Tech Toys that Put Kids in the Driver’s Seat
As soon as someone hears you work in the toy industry, they inevitably ask: “What are the hottest toys this year?” The conversation then typically moves on to tech toys, with non-toy insiders wondering exactly how today’s digital natives are playing with the latest technologies.
What might be surprising to learn is that many of the best tech toys on the market are not necessarily high tech. Parents are increasingly interested in toys that move beyond one-dimensional screen-based play in favor of toys that are anchored in STEM learning and that foster out-of-the-box thinking.
“Play experts involved in The Toy Association’s Genius of Play initiative have said that the true value of play resides in the child’s ability to control his or her play world,” said Adrienne Appell, toy trend expert at The Toy Association. “A toy that allows for child-directed play and encourages critical thinking and investigation will engage children as they set out to master a particular skill or solve a problem.”
And with the COVID-19 pandemic that has many schools and daycares now closed, parents are looking for new ways to keep their homebound kids engaged in learning.
“It’s hard to keep kids entertained and follow a strict curriculum while balancing a day job,” added Appell. “There are some incredible toys out there that check off all the boxes – educational, creative, challenging – and of course, fun.”
The toys outlined below incorporate augmented/virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and blend physical and digital play. Many of these innovative playthings were introduced this year at The Toy Association’s Toy Fair New York, the largest toy show in the Western Hemisphere.
DOCBI is a timely character introduction from Roybi Robot, an AI-powered smart toy that teaches languages and STEM skills to young children. DOCBI is Roybi’s scientist friend and a “coronavirus-inspired learning toy,” who helps children stay in good health by practicing good hygiene and assists parents as they communicate this information to children in a positive way, using various lessons and interactive games powered by AI technology.
Snap Circuits Discover Coding (Elenco) introduces kids to the world of coding via the Snap Circuits App, which allows budding engineers to use their smartphone or tablet to control lights, sounds, and a motor. From graphical coding to BLOCKLY coding, kids can move up as they hone their skills and code everything from security systems and dimmer switches to alarms, motion detectors, fan speeds, appliance motors, generators, and more.
Kidkraft’s Alexa 2-in-1 Kitchen and Market is a two-sided, 360-degree play set that features the cloud-based voice service from Amazon, allowing kids to interact with Alexa in a safe way across several play set activities including cooking meals, checking out at the grocery store, playing games, and more. Interactive pieces, RFID smart-chipped food and cookware, and character cards prompt responsive, educational, and oftentimes funny phrases from Alexa.
Botzees (Pai Technology) is a coding robotics kit for kids ages 4 and up that combines creativity, construction, and coding. Kids can program and code six different pre-designed Botzees or create their own, teaching them to move, drum, dance, make sounds, and light up. More than 100 unique-shaped blocks with rounded edges will inspire imaginations with hands-on learning. Augmented reality puzzles teach even more coding concepts with visual cues.
Zing’s Stikbots, built with suction cup hands and feet, allow kids to easily create stop-motion movies with the Stikbot Studio app, and now, with Stikbot Megabots, they can amp up their videos using three hyper-stylized vehicles – Knockout, Avalanche, and Turbo Cycle. Creations can be shared online using #Stikbot, allowing fans to share their movies with millions around the world.
The Doodlematic Interactive Mobile Game Creating Starter Kit from Tink Digital transforms kids’ hand drawings into playable games that they can share. Kids simply draw their game using the Doodlematic colors, take a photo of their game in the Doodlematic app, and then play and share with their friends on social media.
Professor Maxwell’s VR Magic (Abacus Brands) includes 34 interactive magic tricks that come alive in virtual and augmented reality. The tricks were filmed at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Calif., and they afford kids the chance to go on stage and watch popular illusions as if they were there. They can then learn classic tricks in Professor Maxwell’s VR theater, with each step in the accompanying book turning into a video in augmented reality. The kit includes all the materials needed to practice and execute magic tricks, including VR goggles for a hands-free experience.
Playful Pandas (Far Out Toys) are interactive pets that wiggle, giggle, and sing by responding to your voice and creating harmonies. The more you sing with them, the better they’ll perform. You can also tickle your panda until they’re rolling in laughter and collect multiple pandas to have them sing together in their own language.
Squeakee is the newest youth electronic offering from Moose Toys. An interactive balloon pet that’s part dog, part balloon, Squeakee is bursting with personality with more than 50 sounds and interactions and multiple touch sensors. Squeaky listens and responds to voice commands so kids can train him to do tricks with his ball.
Tacto Bounce (Play Shifu) brings the classic game of snakes and ladders alive, blending board game play with digital gameplay to create an immersive, hands-on experience. Download the Tacto app on a tablet, choose the game you want to play, and use figurines to touch, tap, or rotate the game pieces on the screen to drive the gameplay.
Hexbug’s Mobots (Innovation First) are interactive robotic sidekicks that will be available in three versions – Mimix, Fetch and Ramblez. Use Mimix to record your voice and then modify it with effects by speeding up, slowing down, or changing the pitch of your voice. Ramblez will drive around and enter dance mode at the clap of your hands. Fetch is the only one that is remote controlled and can grab and lift objects. When near one another, the Mobots will talk to each other using their own special language.
Watchitude’s Move 2 is a waterproof activity watch that’s sleekly designed and allows kids to customize their look with interchangeable bands. The full-color touchscreen activates different features like step and distance tracking, sleep monitoring, a remote shutter, alarm clock, and incoming text messages and voice calls.
Some tech toy intros that were covered in Dealerscope’s earlier show recap, but which are worth a re-mention, are:
- The Odyssey Roller Car ($49.95), a remote-controlled racing vehicle one minute, and with the push of a button, curls up into a ball that rolls and tumbles across the floor.
- The 3Doodler 3D Build & Play ($29.99), a tactile learning toy introducing 3D printing technology to the very young;
- WowWee’s child-interactive BriteBrush “smart” toothbrush that instills an early sense of dental hygiene in kids with music and other pro-active behavioral promptings.
- KIDdesigns’ DreamWorks Trolls World Tour DJ Trollex Party Mixer, with built-in music, speech and sound effects that enable kids to mix their own music ($39.99).
Don’t miss out on the hottest tech toys coming to market next year. Mark your calendar now for Toy Fair New York 2021, taking place Feb. 13 to 16 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. Visit www.ToyFairNY.com to learn more.