Author: Christine Duhaime

COMMENTARY: Science Toys Appeal to Kids Younger Than Ever

In the past, the term “science toy” commonly elicited thoughts of volcano kits, magnifying glasses, and telescopes—and not much else. However, times have changed. Kids and parents today have a broad range of options to choose from in the science category, from toys that teach kids about outer space to kits that help them learn computer programming. With all the options available today, the industry is seeing new trends in the science toy space, and kids are reaping the benefits. Demand has grown for toys geared toward kids as young as 3 and 4 years old. Andrew Quartin, CEO of Thames & Kosmos, says, “I visit a lot of retail stores, and more times than not, I get requests for things specifically for 4-year-olds, and sometimes for 3-year-olds. This presents specific challenges, because the way kids ages 3 and 4 learn is very different from the way kids ages 6, 8, 10, or 12 learn.” The key to creating a successful product for this age demographic lies in how easy it is to play with. “One of the strongest assets of our kits are the manuals and the ease-of-use we create with them. How do you do that for a 3-year-old that hasn’t learned to read yet? Our thought is that we’re going to model our manuals after picture books, so it’ll be very image-driven and will tackle topics...

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COMMENTARY: Battery-Powered Toys Are Still as Relevant as Ever

Toy stores today offer kids an ever-impressive selection of playthings that do more and more each year. From video games to talking plush, appcessories to robotics, it seems like there is no end in sight for innovation in the toy industry. I’ve often wondered just how far toys will go—it seems that literally anything is possible these days, with the right amount of willpower and support. Will we see invisibility cloaks? Toys that let kids fly? Time machines? The list goes on and on. However, there is still a large demand—and market for—simpler, classic, battery-operated plastic toys. These don’t require an Internet connection, cell phone, computer, or plug; they just do something with the push of a button, spin of a dial, or pull of a cord. These battery-operated toys also offer parents a sense of nostalgia, as they remind us often of toys from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Aside from video games, battery powered and remote control toys were about as high tech as they got, yet they were plenty entertaining. One recent toy of this type is VTech‘s Chomp & Stomp Dino, which can identify seemingly identically-shaped discs as kids insert them into the dinosaur’s mouth. It works similarly to a key in a keyhole: only the right key opens the door, and specifically-shaped discs will prompt specific responses from the toy. While kids today have...

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COMMENTARY: Making the Most of the Fourth of July

Time is flying, and it’s hard to believe that next weekend is already the Fourth of July. For many families, this means barbecues, friends and family, music, and to top it all off, a spectacular fireworks display. Many Fourth of Julys from my childhood were spent at the beach or someone’s pool, and the days always seemed to last forever—in a good way. While the grown-ups mingled, we kids would embark on a day of adventure—exploring, playing, competing, and forging relationships. Here are some toys to give kids everything they need for a fantastic Fourth of July: Toysmith’s Fish-Butterfly Net is a classic way to keep kids entertained for hours in the great outdoors. This multi-purpose net lets kids catch insects on land, minnows in the water, or fireflies once the sun goes down. I remember spending hours with my friends and cousins outside at the docks, waiting to plunge the net in at just the right time to catch the tiny fish that flickered in the sun beams. Bonus points if there’s a pond nearby for catching frogs. Party Snappers are a must-have Fourth of July staple for kids ages 8 and up. These tiny bundles make a loud popping sound when thrown against the ground. With 50 snappers to a box, they’re an inexpensive way to have tons of fun. What’s a big get-together without a little friendly...

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COMMENTARY: Summer Is Here!

Yes, yes, I know that summer actually starts next month. But for all intents and purposes, Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer, and for the next three months, we’ll be cramming in as many cookouts, camping trips, beach days, and family get-togethers as we can. Kids have already started the countdown to the end of the school year, and after the long, harsh winter we had here in the northeast this year, they’re ready to get out and make the most of their summer vacation. Here are some great outdoor toys that will make it a summer to remember: The Slip ‘n Slide Wave Rider, from Wham-O, is an obvious go-to for a hot summer day. This 16-foot slide is a classic way for kids ages 5 to 12 to cool off and have hours of fun. Hydro-glide technology creates water beads on the surface, giving kids a fast ride, and the included boogie board gives an even smoother time as kids slide alongside the water bumper and into the splash pool. The bumper also continuously sprays water, guaranteeing a cool, wet ride. Hasbro‘s Nerf Super Soaker Barrage Soaker is perfect for an epic water fight. The tank holds up to 84 ounces of water—plenty of ammo for kids ages 7 and up to drench their opponents mercilessly before reloading. The Barrage features three soaking modes...

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COMMENTARY: Digital Properties and Toys Are a Match Made in Heaven

Today’s culture of apps and Internet memes has spawned a new category for licensees. These new digital brands have inspired toys that carry the excitement, reference, or joke of a digital property beyond its original state and into the physical world. Smartphones, apps, and the Internet have allowed people of all ages to swap images, play games, and contribute to digital communities faster than ever before. The appeal of a licensed toy can largely be attributed to an emotional connection—such as victory, challenge, or humor—to the property by a consumer. When I see a toy (or any other type of product) that I identify with a funny meme or a favorite app, I’m instantly drawn to it, almost like being in on an inside joke. For the past few years, many a birthday card that I’ve given and received has featured cringeworthy images of a person (or several) in an array of ridiculous outfits, making odd facial expressions, in questionable poses, and more. Since 2009, Awkward Family Photos (AFP) has accrued nearly 2 million Facebook fans and currently offers plenty of products for fans to enjoy. AFP has also expanded its brand to include Awkward Family Pet Photos, adding a whole new hilarious dimension to the theme. Fans can purchase the AFP puzzle in either the pets or siblings versions, which feature 999 puzzle pieces and come together to...

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