Where else do life-sized Tamagotchi Friends greet you at the door? Where else can you get a photo with the original Grumpy Cat? Where else can you get a glimpse into all the new toy trends that are soon to hit retailer shelves across the nation?
Toy Fair, that's where!
The American International Toy Fair, sponsored by the Toy Industry Association, is the ultimate gathering for toy industry professionals. Designers, manufacturers, and retailers flock to this annual event at New York City’s Javits Center to showcase their wares, check out the latest in innovative product lines, and gather insight into the newest industry trends.
Last week, the KaBOOM! team (Boomers) joined in the fun to explore new innovations for the Go Out and Play Collection and uncover ways to bring these great ideas from the fair to the families in the communities with which we work.
One big thing we noticed was, like KaBOOM!, the industry focus is that children—and the adults around them—should seek quality play opportunities not just in the traditionally designated playspaces, but everywhere.
Understanding that play cannot be confined to a specific activity type or place, the toys and trends we saw really promote active minds, active bodies, and being active together. But as good Boomers do, we inserted a little play into our work. While gathering crucial insights, our investigative play team made sure to test several products to make doubly sure how much fun could be had! There were a few that stuck out in the crowd.
Our Boomers made it our mission to seek out the best active play products. What we found were a lot of toys that make playtime edgier, challenging you to move faster, bounce higher or bring more friends into activities.
The Wing Flyer by Zike combines elliptical pedal movement with a sleek scooter frame. We have to admit that we crashed a couple of times, but that just made it all the more fun!
“Wow, you got a lot of air!”
Boomers were impressed by the bounce in the Jungle Jumperoo. The promotional materials note that 10 minutes of jumping is equal to 33 minutes of running. We’ll have to do some more research into that claim, but we definitely all broke into a sweat after testing it out.
You wouldn’t think it, but walking on stilts takes a ton of balance, core strength, and coordination! It was a challenge, but our Boomer tester had a lot of fun trying!
“Retro” games were also huge at this year’s Toy Fair. These games and toys brought back classic childhood games with a new twist.
Giant Connect Four made the much-loved game larger than life!
Made by the creators of the original pogo stick, the Flybar uses elastomeric thrusters to bounce fully grown riders up to four feet off the ground.
Integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—also known as STEM—concepts was another big theme. In particular, toys specifically geared to engage girls in STEM learning seemed to be almost everywhere we turned.
In recent years, there has been growing attention given to the low number of women who are entering STEM-based careers. To try and bridge this gap, there has been an increase in popular demand for more STEM-inspired toys geared toward girls. This market has grown in popularity and has been taken on by a number of manufacturers.
You can never go wrong with classic creative construction sets, like this one from Brio, sold in the United States by Schylling. (And if you’re into creative construction on a larger scale, be sure to check out Imagination Playground and Rigamajig!)
Makey Makey is one of the newest products that aims to teach basic circuitry through hands-on, well, making! Those bananas? They’re not for eating, though we were definitely hungry by the time we got here. They’re for making music!
No Toy Fair would be complete without games that engage the creative spirit. Going further than the traditional arts and crafts kits, many products aimed to engage active and inventive minds in a collaborative setting.
Why should Tom Hanks be the only one who gets to act like a "big" kid? The Step-to-Play Giant Piano Mat encourages kids to make music while dancing. Bonus: They might even sit still during piano lessons.
The Big Creativity Can by Faber-Castell includes a handful of open-ended materials—like clay, feathers and popsicle sticks—that allow kids of all ages to push their imaginations to the limit.
Even though we found many great toys at the Fair, it’s good to keep in mind that getting a balance of active play every day doesn’t necessitate having a game or toy. Sometimes, all you need is a friend, family and a little creativity.
For more information on the KaBOOM! Go Out and Play Collection and how you can help support KaBOOM!, go to kaboom.org/store.
What do babies and scientists have in common? According to Laura Schulz, an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, they both go through “a systematic process of forming hypotheses and testing them based on observed evidence.”
Though child’s play is naturally compatible with scientific exploration, the United States is failing to nurture its little scientists. We rank 23rd in science among developed countries, diminishing our ability to compete in the global marketplace.
