The Toy Fair 2018

As a new researcher, I have to say I have had a somewhat rose tinted beginning to my PhD. I’ve had a few hurdles and set backs, yes, but I definitely believe the bulk of the hard stuff is still to come. Instead, during the early part of this year, I have been lucky enough to attend and help with some great events. They have certainly made the drab winter months much easier.

I am going to give you a quick low down on the exciting, shiny, colourful toys that I saw at The Toy Fair 2018 last month.

Yes, I gladly spent the day at London Olympia last month having a good old jolly around The Toy Fair. If anyone asks I was there for work purposes only.

It is really a trade fair; it’s aimed at retailers and professionals from the toy industry but we were lucky enough to be able to get in with a group of design students. The Toy Fair runs a seminar for design students each year. This year there were talks about patenting, marketing design ideas and a talk from the creator of Jenga, Leslie Scott.

All very interesting, although not really in my line of interests and a slight detour from my own aims for the day. I wanted to have a nosey around at the toys that are currently being marketed to children; what is available, what is new, and what is still around.

Many old favourites were still hugely popular, with some rebranding and updating with different versions e.g. Mario Monopoly (I hope to be playing this in my own house soon). However, I have to say, as a lay person in the toy realm, nothing really stood out as being hugely innovative or new. Still, there were some interesting observations that I had about the day:

Slime is in!

If you don’t know this you may have been hiding under a rock somewhere, or perhaps you just don’t have any children. So, who would know that slime, of all things, is the new fidget spinner?

It’s everywhere, children are going mad for it. There were so many different types at The Toy Fair, from slime in tubs making fart noises (old favourites still around obviously), to slime that can go in the bathtub and safely be dissolved down the plug hole!

This may not fill parents’ hearts with joy but I was really pleased to see sensory toys being so popular. It appeared to have a knock on effect too. There were many different types of sensory toys, including sticky sand that you can make shapes from and moulding goo! I was a big fan of this stuff:

So many Robots

Botly: the coding robot activity set.

There are so, so many types of robots for children to learn coding and programming. It seemed like there was a robot on every corner and they have come a long way from the old clunky turtle that I remember. This little guy particularly won my heart over.

Yet, they all appear to do the same thing. They allow you to programme a sequence of commands for the robot, learn debugging skills, and some allow for ‘if then’ programming. Yes, STEM toys are a good idea but I’m not sure that I am sold on the idea of using these robots to learn programming – are they really useful? Perhaps they give a good foundational knowledge but I’d be keen to see some research to this effect.

Augmented Reality is growing

AR is beginning to permeate the gaming world and it was present at The Toy Fair. However, it wasn’t as dominant as I expected it to be.

One way that AR is being marketed to children is in the form of headsets that supplement reality, allowing children to run around the house zapping things that aren’t really there. Other toys include those being sold by Mardles, which includes stickers, colouring books and stories that come to life when viewed through a smart phone.

AR without the headsets seems like a great way to use technology to have shared experiences and to encourage children to engage in educational topics by making the content come alive. AugmentifyIt is a great example of this.

The question is, will it be successful? With the success of Pokémon Go, it would make sense for something like this to take off. Yet, it doesn’t appear to be quite there yet. This interesting article discusses some reasons why this may be. However, whether you love AR or hate it, at some point it is coming to a child near you.

Educational sets

I was really pleased to see such a huge array of eye catching and fun educational activity sets, with everything from bugs and butterflies to build your own dens and toys from Bildy.

One of my favourites was the architectural model kits by Arckit (who knew that I would be so influenced by all of the architects in my life). They are beautifully designed and I think that they are a great addition to STEM learning toys. They definitely fill a gap in the market.

I also thought that these Magformers looked really fun. They gave a great demonstration and are sold as being good for brain development and as an educational exploration of construction. The best thing is that they all connect together by magnets. Everyone loves a magnet!

It may only be vaguely linked to my PhD but The Toy Fair was a great way for me to see the kinds of things that are popular and are being marketed to education providers. Whilst there wasn’t a specific area for toys designed specifically for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), like there are at similar fairs, I didn’t feel that this was needed. This is particularly because I saw a host of products that would be appropriate for a whole range of children and I believe that toys should be inclusive for children of all abilities.

Next time, I will tell you about our lab’s work at Bright Sparks Science Festival in Brighton.

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