What is one place that you dread to tread as a parent? For most parents, it has to be a toy store (offline or online). And it is completely justified. Beyond the pestering and the tantrums, it is the pressure of ‘making the right choice’ that weighs on every parent that enters this zone. So, how do you make this choice (without surrendering to the bling or the blackmail)? Understanding the role toys play in your child’s life could be a handy indicator.
Often taken for granted, toys have served as the most influential developmental tool across human history. From the nomadic Saharan communities (clay animals designed for hunting game) to modern society (building blocks, Barbie), toys have served as surrogates for the values set by a society (adults), and as a way to enhance skills that children would require to fulfill their future roles in the community.
Beyond the obvious motor and cognitive skills development, toys have also served as tools through which children learn to interpret the world around them and to understand their place in the world through fundamental social constructs like ownership, sharing and gender roles among others.
It is consideration of these fundamental factors that are shaping the toys of tomorrow. Conscious toy designers are acutely aware of the changing social structures, and more importantly the changing nature of ‘childhood’ itself. The expectations from toys are growing as a result of parents becoming more educated and conscious (and richer); and children becoming more demanding (in the face of digital engagement alternatives becoming accessible). These are the driving forces behind new trends that are set to transform toy industry in the coming years.
From STEM to STEAM to STREAM toys
Every parent wants to equip their child with the tools to be successful in life. STEM toys, the fastest and most consistently growing category in the toy industry, are designed to empower kids with fundamentals of STEM fundamentals. STEM stands for toys based on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math concepts. Over the past couple of years, Arts (STEAM) and Robotics (STREAM) have also been added to this group. Today’s children are going to live in a technology driven future. Children with strong foundations in STEM are more likely to emerge successful in a technology driven society. While there are many tech-based toys masquerading as STEM toys, parents need to be careful in distinguishing tech-enabled toys that are mere extensions of remote-controlled electronic toys, and toys that offer fundamental understanding of STEM concepts. STEM educational DIY toys from home-grown brands like Smartivity which offer core understanding of STEM concepts through hands-on experience despite no technology component being part of it. Similarly, a robot that can be controlled by an app might not be as good a choice as a bot that offers core learning like computational thinking or task management through play.
Mixed Reality Engagement
For many parents, reducing screen-time of their children is one of the biggest pain points. The emergence of Mixed Reality engagement, one of the most exciting developments in the toy industry, addresses this issue. These are toys or activities that combine physical engagement with Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality technology. In a way, these products compel children to do something in the real world to get a screen based incentive, in the process, opening up a new dimension of fun and play. Smartivity is one of the pioneers in this field with their Augmented Reality colouring and jigsaw puzzle solving activities, that take traditional activities that children love and redefine them for the digital age. The inclusion of core learning like literacy building, cognition, spatial and motor skills development, and integrated assessment modules make these activities excellent learning tools too.
Internet Connected Toys
Internet-Of-Things has become a buzzword in the toy industry, too. The possibilities with connected toys are immense. However, this technology is fraught with privacy and security concerns in its current stage. Toy makers are taking these issues seriously and working towards addressing them. Parents can look forward to internet connected toys without the hacking and data-breach worries in the coming year.
Over the past couple of years, toymakers have realised that focussing on technology is not the smartest way to fulfil the expectations of children and parents. The best toys are the ones that focus on the play component rather than the tech frills. This trend will continue to rise as the need for physical activity (with growing obesity and ADD-infliction numbers) and real life engagement is felt by everyone.