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A pioneer’s perspective on toy fair season

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve managed to squeeze in three of Europe’s biggest industry events for education and play: the London and Nuremberg Toy Fairs and ed-innovation classic, The Bett Show. Here are my takeaways from the experience.

Skills of the future

Forget the pig: 2019 is the year of the coding robot. 🤖

I couldn’t get over how many robots I saw during my time across the three fairs. The number must have been close to 20+ companies battling it out to differentiate themselves within this space. This definitely made me think that robotics for children is now less of a growing trend and more a saturated market. My advice? If you want your product to stand out this year, it might be a good idea to steer clear of making it look like your standard tech bot.

Of course, it’s stating the obvious to say that STEM is huge right now, but it is genuinely great to see so many toys now teaching the basics of computer science to kids. From my work at Primo Toys, helping children learn computing skills and create processes to solve problems became something I truly believe in, and something that I believe can be taught without screens. So I was intrigued to see a big player such as Haba launch their Digital Starter range, taking teaching computer science off the traditionally digital grid.

Jobs of the future

What these toys do is prepare children for the future, so I was really excited to discover Panjango: a set of fast-paced board and card games that help children find their purpose as they explore the mysterious world of work and foster creative problem-solving skills along the way. Talking to Panjango’s Co-Founder, Jon Maiden, it was infectious to hear his passion for the product. I could see he and his team were driven by a real belief in equipping young people with the knowledge, skills and experience to find their purpose and fulfil their potential. The jobs we have now will not be the same even ten years down the line, when some of our own children will begin thinking about the sorts of passions they wish to pursue in life. Preparing them for this change is crucial, and I foresee toys playing an even more explicit role in this in the future.

The health of our future

Worryingly, figures released by NHS Digital last November showed a rise in young people’s mental health problems, with one in eight children aged between five and 19 in the UK suffering from diagnosable mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. It was therefore incredible to see startups offering solutions to counter this trend, including Israeli-based YOGi FUN: a company devoted to the creation of yoga-based games through which children, along with their parents and friends, can participate in a variety of fun dynamic activities to help find their zen. Ommmmmm…

Aligning with the topic of health, Ireland-based Max Mindpower teaches mindfulness to youngsters through an adorable teddy named Max and a range of storybooks aimed at decreasing stress, building resilience, and improving attention spans of children, to name but some of the benefits. With mindfulness looking to become more established in the UK curriculum as public focus on mental health grows, the rise of figures such as Max proves a welcome addition to ensuring children adopt healthy habits of wellbeing from a young age.

Meanwhile, Spain-based MutKids has developed a range of games aimed at children who find it difficult to control and understand their emotions, and express their feelings.

And for when the emotions become a bit too much (we’ve all been there), German startup dekdek looked for a solution for children who find it difficult to control aggressive behaviour. How? By offering a range of soft play furnishing that kids can use to release aggression in a safe way, including these sustainably-made kiddie punch bags! 🥊 My prediction is that we will see emotional intelligence grow as one of the big trends in the toy space over the coming years.

What all of these toys have in common is that they are more tool than toy. By this, I mean tools that can make a real and active difference to a child’s life, and whose creation are driven by founders with a real drive to do good.

Namaste 🙏


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