Having worked for Mattel, Hasbro and Disney, I’ve seen the momentum build for these trends over the last decade. It’s important to remember that play is always practice for life and since tech is clearly where the jobs are, getting kids to play at coding makes a lot of sense.
This recent article from Mashable by Stephanie Walden is excellent with great examples of companies getting it right.
1. STEM-focused education is a priority
More toys are geared toward STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. Brands that have always encouraged kids (and adults) to become builders, like LEGO, are incorporating high-tech twists, and new brands like littleBits are on the rise
App-integrated toys are also increasingly common. Robot Turtles, for example, is a connected board game that teaches children programming through games and an interactive ebook.
2. Connectivity fostering creativity
One interesting suggestion from elementary school principal and author Rob Furman is perhaps even more future-forward than a focus exclusively on STEM: Furman calls for more of an emphasis on “STREAM,” which also includes reading and arts in the mix.
And it seems as if a number of emerging playthings today do place importance on fostering a child’s sense of creativity. The rise of 3D printing paves the way for endless possibilities for kids interested in experimenting with art, with devices like the 3Doodler and 3D Creation Maker hitting shelves.
For kids interested in music, toys like Compose Yourself transparent cards let kids become mini maestros. And for a world of imaginary possibilities, the new wearable Moff Band, designed for kids, adds sound effects to imagination play.
3. Boys v. girls: A future of androgynous toys?
Recent backlash against gender-typed toys suggests that the industry may be on the brink of a new direction.
In an interview with the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Dr. Judith Elaine Blakemore, a professor of psychology and expert in the development of gender roles, says that research suggests the “genderization” of toys can have an impact on a child’s development.
But even toys that are marketed toward one gender are now trying to reverse common stereotypes: Recent initiatives by brands like Goldieblox, with the slogan, “Let’s get girls building,” demonstrate a trend toward less princess-y products — similarly, Roominate has been making headlines as a toy to get young girls interested in engineering. In a more equality-focused future, girls will no longer be relegated to the Barbie aisles of the toy store; no longer will boys be expected to play exclusively with Tinker Toys or Nerf guns.
4. Legacy toy makers become tech-savvy
Even old-school toy brands are going high-tech. Lionel Trains, a company that’s been around for more than 100 years, is one such example: Today’s model train enthusiasts can actually control their models via iPad or other connected device.
Crayola is another example of a traditional toy company adapting to modern times. The company recently unveiled Color Alive, an app-integrated program that brings kids’ creative projects off the page, with the promise to “change coloring forever.”
Going forward, it’s likely that more legacy brands that want to stay ahead of the curve will get creative — as Crayola and Lionel Trains have done — in efforts to bring traditional toys online or on the go via mobile app.
5. Immersive play environments are on the horizon
Building blanket forts just doesn’t have the same appeal to kids today — partially because there are much more inventive and high-tech ways for kids to fully immerse themselves in playtime.
The Lumo projector, for example, turns kids’ bedrooms or playrooms into interactive scenes. The projector, which is in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, aims to “make floors fun.” Such a toy is perfect for parents who worry their kids are spending too much time sitting on the couch connected to their video game consoles.
And speaking of video games, while “the future of gaming for kids” is an entirely separate article, the rise of virtual reality is already making an impact on products aimed toward children, such as Google and Mattel’s attempt to reinvent the View-Master for the 21st century.