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by Kristin Morency Goldman, senior communications specialist, The Toy Association

From toys that encourage family bonding and playthings that enrich learning about STEAM subjects, to emotional wellness and cultural diversity, The Toy Association’s trends team unveiled the hottest toy and play trends of the year during its annual Toy Trends Briefing. Normally presented at Toy Fair New York, this year’s briefing was held virtually and released on YouTube.

“With the absence of Toy Fair New York and other in-person events in Q1 and Q2, we felt that it was especially important to continue our annual tradition of offering a sneak-peek at the biggest trends expected to drive consumer purchases in 2021,” says Adrienne Appell, senior vice president of marketing communications at The Toy Association. “This presentation is unique compared to the product and trend promotions our team does throughout the year. It’s truly an inside look at what’s coming down the pipeline from spring to the holiday season, and a valuable opportunity for our members to have their latest lines and innovations seen by buyers, media, and other professionals in the toy and play space.”

New for this year, the Toy Trends Briefing includes an in-depth analysis of the state of the global toy industry with perspectives from both The Toy Association’s president and CEO, Steve Pasierb, and The NPD Group’s vice president and industry advisor for toys, Juli Lennett. Lennett’s analysis of U.S. toy industry results for 2020 help set the stage for what is expected to unfold this year.

The briefing goes on to unveil our top six trends for 2021 and shares relevant product examples to illustrate each one. The Toy Association’s trends team met virtually with toy companies over the past few months to preview hundreds of products, keeping all the information under embargo until the presentation.

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“2020 was an exceptional year in general — and for toys and games specifically,” Appell says. “We saw a renewed interest in play across several categories, with families spending more leisure time together at home, and we will see the impact of the pandemic carry through to this year. On the other hand, lower-priced collectibles, ‘kidult’ toys, and fidget-style toys will likely make a comeback in 2021, as parents and kids seek out fresh ways to play, relax, and escape the stress of daily life.”

The trends team also predicts that viral content originating from social media platforms, such as TikTok, will continue to have an influence on the toy and play space, as will wider societal trends related to cultural diversity, inclusion, and environmental sustainability.

“As always, there is a trickle-down effect. Whatever is happening on the macro level — from silly viral videos to major social justice movements — is going to impact what kids and parents are looking for in a toy,” Appell says.

Delays for major film releases are also creating new opportunities for original IPs to find their way through the noise and make an impact at retail across multiple categories — a trend that emerged a few years ago and will accelerate as a result of the pandemic. And the social-emotional impact of the past year in isolation, felt by kids and adults alike, has paved the wave for toys that relieve stress, bring some much-needed levity into the home, and help kids navigate ‘big’ feelings.

“In general, families have become more attuned to the benefits of play, especially as it offers a means of escape from what’s happening in the world,” Appell adds. “The toy industry is really stepping up and creating playthings that offer a moment of zen and even help children navigate less-than-ideal circumstances.”

RELATED: Toys Aren’t Just For Kids Anymore: Adults Are Rediscovering the Joy of Play

The Toy Association’s Top Toy Trends of 2021

Rediscovering Play

One silver lining of the pandemic is that it has helped families rediscover the joys of spending time together and find value in bringing play into their daily lives. In 2021, families will be seeking new toys that promote togetherness, as well as inclusive playthings that can be enjoyed by kids of varying abilities and interests. This trend includes educational toys and activities that families can use to help their children learn new skills and subjects; family games and puzzles with cross-generational appeal; outdoor and active toys; nostalgic brands; cooking-themed and role-play toys; etc.

Not Just for Kids

The growing “kidult” trend was fueled by the pandemic, with more adults than ever turning to toys to bring some joy and levity into their lives. Toys and games have been a means of escapism for adults and offer a way to reconnect with their own inner child. This trend includes games fueled by adult topics, social media trends, and other fads; collectibles and building toys that appeal to hardcore fans; crowd-funded toys; and toys that invite casual fans into the fold across a wide range of fandoms.

Mixing In Music

Driven by social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok that have become incubators for viral music and dance crazes, toys that get kids moving and grooving are expected to grow in the toy aisles. This trend includes toys inspired by music-infused social platforms, channels, and programming; innovative new audio players that encourage screen-free play; toys that encourage kids to mix and make their own music; unboxing toys that incorporate music into the reveals; and, of course, classic musical toys.

Zen-sational Toys

Toys aren’t just for fun – they also serve up a healthy dose of emotional support and wellness in times of stress and uncertainty. According to The Toy Association’s Genius of Play initiative, families surveyed nationwide said playing together was the best way to help kids process their emotions. This year will see a growing demand for toys that help develop children’s social and emotional learning (SEL) skills; toys that promote mindfulness and self-care; comforting plush toys and dolls; and sensory/fidget toys that offer moments of zen.

Socially Conscious play

As families look for new ways to become better global citizens, toymakers are responding with toys that foster social responsibility and awareness. This trend includes dolls that promote diversity and cultural awareness; eco-friendly designed toys (and packaging) that also teach kids about sustainability; plush that promote the protection of endangered species; toys that give recognition to the essential workers critical to society; playsets with farm-to-table elements; and STEAM toys that feature renewable energy sources.