COMMENTARY: Learning Healthy Habits Has Never Been This Much Fun!

As adults, we’re always obsessing over chasing that elusive 10 pounds that we gained so easily after college, but still haven’t figured out how to lose. Going to the gym and eating organic foods are second nature to those who have adapted healthier lifestyles in an effort to be at their best. It’s difficult to make those changes—switching french fries for brussels sprouts and being active instead of sitting on the couch all day. Why, then, don’t we give our kids a head start in this crusade? We should be teaching these healthy habits as early as possible.

eggplantAt Toy Fair 2014, there was one booth that stuck out to me, mostly because there was a dancing carrot in superhero gear in front of the ss-logotable. Hey, whatever you have to do! But the premise of this company is just that—to put a fun, positive light on vegetables and to get the attention of kids. [Read more...]

Aryaball Kickstarts Into Motion

AryaBall HeadshotWith kids today constantly craning their necks down toward their iPhones and tablets, sometimes the perfect pick-me-up is a day at the park. But what parent wants to resemble a gym teacher or clutter up the car with a ton of sporting equipment just to keep their kids busy? Thanks to Babak Forutanpour, they don’t have to.

Forutanpour, owner and head coach of Aryaball, encourages active play through his new toy invention. The Aryaball and Aryabat are foam products made for kids ages 3 to 10. It allows kids to play five sports at once—with just one ball and one bat. The outer shell of the product is a full sized, regulation 5 soccer ball. The ball then opens up to reveal a football and flying disc. The football also twists and opens to uncover a soft baseball with the dimples of a golf ball. Kids can play baseball with the Aryabat or swing the tip out 90 degrees to turn it into a golf putter.

Forutanpour was inspired to create the product one afternoon when he was at the park with his son Arya. The two were throwing a football around when Arya, who the business is named after, asked to play soccer instead. Foruntapour did not have any other sports equipment with him, but after his son insisted, the pair ended up kicking the football to try to use it as a soccer ball.

AryaBall Product“That’s when it dawned on me that I’m not the only dad who forgot to bring all the balls to the park,” Forutanpour said. “I didn’t want to carry a bag with the soccer ball, baseball, football, and golf. I could reinvent the football and soccer ball. It’s about solving a problem I saw.”

The trip to the park was also cut short because Forutanpour’s kids just wanted to go back home and play on their electronic devices. This was precisely the motivation he needed to bring new innovation to the active play category.

“I think it’s time to rethink the active play category a bit and make products that are easier to use, more fun, and more compact,” Forutanpour said. “It seems like a lot of change in active sports has been related to increased volume and decreased pricing, where I haven’t really seen real innovation.”

Forutanpour came up with designs in his garage soon after the trip to the park. The most current result was generated after several rounds of prototyping. One of the initial designs included a football with two removable end caps to turn into a soccer ball. Forutanpour built these different prototypes with soccer balls and footballs that he had bought. Eventually, he purchased a 3-D printer to create new, original models and make them better each time instead of using real soccer balls and footballs. A 3-D printer prints hot, melted plastic into different shapes, which was used to create the two bowls that threaded together to make a soccer ball.

The Aryaball business has evolved from a father-son activity to a full family affair. Forutanpour’s two children have tested each prototype and given feedback. Along with Arya, who inspired the product, Forutanpour’s daughter Darya helped him tie in additional sports. After several models, prototypes, and tests from his children, Foruntanpour feels as though his product is ready for others to enjoy. He launched the AryaBall on Kickstarter on February 11.

The product’s Kickstarter campaign will run through March 28. Kickstarter is a crowd-funding website where consumers can pledge money toward a project before a certain deadline. The creator receives the raised funds only if the project reaches its goal.  Multiple toy companies have used this platform to launch their new products, often exceeding their initial goals, including Goldieblox, Tek Recon, and Ubooly.

Forutanpour heard about Kickstarter from a friend and has kept a close eye on it as his business developed and as crowd-funding became more prevalent. He has donated to 11 other projects on the website prior to launching the AryaBall and decided it would be a useful platform to fund his product and gage consumer interest.

“I think we are very fortunate to live in a time where there is a platform of crowd-funding to put a product out there and see if people like it,” said Forutanpour. “If people like it and are willing to spend their hard-earned money to pre-order this product, then that is the validation I need to press go and move forward.”

The AryaBall’s Kickstarter goal is $35,000. So far, the business has been entirely self-funded by Forutanpour, so the next stage is to make multicavity tools to produce the product. A multicavity tool would allow for multiple AryaBalls and AryaBats to be made at a time. Ultimately, the more money the AryaBall is able to raise, the more efficient it would be to manufacture the product.

“The response has been really positive so far, so I’m hoping we have a successful Kickstarter to get these balls made and shared with people,” said Forutanpour. “We’ve been getting emails from people saying they want one.”

The price point for the AryaBall and AryaBat together is about $45 if the AryaBall reaches its fundraising goal and the minimum amount of tooling is available to manufacture the products. Consumers will also be able to purchase the products separately.

