Features Industry Outlook

The Toy Association: Toys to Complement Home, Online, & Hybrid Learning

Toy Association Logo Toy of the Year 2022 Board Summer STEAM Toy List

By Kristin Morency Goldman


With traditional schooling being replaced by home, online, and hybrid models, families are turning to toys more than ever to keep learning fresh and fun for kids.

“When schools shut down in spring, we saw a surge in demand for outdoor toys, games, and arts & crafts to keep kids occupied while stuck at home,” noted Adrienne Appell, trend expert at The Toy Association. “This fall, parents will continue to seek out toys in those categories and will likely also be on the hunt for STEAM and educational toys – as well as toys that are not strictly educational, but help kids build real-world skills – to supplement learning as the new school year gets underway.”

Learning full- or part-time at home is a major departure for both kids and parents, and the experience varies widely depending on each family’s situation, each school district’s approach, and the learning styles and abilities of individual kids. Even within the same family, you might have one child that thrives on the independence and flexibility of homeschooling or e-learning, and yet another child who finds it hard to focus within the home environment and craves social interaction.

“Depending on each child’s unique needs, there are certainly many different ways to adapt, and toys can be a good bridge between curriculum and fun,” added Appell.

Language & Literacy

Rena Nathanson, CEO at Bananagrams, Inc., says that year-to-date revenue is up 100 percent on classic Bananagrams and 25 percent on My First Bananagrams (a version of the game aimed at preschoolers).

“Initially we attributed the growth to the overall trend in board gaming while families have been home quarantining together, but now we are seeing more and more people incorporating our games into their homeschooling process since our letter tiles are a great teaching tool,” said Nathanson. “We’ve also pivoted our Bananagrams School Club this year to offer printable online resources for use at home.”

A game like Bananagrams can be used to teach kids of multiple ages at the same time, helping them master everything from letter recognition and sight words, to sentence structure and critical thinking. Allowing children to build their reading and vocabulary skills through tactile play can help them progress more quickly – and have fun while they’re at it.

Offscreen Learning

Building is known to help kids hone their creative and cognitive skills – and CreateOn’s building sets offer lots of options, while keeping kids engaged without the use of screens.

Steve Rosen, vice president of CreateOn, says that as a dad juggling building a business and helping his first grader learn remotely, he has found it “extremely difficult watching my child be on an iPad for six hours a day.”

“At CreateOn, we built our products centered around early educational play patterns and I have been able to integrate our toys into my son’s daily life during his breaks or even during a core curriculum activity,” Rosen said. “Our products are great activities for parents and kids to engage and interact together, plus it gets them away from the screen which I know for all of us as parents we want and need right now!”

The company’s Galaxy Rocketship allows kids to develop fine motor skills and dexterity as they build a rocket using the set’s Magna-Tiles.

“They can take their rocket ship apart and during science lessons they can sequence the planets which are on the back of the tiles, since our tiles are double-sided,” he said.

The 123 School Bus offers a similar play pattern for younger kids, allowing them to build a school bus and then flip the tiles to use numbers and functions to add, subtract, and create rudimentary equations.

Getting Into Games

The games & puzzles supercategory was up a staggering 37 percent globally for the first half of 2020, with families turning to games for entertainment during quarantine. Games continue to be a great teaching tool for kids, enabling them to practice and perfect their skills in math, science, reading, logic, and teamwork, said Sue Mundell, CEO of Adventerra Games North America.

“Our games are the perfect way to get kids involved in schoolwork without them even knowing they are learning,” said Mundell. “Best of all, our educational games have the added benefit of helping parents get their kids to stop wasting water, energy, etc., as well as to recycle items rather than throwing them in the trash. Since all kids are different, all our games include elements of both cooperation and competition, so everyone can have fun.”

Adventerra’s WaterGame gets kids to practice their arithmetic skills as they gain or lose water from their personal water tank, depending on whether the card they have drawn depicts water-saving or water-wasting behaviors. The included quiz cards require reading and answering questions about water, based on fourth grade science standards. The Recycle Rally game helps with logistics skills, with players given assignments to collect a town’s recycling, and the company’s Global Warning game requires kids to assess solution cards they have drawn to determine which are the best match for the global warming problems on the board.

Finding the “Right” Toy

Claire Green, president of Parents’ Choice Foundation, the nation’s oldest nonprofit guide to quality children’s media and toys, says the foundation has long advocated for the power of learning through play. However, picking the “right” toy for learning really depends on the interests of the individual child.

“We believe that the best toys prompt questions, they don’t provide answers. That said, a great toy for some may be building sets, and for others, crayons or paints,” said Green. “A science kit, a puppet, a play kitchen, or a bicycle all provide opportunities to learn through exploring the world both practically and imaginatively.”

For more trendspotting… Visit www.ToyAssociation.org/Trends to check out The Toy Association’s latest trend reports and be sure to follow The Toy Association on Facebook (@TheToyAssociation), Twitter (@TheToyAssoc), and LinkedIn for up-to-the-minute toy industry news & trends.


This article appeared in the October 2020 issue of TFE Magazine.