Smart Play Toys for the Classroom and Beyond

Toddler explores new concepts with MGA Entertainment's Giggly Gears activity table

By Kristin Morency Goldman, Toy Industry Association

Identified by the U.S. Toy Industry Association (TIA) as one of the strongest toy trends of 2015, “Smart Play” speaks to the growing number of educational and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)-based toys on the market.

Now found in just about every category – from arts & crafts to youth electronics – these traditional and innovative playthings help kids build essential cognitive skills that can be applied to many aspects of school and life.

“From classic favorites like puzzles and construction sets to new playthings infused with cutting-edge technology, we’re seeing a tidal wave of toys that offer incredible educational play value,” said Adrienne Appell, TIA toy trend specialist. “These products can help youngsters develop fundamental skills or teach older kids coding, robotics, multiple languages and advanced mathematical concepts – boosting learning at every age and stage.”

Research collected through TIA’s industry-wide Genius of Play campaign tells us that play is one of the best ways to stimulate kids’ brain development. Through imaginative play, kids become more creative, perform better at school, and develop a problem-solving approach to both life and learning. And as the tools of play, toys are an important part of a child’s educational journey.

Tools to Boost Brain Power

That’s certainly evidenced in a 2009 study, “Building Blocks and Cognitive Building Blocks,” (Sarama and Clements), which shows 88 percent of preschoolers who were playing with toy blocks naturally engaged in at least one math-building activity, such as comparing sizes and counting.

To make it easier for customers to pick out toys and games that will suit their child’s stage of development, retailers might want to position educational playthings based on the different types of skills they build. For example, toys that encourage “solo play”, teach kids to play independently, think outside the box and build their problem-solving abilities, whereas toys that promote “organic learning” allow kids to learn new skills and concepts without even realizing it, because they are so absorbed and engaged in the activity.

Thousands of educational playthings were spotted this past February at TIA’s 112th North American International Toy Fair, the largest toy marketplace in the Western Hemisphere. The following are just a few of the many “smart play” toys that are expected to be hot throughout 2015.


Compose Yourself
Compose YourselfCompose Yourself lets kids create, play and share a musical composition in minutes. Arrange, rotate and re-order 60 Music Cards to create a composition, then enter the card codes on a special website and instantly hear it played. Comes with an mp3 audio file and sheet music to share with friends and family. (ThinkFun); Distributed in Canada by Outset Media

Growing Crazy Crystals
Growing Crazy CrystalsWith this fun science set, kids can explore sugar and salt crystals, grow rock candy, make crystal art, create a geode, and much more. This crystallizing kit comes with an observation chart to keep track of the crazy crystal growth. (Young Scientists Club); Represented in Canada by Brands in Balance


Ultimate Dino Dig
Ultimate Dino DigUltimate Dino Dig is a small excavation kit designed to let young paleontologists excavate “dinosaur remains.” Dig to expose each part of the dinosaur skeleton, clean the pieces off and check the diagram to assemble the bones. Kids can learn more about their discovery with the included Dinopedia mini-guide. (Uncle Milton); Distributed in Canada by Red Planet Group


PowerClixPowerClix is a 3D building system that lets kids build endless models with the easy click ‘n connect system. The super-strong magnetic force creates a quick connect for fast, simple and powerful 3D modeling, helping kids discover the principles of construction and engineering while honing their creativity. (Guidecraft)


FrankenWordsA fast-paced matching game that puts a thrill into making new words! Stitch two words together to create new meanings. Encouraging kids to experiment with compound words, FrankenWords helps kids learn vocabulary, word recognition, sequential thought and visual processing. (Haywire Group); Distributed in Canada by Zibbers Inc.


Dr. Charlie
Dr. CharlieThis adorable plush monkey teaches kids fun facts about eight different parts of the body. Simply place the stethoscope over its colourful patches to hear a fun song about the body part. (Cuddle Barn); Distributed in Canada by Edenborough Ltd.


Girls Only Secret Message Lab
Girls Only Secret Message LabKids can discover the science behind using acids and bases, like vinegar and baking soda, to make invisible ink, reveal mysterious messages using coloured filters and light waves, learn to write custom secret codes, and more. (SmartLab); Distributed in Canada by Outset Media

LightUp Edison Kit
LightUp teaches kids STEM concepts through electronics and code. Kids can build exciting projects by snapping together magnetic blocks to build circuits in seconds. The in-app augmented reality feature helps kids troubleshoot when things don’t work, and offers an X-ray look at how electricity flows. (LightUp, Inc.)

Tiggly Math
Tiggly MathTiggly Math includes a set of five colourful counting toys that interact with three parent- and educator-approved Tiggly iPad learning apps. The combination of physical and digital play helps children develop their number sense, counting skills, and understanding of math operations like addition and subtraction. (Tiggly); Distributed in Canada by Wynit Distribution

Visit the Genius of Play website to learn more about this year’s hottest toy trends and the importance of toys and play in child learning.

Kristin Morency Goldman Kristin Morency Goldman is a communications specialist/journalist with the Toy Industry Association. Her articles can be found on the Association website, in various global trade publications and in TIA’s e-newsletter, Toy News Tuesday.

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The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Toys & Games Magazine.

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