Attend enough kids groups, and – whatever the topic – you’re more than likely to get a sense of the things that are getting young people excited: whether that’s the newest videos and songs on YouTube, the biggest games (like Fortnite), and the most engaging toys.

The latter are regularly dug out of pockets and backpacks in our focus groups as matter of course, silent plastic partners perching on the chair beside kids as they answer questions about a new show or media product.

As a leading kids and family research agency, we at Hook thought we’d take a quick peek at the top toy trends of 2019, to see how young people’s playtime is evolving in response to the rapidly changing cultural and technological worlds around them.

Not Playing Around with Sustainability

One of the big toy trends of 2019 takes part in the larger dialogue about sustainability happening across all industries right now.

In attempts to snag the title of “green toy maker” – as well as the attention of climate conscious parents across the globe – big toy makers (such as Lego, Hasbro, and Mattel) and retailers have started paying attention to the climate impact of their playtime creations.

For instance, brands like MGA Entertainment, the creators of L.O.L Surprise! Dolls, have vowed to use recyclable packaging in an effort to reduce waste.

Beyond packaging, brands are also attempting to tackle the significant amount of toys that are ending up in landfills across the country. Non-biodegradable toys, like other durable plastic items, are causing havoc in the ecosystem when thrown away. However, LEGO have taken direct steps to battle this issue and released figures made of plant-based plastic sourced from sugar cane. This is the first step in the LEGO Group’s commitment to use sustainable materials in core products and packaging by 2030.

In the meantime, organisations like the Toy Box Club are taking a different approach: combating this issue with a monthly subscription service aimed at changing families attitudes toward toys. Instead of disposing of your toys, a box of age appropriate playmates is delivered to your door and replaced by a new batch in four weeks’ time.

Old toys as new toys, and no waste – genius.

Creating an Inclusive Play Space

Historically, the toy industry has been repeatedly criticised for not creating play products that capture the diversity of lives, cultures, and experiences of kids around the world, but the parents and toy makers of today are starting to take steps to rectify past mistakes.

Much of the argument for more inclusive toys has been framed by “Toy Like Me”, an online campaign set on encouraging diversity in toys with better racial, gender and disability representation. Its rigorous commentary on inclusivity and toys has grabbed the attention of toy giants, not only inspiring them to produce more diverse characters but consider different needs of children in terms of design.

Rather ironically, the award for the biggest brand makeover – in terms of diverse body types, abilities and skin tone – goes to none other than the toy box’s blonde bombshell Barbie.

Previously known for her scientifically unattainable aesthetic, Barbie now has three body types that better reflect today’s woman: petite, curvy and tall as well as seven new skin tones, 22 eye colours, and 24 hairstyles. In February the toy world cheered as Mattel announced their collaboration with 12-year-old Jordan Reeves – best known for the video of her sparkle-shooting prosthetic arm, to design a range of Barbies that use wheelchairs and prosthetics.

A focus on meeting kids’ diverse experiences can be further see in the line of “Shero Barbies” launched by the brand, showcasing extraordinary women in the hope of offering an aspirational toy line for its impressionable young customers. Among them, the first Barbie to wear a hijab, modelled on Olympian fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the gymnastic champion Gabby Douglas, NASA Physicist Katherine Johnson and body positive activist Ashley Graham.

Though each release has been met with a certain degree of scepticism, we can’t deny that these are baby barbie steps in the right direction.

Toy Trends in 2019: Building Positive Screen Time

Much has been made about how young people are spending too much time with screens – how time spent with omnipresent devices like tablets and smartphones are perniciously impacting the social and intellectual development of young children.

“I took the dog for a walk the other night and just saw people in their homes staring into their phones, and I thought what’s happening to us? I’m scared my daughter wont experience what we have – the normal world” – Mum of Girl 8, Manchester

This is a sentiment that we’ve seen across our research, particularly in a piece we’ve just pulled together around Kids Audio (*Fancy a peek into these insights? Just drop us an email!): parents’ dystopian worry that children are sleepwalking into a future where they don’t know how to interact with other people and are glued to their devices. One of the big toy trends in 2019 could very well include an explicit move away from digital devices to analogue alternatives…

But enter educational AR toys: a new blend of tech and toy designed to introduce STEM subjects to children at primary and nursery school ages, and offer an alternative to the mindless consumption that parents fear.

A prime example of these AR toys is Parker the Bear: a stuffed bear with AR receptive patches. Parker allows children to take on the role of doctor, cure his ailments, and watch his health levels improve all-round the more they interact with him. Playing with Parker develops digital literacy, teaches basic biology, promotes critical thinking, and helps young people develop crucial problem-solving skills.

Other examples include:

  • The Curiscope – like Parker the Bear, the toy also aims to inspire and educate kids. The combo of camera and tech supported t-shirt enables children a look into their friends bodies and learn about their vital organs.
  • The Experience Real History AR Board can resurrect castles before children’s very eyes, taking them back through time without leaving the living room.

These tech-first toys are a positive example of what psychologist Jocelyn Brewer calls “digital nutrition”. She likens media diets to what’s on our plates: rather than counting calories (or screen time), think about what you’re eating (or learning) when using digital devices. Situated within an educational skew, suddenly hours with a tablet don’t seem so sinister. From couch potatoes to mini medical students, educational AR is changing play time for the better. These toys are transforming the meaning of screen time for little ones and putting professional skills at the centre of family down time.

Creating a more inclusive and positive playtime in future

This is a quick skim of some of the big toy trends in 2019, but overall we can see that the faces and features of children’s toys are changing fast: the once problematic figures of playtime are becoming figures that celebrate inclusiveness while tablet time might now encourage your little one to peruse a career in medicine.

It’s an exciting time in the toy space and the future looks hopeful!

Want to learn more about the kids space? You might want to check out our blog exploring how toys are responding to digital trends or perhaps have a read about how Gen Z and Gen X may not be as different as you think… If you have any questions about these blogs, or our work in the kids space, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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