Outdoor toys and games are more important than ever as the world emerges from COVID-19.
by KRISTIN MORENCY GOLDMAN, senior communications specialist, The Toy Association
Life during the COVID-19 era and remote learning has reminded us why taking time out for physical play — particularly outdoors — is paramount in giving young bodies, eyes, and brains a much-needed break from sitting in front of a screen.
According to Tyler Kearns, program coordinator at The Clayton School District’s Kid Zone Before/After School Program in Clayton, Missouri, virtual learning has taken a toll on all of us, which is why carving out time to get up, move, and play throughout the day is so crucial. It’s particularly important that breaks are part of the routine as the back-to-school season looms.
“Think about your workday,” writes Kearns in an expert advice article for The Genius of Play. “How many times do you get up to stretch, walk to the break area, or move about your workspace — our kids need that, too, now more than ever!”
Aside from giving kids a break from remote learning, playing outside also improves kids’ health and develops crucial skills, whether they are climbing trees, playing a game of catch, digging for worms, or simply enjoying the sights and sounds of nature.
“Research culled by The Genius of Play has shown that physically active kids tend to be leaner and healthier, while an inactive childhood can lead to a sedentary lifestyle in adulthood,” says Anna Yudina, senior director of marketing initiatives at The Toy Association, which runs The Genius of Play. “Physical play allows kids to develop their gross and fine motor skills — for example, hanging from monkey bars helps kids develop the necessary hand muscles needed to grip a pencil.”
By the time they reach kindergarten, kids need to know how to sit properly in a chair for extended periods of time in order to color, draw, or write. To do that, they need to have good core muscle strength.
“Activities like running, jumping, rolling, climbing, skipping, galloping, and leaping build strength, balance, and coordination,” Yudina adds.
One of the top toy and play trends identified by The Toy Association this year is “Rediscovering Play,” which includes outdoor toys and games for all ages. According to The NPD Group, last year’s toy sales reflect the growing trend, with categories such as sports toys and summer seasonal toys showing strong gains of 31% and 24%, respectively.
“We know 2020 was historic, and so many families relied on toys and play to bring joy and comfort into their homes,” says Adrienne Appell, senior vice president of marketing communications at The Toy Association. “Families transformed their backyards into their own mini-playgrounds and aquatic parks, using everything from ride-ons and inflatable pools to swing sets and chalk in order to keep their kids entertained amid stay-at-home orders. Even as daily life returns to normal for most families, we expect parents and children alike to continue turning to play as a diversion and stress reliever, having experienced first-hand how beneficial play can be, and incorporating play into their daily schedules.”
Whether encouraging kids to explore nature or get up and move, outdoor toys enable kids to engage in unstructured play, giving them a chance to develop skills they will carry into adulthood.
Some new toys that encourage outdoor play include the 4Fun ChangeUp portable game console from B4 Adventures; The Jenga Giant Sport Hardwood Game from Art’s Ideas that can be stacked to more than 4 feet tall in play; the Mobo First 14-inch Bike from ASA Products/Mobo Cruiser; the transforming, three-wheeled Go-UP Deluxe Scooter from Globber; Maxx Bubbles Spinning Bubble Streamers from Sunny Days Entertainment; and Good Banana’s Splashy Sprinklers splash pool.
The Toy Association also encourages manufacturers and retailers to share its top five tips for safe play outdoors with parents and other shoppers. The safety tips are detailed below, with additional information available at playsafe.org.