As the official product reviewer at L.A. Parent, one of the highlights of my year is attending the Toy Industry Association of America’s annual International Toy Fair in New York. In February, the magazine’s community manager, Annette Covarrubias, and I headed east and braved the biting winter cold to see more than 150,000 toys, games and other fun ideas for kids paraded by more than 1,000 companies. Around 7,000 of these kid magnets were making their debut at this industry-only show.
STEM products targeted at girls and robotics remain the hottest trends, along with classic brands that are folding in 21st-century technology. We traversed hundreds of aisles of exhibits and racked up the miles on our Fitbits, and found several tech toys that were worth getting our heart rates up for.
The Mailmen by Toymail (www.toymail.co) are cute and friendly mailboxes that “deliver” messages from friends and family to kids ages 3 and up. The mailboxes retail for $59.99, and the free Toymail app lets family and friends send messages to kids’ mailboxes via smart phone (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Android). The Mailmen let kids send messages, too, making it an engaging two-way exchange.
Also out now is Roominate (www.roominatetoy.com), a product created by two female Stanford engineering grads (with undergraduate degrees from MIT and Caltech) in an effort to close the gender gap in STEM-related fields. This line of building kits – with prices starting at $19.99 – includes motor and light circuits designed to inspire girls ages 6 and older to get creative while fostering spatial skills and hands-on problem solving. New this year are Amusement Park, School, RV, Townhouse and Schoolbus kits, plus the Roominate rPower, a controller that powers up multiple circuits from a Bluetooth-enabled device.
Go back to the future this summer with MiPosaur by WowWee Toys (www.wowwee.com). This robotic dinosaur’s lifelike movements are playful, interactive and respond to the swipe of a hand. Watch MiPosaur’s intelligence and personality evolve the more you play. Comes with a trackball, which also controls this dashing dino’s behavior, and an app compatible with both iOS and Android smart devices that features games for an added dimension of play. Designed for ages 8 and older, this clever companion retails for $119.99.
Equally animated is Color Alive Easy Animation Studio by Crayola (www.crayola.com), which employs a kid-friendly animation program and a poseable mannequin that lets filmmakers ages 6 and up create 10 customizable characters and bring them to life through stop-motion animation. But rather than laboriously photographing frame after frame, the software allows kids to animate by capturing only a few poses. A coloring book and colored pencils to design characters and backdrops are included, along with a stand for a compatible iOS, Android, or Windows smartphone, tablet or iPod Touch. This colorful tool kit, which retails for $24.99, will be available in July.
A couple of retro toys with new twists are coming this fall from Mattel. View-Master (www.view-master.com) has been wowing audiences with its 3D images since 1939. It’s makers have now collaborated with Google Cardboard to deliver an exciting and innovative digital play experience. By pairing an “experience reel” and app with an Android smartphone, viewers will be taken on a field trip to see 360-degree views of cities and landmarks … even outer space. Fun facts pop up during each virtual outing, adding to the experience. Designed for ages 7 and up, the toy itself (plus one experience reel) retails for $29.99. Additional reel four-packs go for $14.99 each.
Kids who would rather chat than watch will be interested in Mattel’s new Hello Barbie (www.barbie.com). Kids ages 6 and up can have a conversation with Barbie, who retails for $74.99, using Wi-Fi and speech-recognition technology. Barbie plays interactive games, tells jokes and stories, and learns children’s preferences over time. A smart phone is required for initial setup, and new content will continually be added to freshen up conversations.
Julie Kertes, left, is L.A. Parent’s product reviewer and General Manager of the National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA). Annette Covarrubias, right, is Community Manager of L.A. Parent and Julie’s partner in products. Learn more at www.nappaawards.com.