We obsess over test scores, but we should really be encouraging more students like Lauren Rojas (pictured above), a seventh grader in Antioch, Calif., who set out to test the effects of altitude on air pressure and temperature for her science fair project. And what better way to do that than to launch a homemade “rocket” into space using a do-it-yourself balloon kit?
Lauren added her own creative touches to the balloon, fashioning a shiny rocket structure that included a Hello Kitty pilot. "I liked her ever since I was 6 years old," Lauren told the New York Daily News. "My love for Hello Kitty has never gone away and I thought it would be really fun to add a toy inside the rocket." The doll got quite a ride, reaching an altitude of nearly 18 miles. As the balloon expanded to 53 times larger than its original size at takeoff, it eventually burst open, landing in a tree 47.5 miles from the launch sight.
You can watch the journey here:
Lauren was named one of four top award winners at her science fair and will go on to compete in a regional competition. While she learned an unforgettable science lesson on altitude, air pressure, and temperature, we stand to learn a valuable lesson too. Child’s play is not a ‘frivolous’ activity that distracts from ‘weighty’ subjects like science and math. Rather, it is a core component that we must nurture from pre-K to high school—and beyond.
Photo via Contra Costa Times.
At Stratford Landing Elementary School in Fairfax, Va., a nearly new playground sits wrapped in caution tape. It represents a struggle between a PTA, which raised $35,000 from silent auctions and bake sales to purchase and install the playground equipment, and school officials, who have deemed the play equipment too dangerous and are ordering its removal.
‘Too dangerous’ means that the equipment doesn’t meet the school district’s established safety standards. Though parents may be tempted to vilify the Fairfax County Public School administrators—who are offering the school $135,000 to replace the equipment—the administrators are hardly to blame for following their own protocol. Instead of pointing fingers, let’s shift the conversation. Instead of advocating for exceptions to the rule, let’s reexamine the rules.
The reams of caution tape at Stratford Landing serve as a potent symbol of a generation of kids who are missing out on vital opportunities to push and challenge themselves. Says eight-year-old Kes Shallbetter of the play equipment she barely got to play on: “I was upset because it was fun… It was exciting to have a new piece at the playground because the old pieces I got so bored at.”
It’s a shame that $35,000 of hard-earned PTA money may go to waste, but the much larger shame is that even with a $135,000 investment from the county, Kes may once again find herself bored during recess. And she isn’t the only one. Our playgrounds are failing to engage our country’s eight-, nine-, and ten-year-olds, pushing them to the sidelines at a time in their lives when they should be pushing themselves to climb higher.
A playground that challenges children not only keeps them active for longer, but it also motivates them to think creatively when they encounter obstacles and experiment with potential solutions. In other words, it prepares them to be healthy, innovative, successful adults who can navigate an increasingly complex and connected world.
The real question here is not: How can we save the equipment at Stratford Landing? The real question is: How can we save our children’s childhoods and futures—in Fairfax and beyond?
UPDATE: Though we must continue to ask ourselves how we can ensure that children across the country have access to challenging play equipment, we are happy to report that according to The Washington Post, "A dispute over a Fairfax County elementary school playground structure has been resolved after a school district official announced Wednesday that the equipment would no longer be off-limits to students."
Children flocked to the new playground equipment before it was slated for removal and wrapped in caution tape. Photos courtesy of the Stratford Landing PTA, via The Patch.
As you enjoy your holidays, we hope these playing snowmen inspire you to get outside. Granted, snowmen may be a bit less phased by the cold than us warm-blooded humans, but with the right attire and mindset, you too can race down slides, practice handstands, chuck snowballs, climb trees, hang from tree branches, and play sports.
Wishing you very happy holidays and a wonderful New Year -- from all of us at KaBOOM!.
Photo credits: Sliding snowman by Shutter Nutty (cc). Snowball-wielding snowman via Artlenastudios on CentralPark.com. Upside-down snowman via Tom Grimshaw. Tree-climbing snowman by Moxfyre (cc). Cricket-playing snowman by Clare and Stuart Skinner via The Telegraph. Tree-hanging snowman via The Instructables.
