"Learning can be fun!" is a cliche American kids hear frequently — and over the years, their toys have reflected that philosophy.
But in 2016, the toy industry seems to have doubled down on learning. As toy experts will tell you, education is all the rage —in particular, toys that encourage STEAM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).
"It's not like the flashcards of generations past,” said Adrienne Appell, Toy Industry Association's [TIA] director of strategic communications at the annual New York Toy Fair. “It's interactive robots that are teaching kids how to code and things like that. It's pretty cool stuff."
Toy of the Year
For young children, one popular choice is Just Play's Doc McStuffins Pet Vet Checkup Center, the Toy Industry Association's 2016 pick for Toy of the Year.
McStuffins is an aspirational female character that kids can both play with and become themselves, according to Jimmy Chang, Senior Director of Marketing for Just Play Products. Apart from medical role play, Chang says, the doctor also helps children overcome their fears of going to the hospital.
"They will see things like an otoscope or a thermometer that, typically in the past, if you would've gone to the doctors they might have been a little hesitant around," he said.
Chang says the female character is important for consumers in today's market, who are demanding more "strong female role models."
In addition, the toy provides a "traditional" element of play — something he says will not go away regardless of advancements in technology.
"We provide products that allow children to be children, and I think parents are really happy about that, especially at a really young age," Chang said. "No matter what tech does, kids are still going to want to have traditional toys that don't have too many bells and whistles."
Other traditional products cater to parents, too.
PlanToys caters its minimalist, crafted wooden playsets to both children and sustainable-minded parents, who hope to instill in their kids the values of natural resource preservation.
Tech on the rise
Naturally, seeing as it is the 21st century, there are plenty of tech gadgets to go around.
For teens and pre-teens, there is TinkerBots, a construction set with an installed motion module that allows anyone to build and control their own robots, using Lego blocks.
Feeling lonely? CHiP, "the lovable robot dog," provides great company, while teaching its owner a thing or two about responsibility — how you respond to his quest for play determines and shapes his behavior.
And if that doesn't excite you, surely Spooner Board's versatile balance boards will. Parental guidance is advised.