Although all of the engineering aspects of the product are done, Forutanpour would like to incorporate all feedback from consumers as Aryaball is introduced around the world. Once a final round of prototyping is finished, there will be another round of testing. Forutanpour hopes to get the product on shelves on mass and specialty stores in time for the holiday season.

The Aryaball was most recently a featured exhibitor at the American International Toy Fair in New York City from February 16 to 19. Shark Tank investor Daymond John, founder, president, and CEO of the fashion line Fubu, even stopped by the booth and chatted with Foruntanpour. The product was also featured on NBC’s Today Show as a Hot New Toy for this year.

Click on the video below to see the AryaBall in action.

COMMENTARY: It’s All About the Robots

Earlier this week, Senior Editor Marissa DiBartolo wrote about how the floor of the American International Toy Fair 2014 was lacking in the realm of appcessories, and that many companies were heading back to the classic play patterns, especially in the activities category. I also noticed an emerging trend that does not heavily rely on app technology, but does not veer from the idea of incorporating tech into playtime: robots.

As I walked the floor, I saw a bunch of different robotic products that really displayed where the category is heading—and a lot of that was not app-reliant. Of course, most of these robots can be controlled with or used with smart devices, but gone are the days where “and it has an app!” was a suitable enough novelty to convince consumers to purchase the toy.

Ali.Feb27First, let me introduce you to MiP. MiP, which is short for Mobile Inverted Pendulum, is WowWee’s latest innovation in association with the University of California at San Diego’s Coordinated Robots Lab. MiP has unique dual wheel balancing (thanks to that inverted pendulum science!) and is a fully interactive robot. MiP is able to navigate his surroundings while being controlled by hand gestures or through a Bluetooth link to a smart device. MiP also has a personality that is communicated through motion, sounds, and his LED eyes. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Back to Basics: Sketch, Doodle, Paint, and Play

TF14Logo-cityDatesAfter Toy Fair 2013, the words “and there’s an app!” were ringing in my ears for weeks. This year, however, appcessories seemed more like a taboo than anything else, with most companies shying away from toys with app-enhanced features or reliability. Honestly, it was less than disappointing. I think keeping screen time and toy time separate is perfectly acceptable, and apparently, what kids and toy buyers prefer.

This year will truly mark a return to traditional play patterns. Rainbow Loom, a simple bracelet-making kit for kids, was huge in 2013, eventually snagging four Toy of the Year (TOTY) awards, including the overall Toy of the Year. That said, Toy Fair 2014 brought tons of cool innovations in the activities category, with companies fighting to be the next big thing once the Rainbow Loom craze comes to an end. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Lighting Up Imaginative Play: Light-Up Toys Provide Magical Fun For Kids

When I attended Fall Toy Preview in October, I had a conversation with a few industry executives about how when companies expand their line to include glow-in-the-dark or light-up SKUs, it often signals the end of the brand. They referred to glow-in-the-dark and light-up products as a “last resort,” and said it typically means that there are no other possible innovations for the product line.

However, I know a certain 4-year-old boy who would absolutely disagree with this idea, along with his 8-year-old sister (aka my niece and nephew!). LED lights have a strange magic to them—especially for kids. The bright colors they provide, just like glow-in-the-dark effects, seem like something out of a fantasy story that kids go crazy over—no matter how simple the technology actually is. There are some great new products hitting the market that reflect how great glow can be, here are some of my favorites:

TRACERTRACK_24

 

Tracer Racers, from Skullduggery, utilize Light Trail Technology as they blaze streaks of light on the glow-in-the-dark track. That’s right—LEDs AND glow play patterns. Lights galore! Magic frenzy!—and there’s more! Each Tracer Racer beams down purple light rays from its undercarriage onto the track, which is specially engineered to emit glow remnants only after the racer has passed. The new Tracer Racer drag racing sets include a 10-foot single lane set including one racer, an 8-foot double lane set with two racers, and a 12-foot double lane loop set with a light-up finish gate and two racers. The company will also introduce trucks to the line this year. Kids ages 6 and up are sure to enjoy all of the amazing light-up elements in this toy. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Inspirational Young Girls Can Change the World

American Girl has this wonderful program where they release a Girl of the Year doll, who comes along with stories, games, and activities that “celebrate what it means to be a girl today.” There’s a lot of dolls out there on the market that are providing great, positive messages to girls worldwide. Whether they are promoting positive body image, confidence, the drive to dream big, STEM education, or all of the above and more, girls have their pick of the litter when they are searching for a doll that is, in a sense, just like who they are or who they strive to be. American Girl announced their 2014 Girl of the Year on January 1: Isabelle, “an inspired dancer that finds her own way to shine.”

But some girls aren’t able to find that doll that would really make them feel special—and brave 10-year-old Melissa Shang has spoken out (adorably and politely) requesting that her favorite doll company, American Girl, make the 2015 Girl of the Year doll that is more like her.

Shang has Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a debilitating form of muscular dystrophy, and is leading one of the fastest-growing petitions right now on change.org for American Girl to create a Girl of the Year doll with a disability. Shang is truly an inspiration. In just over 72 hours of her starting the petition, more than 15,000 people have joined the campaign she has launched. [Read more...]

