November 2005 | Vol. IV - No. 11
Whatever happened to teddy bears and blankies? Though still popular, these classics are joined by an ever-increasing number of fancy electronic gadgets for the under-5 set. How long, though, will consumers continue to go ga-ga for the latest baby gizmo?
“I’m not even sure that I’d say that it’s a trend any longer — it’s a staple,” said Laurie Oravec, director of public relations and brand development for Fisher-Price. “It is part of the way toys are designed, because children are exposed to technology practically from the time they arrive home from the hospital.”
One example of the current technology movement is that the Toy Industry Association’s 2005 Toy of the Year award in the Infant/Preschool category went to two interactive electronic toys: The Fridge Phonics Magnetic set by LeapFrog Enterprises and Peek-a-Blocks Incrediblock by Fisher-Price.
“We’re celebrating our 75th birthday this year at Fisher-Price, so I’ve become very familiar with the toys that have been in our line starting with the 1930s,” Oravec noted. “Our toys have always had sound and motion to them, and what’s really changed through the decades is how we deliver the action and the sound. Technology has played a tremendous role in that.”
However, Oravec noted that the company’s approach is to incorporate technology when it truly enhances the play value of the toy.
“We have really seen more technology used in our toys over the past 10 years, but that’s not to say that we don’t still do basic toys that don’t have any technology,” she said. “Our philosophy is that there is definitely room for both.”
Most experts agree that the best electronic toys do not require children to be simply observers.
“To the degree that electronic toys are purchased, parents should choose educational toys that require children to make a response,” said Marjorie Lindner Gunnoe, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.
She noted that one of the primary cognitive shifts from infancy/toddlerhood to preschool is the ability to play pretend, usually around age 2.
“The best toys for children age 2 to 6 are toys that encourage children to use their imagination to act out stories. Generally speaking, a doll, figurine, doctor’s bag, train character or other toy that the child can ‘speak for’ will get much more sustained engagement than toys designed to entertain at the push of a button. Not to mention, parents love not having to replace the batteries.”
Baby Einstein (ToyDirectory) also stresses the importance of interaction, according to Ellen Portantino, vice president of retail development.
"At Baby Einstein, we strive to deliver products that will encourage parents to interact and play with their little ones," she said. "We believe parent-child interaction is essential to a baby´s healthy development.”
Based on focus group research and customer feedback, Portantino said parents want to incorporate both electronic and traditional toys in the education of their infants and toddlers. Likewise, Tom Tylicki, associate product manager for infant toys at Little Tikes (ToyShow), explained that current trends are a reflection of consumer demand.
“I would say that absolutely the industry is trending towards the heavy use of electronics, because it’s what children want,” Tylicki said. “We try to find the proper blend between electronics and physical/imaginative play, and center around things that are a little more basic.”
The following are unusual new electronic infant and preschool products:
Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set by LEAPFROG
This magnetic alphabet set teaches youngsters the basics using the kitchen fridge as its main platform and a reader to pronounce the sounds.
— “I don’t know why it’s selling so good,” said Ben Everett, owner of Tooty Toys in Boston, “It’s been around for a of couple years, but it’s taking off again.”
— “It’s the LeapFrog name that sells. Parents know it’s a good brand and buy accordingly,” Debbie Bennett, co-owner of Baby’s Day Out in Cincinnati explained.
— “A friend has a new baby? Grandparents have a new grandkid? Buy LeapFrog,” stated Patty Douglas of Doodle Squirt in Tallahassee, Fla. 2/10/2005 (MSRP: $19.99; Age: 2 to 4)
Peek-A-Blocks Incrediblocks by FISHER-PRICE INC.
This play center includes eight blocks and has five sides filled with activities. Babies are challenged to identify what is in each block by using hints, descriptions and sounds. 8/2/2005 (MSRP: $49.99; Age: 1 to 2)
Candy Land DVD Game by HASBRO INC.
This new game combines the classic characters of the time-honored board game with the interactive nature of DVD technology. The game comes with one pop-and-play DVD, 20 gingerbread tokens and 24 floor mats to recreate the Candy Land game board in the home. Familiar characters lead children through three different games: King Candy´s Adventure Game, a color-matching game where children earn tokens for standing on the correct colors; Mr. Mint Says, a game of following directions, as youngsters only perform actions if Mr. Mint says; and the Grandma Nut Game, a unique version of musical chairs. 2/25/2005 (Age: 3 to 6)
Medical Kit by FISHER-PRICE INC.
This kit includes everything a child needs to pretend to be a doctor, such as a blood pressure cuff with a spinning gauge, a working stethoscope, a thermometer, and a bandage.
— As of 8.16.10, this product had 4 out of 5 stars from 43 reviews on ToysRUs.com and was listed No. 35 in best-selling toys and games. PROS: Durable, realistic, well-priced, entertaining.
— Barbara Fineblum, owner of Barston's Child's Play in Baltimore, Md., told TD in October 2014 that this kit was one of her store's best-selling preschool items. 8/2/2005 (MSRP: $10.99; Age: 3 to 7)
Little Champs Sports Center by LITTLE TIKES INC.
This electronic interactive sports set covers all the bases for little athletes. It includes football, baseball and basketball activities. Little Champ Sports Center has won Child Magazine's "One of the Best Toys of the Year" Award - 2005 and is a 2006 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award Winner. 8/2/2005 (MSRP: $24.99; Age: 1 to 3)
Discover Sounds Hammer by LITTLE TIKES INC.
This electronic tool makes eight different sounds and lights up every time baby hits with it. An added feature is a textured grip for little hands. 8/2/2005 (MSRP: $5.99; Age: 1 to 3)
DVD MagIQ by TINY LOVE
This educational DVD develops children’s learning abilities by enveloping them in an interactive environment where they are led through lessons by a trio of barnyard friends. Join Tiny the dog, Tickle the lamb or Dot the cow as they help build vocabulary and motor skills while always managing to have fun. It's best for ages 12-36 months for the cow and 3-12 months for the lamb and puppy. ( Watch Video) 9/19/2005 (MSRP: $49.95; Age: 0 to 3)
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