropriate toys. Wonder Forge’s “Mickey’s Snuggle Time” game, designed for a bedtime activity, is a fun introduction to following directions and learning colors as kids move their animal down the path, arriving at the barn before the sun sets.  Fold and tuck the blanket game board  to make a pillow. Nite,  nite! Want a rich learning environment with no pick up? Oribel’s VertiPlay Wall Toys, are a series of cause-effect toys, “Slidey Spidey” (Itsy Bitsy) , “Old MacDonald” or  “Jack and Jill” that rely on gravity as they attach to the wall and move top to bottom, while kids can sing or narrate the rhyme. Rubber Ducky in the tub just got more fun with Yookidoo’s “Jet Duck Family”, as kids dress up their duck with 15 push in accessories to match their duck’s character, Pirate, Mermaid or Firefighter. Think Mr. Potato Head goes for a swim while firing his water cannon and charging around the tub. Perfect for story telling and creative play. Join 2 year-olds for a game of “Topper Takes a Trip” by Peaceable Kingdom, a company that knows their audience and kids love their games. Choosing the right clothes and items to pack in the suitcase for Grandma’s house or sledding etc. is a terrific language learning activity involving categories, vocabulary and story telling.

STEM + Story: I’m passionate about including literacy linked to STEM products because that is how kids are learning in the classroom. Science and math involve  problem solving, critical thinking, evaluation and drawing conclusions, all essential language skills. This trend is getting stronger as I see new STEM products calling out a story integrated in their build. E-Blox’s  “Story Blox” sets take kids on an island, city or cave adventure with Seymour and his robot Robyn, building models with circuit blox throughout the story. For the younger set, Thames and Kosmos’ “Robot Safari”  pairs a cartoon story book with 8 cute animal robot builds associated with the Omega family’s search to find their lost robotic teddy bear. Kids love building their setting with magnetic blocks while adding illustrated clips from the story with Geomagworld’s “Nursery Rhymes.” Their sets were favorites in the classroom last year. hand2mind’s “Air and Water Mechanics” led us through injecting air into a tube to power a K’NEX model digger with written questions to build critical thinking related to the project.

Tech-Free Learning: There was a buzz around the Toy Fair this year of “Where are all the drones?” In the past you had to duck to miss them. Yes, I believe there is a swing back to non-tech toys with classic play. Who didn’t hide in a home made fort of their own making (or a big brother in my case) when they were younger? A favorite discovery in the Launchpad section housing first time exhibitors was the Densters, a set of flexible rubber toy monsters, each with a unique personality and function (hooking, clamping, gripping, clipping, curling and tucking–hey that’s a great vocabulary lesson!) for holding kids’ play tents or forts together, attaching sheets and blankets to walls and furniture. Enter Schleich’s world of Horse Club where kids can act out living in the “Large Horse Stable” (a dollhouse for horse owners) and relax with a coffee or cupcake at the “Rider Cafe.” Crayola offers some of the most extensive and comprehensive science kits for kids. Their newest offering, “Color Chemistry Arctic Lab” takes kids through 50 winter science experiments. Thankfully dolls were one of the strongest categories last year as they provide pure child led play. National Geographic has collaborated with Mattel’s Barbie dolls to create a wildlife conservationist, astrophysicist, polar marine biologist, wildlife photojournalist and entomologist to inspire young girls to explore new professions.

Hide Away Play: This year we saw some ingenious toy designs that capitalize on utilization of space.  Sharingland’s cardboard playhouses have drawn kids into delightful pretend play worlds of space, castles, a farm and teepee. Now they offer a slightly downsized model that can easily be folded and put away after play. Sago’s “Pillow Playsets” have added a vet and doctor’s  office to their kitchen playset that unfold from a throw pillow to transform your couch into a scene from the office complete with scale, cast, eye exam chart and so on with plush accessories to give your teddy or pet a happy physical. When the story ends, fold up the office and pack it in the pillow for repeat portable play.  Short on room? Pull out a folding chair and slip on Kangaroo’s Pop oh Ver Ice Cream Shop filled with inspiring design to start our little storytellers. Hape’s “Pop Up Shop” opens up for play with plenty of room to display your products as well as a scanner and calculator for speedy purchases, then closes up for later play.