Rubie’s Has Costumes for Your Little Dog, Too

rubielogoRubie’s Pet Shop Boutique will introduce new pet costumes into The Wizard of Oz 75th Anniversary Costume Collection. The collection, in partnership with Warner Bros. Consumer Products, features iconic characters from the film.

The Wizard of Oz 75th Anniversary Costume Collection is available in a variety of pet sizes, ranging from small to extra-large. Characters include Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, the Wicked Witch of the West, Glinda the Good Witch, and the Winged Monkey. “At Rubie’s Pet Shop Boutique, it is our goal to capture the spirit of these beloved characters and create costumes for the entire family to enjoy, including their pets!” said Erin Breig, Rubie’s Sales and Product Development.

The complete Wizard of Oz 75th Anniversary Costume Collection includes costumes, accessories, wigs, and masks and décor. It is available both online and in retail locations worldwide.

Tamagotchi L.i.f.e. Selects Brooklyn Teenager As Hometown Heroes Winner

imageFans of the Tamagotchi L.i.f.e. brand have selected 17-year-old Francesca Chaney and her non-profit Girls Advocating and Innovating the Nation (G.A.I.N.) organization as the winner of the latest edition of its bi-monthly Hometown Heroes program.

For receiving the largest amount of votes in the latest competition, Bandai Co. Ltd. and Sync Beatz Entertainment are awarding a $5,000 contribution to Ms. Chaney and the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based group she launched in 2011. With its roots as a mentoring program to help younger girls facing self-esteem issues, the G.A.I.N. mission took on a more ambitious agenda when recognizing the need to address more issues in local communities. As a result, they provide young women with the tools and resources to speak up and allow their voices to be heard on topics of their concern and address issues together, empower each other, and positively innovate their society. Their motto is “Every Girl Must Gain.” Through weekly discussions, community outreach, and empowerment workshops for youth, G.A.I.N. has positively impacted the lives of thousands of youth. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: The (Other!) Reason for the Season

While I understand and respect that the holiday season has religious roots, toys, gifts, and giving have become a huge part of American tradition—and I don’t think this is such a bad thing. As frustrating as it can be to deal with 600 impossible twist ties and Hefty bags full of plastic packaging on Christmas morning, toys bring families together. After mom and dad (or in this case, Aunt Marissa!) get to see their elated kids (or super adorable nieces and nephew!) open exactly what they’ve wanted all year long, the first thing they want to do is start playing.

Courtney (8), Aunt Marissa, Matthew (5), and our pal Stomper!

Courtney (8), Aunt Marissa, Matthew (5), and our pal Stomper!

My niece Courtney can’t even get through unwrapping her mountain of presents before saying “Can I open this one?!” And that’s where the fun comes in: When Dad arrives wielding his trusty screwdriver and a Tupperware container full of batteries (and this super awesome plastic package ripper thingy that if you don’t have you need to go out and buy RIGHT now!), Mom stands by tossing wrapping paper into garbage bags (and putting everyone’s coffee mugs on coasters, thanks Mom!), and there I sit cross-legged on the floor, instruction booklet diligently in hand, reading glasses securely fastened. Even if Santa gets all of the Christmas glory, it’s the gift-givers who get the toy out of the package, insert the batteries, and help teach kids how to play. It’s the gift-givers who get to see the excitement on their kids’ faces, who get the big fat thank you hug, and who get to watch kids enjoy their Christmas prizes. It’s really just one giant bonding experience (with maybe a few “how do you turn the damn thing on?!” and “It’s like they don’t WANT you to open it!” comments thrown in between all of the sap-fest family time). [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: USAopoly Gives Classic Games a Licensed Twist

You may love Monopoly, but it’s okay to admit that sometimes you get a little tired of playing the same game over and over again. Games become classics because they span generations, and they’re well-designed and challenging. In a way, they can become timeless. But you can only force your grandma to mortgage all of her properties and hand over all her piles of pastel-colored money so many times before enough is enough. Her little thimble token—and your interest and passion for the game—has been defeated.

USAopoly has solved this problem by taking our favorite classic games and slapping a license or five on them, making each edition more appealing and unique to the players. Properties include The Smurfs, The Wizard of Oz, My Little Pony, and many, many more, to appeal to all generations, collectors, and fans. The great thing about these licensed games is that they give your traditional family favorites a big twist—and turn it into a whole new game! So if you’re tiring of the same old games in your closet, these would be some great additions to your next family game night.

drwho_mn_3dbt_webI’m not one who’s all about sci-fi shows and aliens and such, but I have to admit that I find BBC‘s Doctor Who series highly addicting—and The Doctor has quite the cult following that will back me up on that. Now fans can travel through time and space with their favorite Doctor with USAopoly’s Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition of Monopoly.  Two to six plays ages 8 and up can buy, sell, and trade iconic episodes, spaceships, and landmarks, spanning billions of years across the Doctor Who universe. The Poison Sky, A Good Man Goes to War, The Daleks, and the Arc of Infinity are all able to be purchased by time travelers. [Read more...]