If you thought knitting a sweater required patience, try knitting a playground. That’s right—Japanese artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam (pictured right) challenges our understanding of what a playground can look like by creating breathtaking, interactive “sculptures” from colorful nylon ropes.
ArchDaily editor Vanessa Quirk recently sat down with Horiuchi MacAdam to learn more about her work. (You can read the full interview here.) When asked what motivated her to start creating playspaces for children, Horiuchi MacAdam says:
"One day I was exhibiting a 3-dimensional open-work textile sculpture I had created in collaboration with a friend. Some children came to the gallery and climbed into it. Suddenly the piece came to life. My eyes were opened. I realized I wanted just such a connection between my work and people alive at this moment in time (not a hundred years from now). I realized I was in fact making works for children. It was an exciting moment for me.
"I was teaching at the Bunka Institute in Tokyo at the time and with 2 of my students I began to look carefully at the situation for children, in particular regard to play. We spent the next three years, mostly weekends, visiting all the parks and playgrounds in central Tokyo.
"The result of our research was depressing. At the time the country was narrowly focused on economic development; few were considering the effects on children of growing up in cramped, high-rise apartments, watching television, often an only child without brothers or sisters to interact with. I was very worried about this. I felt I needed to do something to bring even a little change.
Top photos and bottom left photo: Wonder Space II, by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam and Interplay, at Hakone Open Air Museum. Bottom right photo: Rainbow Nest, by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam and Interplay, at Takino Suzuran Hillside National Park, Hokkaido, Japan. All photos © Masaki Koizumi.
"The crochet forms I make resemble the mother’s womb. The soft, elastic surface is familiar to the child. The net membrane is sensitive to the child’s slightest movement capturing his energy and transmitting it back to him. The wave-like motion of the net connects him with other children and they start playing together. Their creative minds start to move and they find new ways of playing. They respond to each other. It is sometimes hard to entice children out of the net; they can sometimes be lost in it for 3-4 hours.
"Our structures encourage children to challenge themselves but with many routes and options. There is no program of play. There are always alternatives. Each child plays at the level he or she is comfortable with. From forty years’ experience I have learned a little about children’s psychology.
"Some groups of children come regularly to play on their own; their play is fantastic. They know what they are capable of and then stretch just a little further, becoming more and more adept. Some of their maneuvers are heart-stopping to a bystander – but they know what they are doing.
"Often it is parents who are the problem. They seem to have forgotten what it was like to be a child."
Special thanks to ArchDaily for sharing this excerpt. Read the full interview here.
When it comes to toys, we have long vouched for the stick and cardboard box. But of course, your kids are expecting a little more under the tree. Along with the gizmos and gadgets that are sure to top many wishlists, we hope you'll consider some toys that facilitate good old-fashioned outdoor play.
After searching high and low for some of the most unique and affordable outdoor play toys on the market today, we are excited to present you with 25 gift ideas that will get your kids moving, fuel their imaginations, and most importantly, bring a smile to their faces. No batteries included -- because there are no batteries necessary!
Want a shot at winning one of these? Enter our biweekly sweepstakes by sharing a photo of your neighborhood playground. Start by downloading our Tag! app -- for iPhone or Android. The more playgrounds you share, the better chance you have to win!
For more gift ideas, check out our Outdoor Play Gift Guide board on Pinterest. You can also pay a visit to some of the toy manufacturers represented here, most notably Hearthsong, Imagine Toys, and Imagine Childhood. And don't miss our list of all-time favorite toys, here.
Buddy Bounce Ball
Kitty Hawk Flyer
Giant Lawn Bowling Set
Triple Climbing Ladder
Flingshot Flying Monkey Sets
Catamaran Construction Kit
Fairy House Kit
Dodgeball with Shield Set
3D Sidewalk Chalk
Unbelievably Big Bubbles Kit
Brick Construction Kit
My Little Sandbox
Super Swingball Outdoor Game
Happy Giddy Tunnel
If you've been following this blog for a while, you might say we're a bit obsessed with cardboard boxes. Well, our love affair continues. If you're thinking about dashing to the store to buy some uninspired costume-in-a-bag this Halloween, think again!
