Preschool and Infant Toys Riding Wave of Technology to Learning Success
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July 2003 | Vol. II - No. 7

July 2003 | Vol. II - No. 7 TDmonthly SEARCH

Preschool and Infant Toys Riding Wave of Technology to Learning Success

Today’s toys for preschoolers are a contradictory mix of the complex and simple. From basic wooden cars to high-tech toys sporting interactive sounds and lights, a lot of work goes into engineering simplicity.

Tickle Me Elmo

"In some ways, consumers have been ‘conditioned’ to expect toys to do more," said Dana Marciniak, public relations assistant at Fisher-Price Inc. "Fisher-Price’s Tickle Me Elmo conditioned children, and adults, to squeeze the hand or foot of a plush toy to get it to sing or dance or giggle. They learned to expect more from a plush character toy."

In 2002, infant and preschool toys accounted for almost $3 billion of the total toy market, down somewhat from 2001, but still considerably higher than 2000. The use of technology has not only increased the interactivity of the products, but also brought the price down.

"The new cheaper technology is very interesting," agreed Larry Balaban, executive vice president of marketing and production for Genius Products (ToyDirectory). "Some of the toys for $5 or $6 dollars are great. I think any time technology becomes inexpensive, if you are able to understand how to use that technology, you can really create some great things."

Some of those great things are also based on decades of research, something toy makers are tapping into to make more engaging products. "There is more research available about how children learn and develop, and that has provided toy designers with new ideas to include in toys that extend the play value and developmental benefits of toys," said Dr. Kathleen Alfano, director of child research at Fisher-Price.

"With the increasing knowledge of how children play and what interests them, today's toys are based on basic play patterns that children have exhibited for generations, as well as new information and technologies that make them more appealing to today's children and today's parents," Alfano said.

And parents are the keys to the success of any product. With more information available about the importance of a child's early years in the development of fine motor skills, language and cognitive ability, forward-thinking parents are shopping for toys that will educate as well as entertain. It's a trend Donna Nash, marketing manager for Brio watches with a degree of concern.







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"Each year I see more and more toys that are limiting the parent involvement, that keep the child off to the side," she explained. "I think it's a statement about our society today. Mom and dad come home and are trying to make supper, and the kids want to play. So it's easier to put the child down with the Elmo or with a toy with flashing lights. It occupies him for a few minutes, but then he walks away."

Like most of the toy makers, Nash believes a great preschool toy encourages interaction between child and parent, and that, she believes, is a message that is getting out to more and more parents.

"As parents become more educated, they understand the need to interact with their children," she said. "But the constraints of time in our society still pose a problem. I think the constraints are winning, and that's why you see the sales in Talking Elmos doing so well."

What much of the new crop of preschool toys has in common is the use of music to enhance the play experience, tapping into a growing understanding of the benefits music can offer to developing minds, something Balaban believes encourages participating.

"We love to encourage kids to sing," said Balaban. "If you can get that little instrument, the human body, going, you've done something."




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