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In between sessions at the 2013 Digital Kids conference, we got a chance to browse the aisles of Toy Fair. Among the many aisles, a few products, brands and “experiences” stood out to us. Not every idea is new, and we’re not sure all five of these have staying power (in their current form), but they did seem inspired by insights that we’ve seen to be true among youth and parents in the past year…

  1. Oyo Sportstoys Inc.’s minifigures make due without a memorable name, and with a look that’s shockingly similar to LEGO figurines. But these collectible sports figures tap into a few simple youth truths. These posable replicas of pro sports players work with LEGO construction sets, but also feature bendable knees and arms that allow for “realistic” sports play. Minifigures simultaneously serve as sports souvenirs, with limited runs of some players coming in collectible packaging, and as playthings. What better combination for a tween boy who might appreciate the ritual of assembling his personal dream team, but who wants to make more use of his collectibles than the display case allows? Our favorite move? Minor League team players produced in selected markets. Increasingly, Minor League is the way kids are getting exposed to pro ball, and kids will relish bringing the hometown hero together with their favorite all stars.
  2. girl with chalkboard

    Little Partners has taken the independence-instilling “Learning Tower” one step further, turning it from a work center/stool to a play house. Their Learning Tower Playhouse Kits prolong the life of a product that’s become a standby in the homes of toddlers and preschoolers whose parents seek to promote participation in everyday chores. At a high price point, the Learning Tower might seem a luxurious short-term investment. But with the promise that a simple shell can turn it from a give-away to a new way to play, Learning Tower has given parents another product to buy, while simultaneously making moms and dads feel like they got their money’s worth.
  3. made its debut at the Toy Fair with a toy experience (as the New York Times described it) that puts production and design into kids’ hands. Kids submit a sketch, and within 3 days, the sketch is turned into a plush that brings their fantastic ideas to fruition. The price point is high - $149 – and the focus on plush, while practical, might limit the lifespan of this service (as older kids and boys in particular gravitate towards tech-driven products), but the gifting potential seems powerful. One watchout: even the most precocious kids might feel the pressure turned on when faced with the chance to choose the one product that would get plushified!
  4. Slacklines by Gibbons has been around for a few years (see this video demo from Toy Fair 2010), but perhaps this compelling idea’s time has come? With trampoline-like products getting a makeover (think less danger, more design) and ziplines available for installation in the backyard, it seems like this tightrope fits right into the cultural zeitgeist. Following quasi-fitness trends like planking, it seems like Slacklines are primed to cultivate a quirky following. Will they take on among teens or tweens? Hard to tell. But turning fitness into fun feels right in line with the wants and needs of this cohort and their parents.
  5. Finally, in a sea of licensed and property-based products, it’s hard for these me-toos to stand out. But the Monsters Universityshowcased a number of new products tied into the upcoming release of Monsters University.  Getting to dress up like your favorite character might not be new, but bringing technology together with time-tested play patterns is worth noting. In this case, higher tech design gives kids more control, which we think is the right formula for fun.
  6. What were your Toy Fair favorites? Let us know!