First, check out these 11 DIY cardboard box costumes. Not only are they cheap, creative, and environmentally friendly, but your kids can get in on the fun.
Have you made a costume from a cardboard box? We'd love to share it -- please post a photo to our Facebook page.
Whether inventing a recipe, building a club house, or sewing a rag doll, kids love to make things. Not only do they get to learn for themselves what works (and what doesn't!), but they get to enjoy and show off a tangible product at the end of it.
The Maker Movement, which has been gaining ground in recent years, is as much for kids as for adults. In fact, Phillip Torrone of Make Magazine believes that "the Maker Movement belongs to the kids now." He says that for the kids he meets these days:
...the idea of making things, taking things apart and sharing has not been something new, it’s something that’s always been there for them. The average maker isn’t just a 35 year old guy, it’s becoming a 10 year old girl or boy with a 3D printer.
Get your kids started at one of the many family festivals geared toward hammer-wielding children. This Saturday, Sept 22 in Washington, DC, the National Building Museum is hosting The Big Build, where kids can build a brick wall, construct a log cabin, carve stone, compete in a nail driving contest, and play with huge foam blocks in Imagination Playground (provided by yours truly!).
See photos from previous Big Builds:
Next weekend, September 29-30, is the World Maker Faire, a "family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness" in New York City. Mini Maker Faires are happening all over the country (and globe!) -- find one near you here. The National Building Museum is also hosting a Discover Engineering Family Day in February.
It's time to break out the toolbox, open the craft drawer, rummage through the pantry, and start making!
Top photo via National Building Museum.
Our Summer Playground Challenge just drew to a close, during which over 60 parents explored local playgrounds with their kids, adding over 4,000 new photos to our Map of Play! We asked our newly minted play experts what it is that distinguishes a good playground from a great one.
From their many thoughtful responses, we’ve culled the 5 C’s of a great playground:
Many post-and-platform playgrounds offer the same play options over and over again. A great playground offers something new.
“I like playgrounds that offer interesting options to play on. Clambering up huge tires versus a wall or having a four person teeter-totter as opposed to two changes things up a little.” – Fezeka Saige
A great playground offers simple amenities that keep parents and kids playing longer.
“Shade and water fountains are a must! Children usually want to play during the afternoon but with the sun many times it’s not possible. Clean water fountains are also extremely important since kids finish exhausted after so much play.” – Alicia Vazquez
A great playground isn’t just for kids. It’s a gathering space for an entire community, from tots to teens to grandparents.
“I look for a sense of community in a playground. I also like seeing people of all ages... from older people practicing tai chi or playing chess and answering questions from my kids, to the teenagers, to the parents of kids like myself.” – Alex Nguyen
A playground that’s hard to find risks being underutilized. A visible playground teeming with children inspires passersby to stop and play!
I think [playgrounds] are best when people can see that they are there and that people are playing there. – Dana Wheatley
We know that play is not limited to the playground! A great playground is connected to other play opportunities, particularly green space or other natural elements.
“My favorites have always been those with lots of trees… and trails for riding bikes. Bonus: if the playground has great view!! We have some here on top of the hill or on higher parts of the city, and it's such a pleasure to be at those playgrounds.” - Annie
Photos from to bottom: Angelika Paul, KT, torbakhopper (cc), Sasha Yetter.
“When you are a kid you get to ride bikes, scooters, play with toys and use your imagination. You don’t have to go to work or do all the things old people do.” These are wise words from Caine, the boy who became an Internet sensation for his cardboard arcade and who recently reflected on growing older for his 10th birthday.
While we hope that adults still find time to play, Caine is right that childhood is a particularly opportune time to explore, discover, and create. The good news is that at age 10, he still has a few years before officially making the transition from “child” to “adolescent,” and we hope he makes the most of them!
To help him out, we’ve created a bucket list of things every kid should do before turning 13. Of course, we could go on and on, but here (in no particular order) are 23 things we consider essential. What would you add?