Toys are not all fun and games. According to the NPD Group, toys are a massive $26 billion industry that saw an impressive 5% increase in domestic sales in 2016. The Toy Fair in New York is hosted by the non-profit Toy Industry Association, Inc. (TIA), and every February, toys of every shape, size and color blanket a dizzying 400,000+ square feet of display space at the Javitz Convention Center. Media and retailers flock to the Fair to see what's new and determine what could be this year's Hatchimals or Tickle Me Elmo.
If you're shopping for new toys for the kids, make sure it doesn't land you in credit card debt. After all, these new toys won't be worth seeing damage to your budget or your credit. (Not sure where your credit stands? You can see two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.) You may want to check out these 13 ways to save at Babies R Us if that's where you're headed to pick up a new toy.
Here are this year's overarching trends and notable toys in those categories.
Collectible toys, like the Madballs Oculus Orbus from Just Play, might be the biggest trend of the year. NPD found that the collectible category increased 33% last year to reach $1.8 billion, so it wasn't surprising to see tiny toys lining the walls of countless booths at the Toy Fair. Often in blind bags and limited edition, from cute cupcakes to oozing eyeballs, there is a collectible for everyone.
You can't talk about Collectibles without including Shopkins from Moose Toys. These teeny toys are celebrating their seventh season with a party theme, so expect to see everything from birthday cakes to balloons with cute eyelashed eyes. There are the gender-neutral Bbuddieez by Jupiter Creations, which roll like dice but also "bite" onto things, making them wearable. For fans of all things gross, there are cringe-worthy Madballs from Just Play and "shoppin's gone rotten" Grossery Gang from Moose Toys. Gamers will go for Jazware's Animal Jam Adopt-a-Pets and this fall, Pokemon fans will snap up the Pokemon Pokeballs, which hold favorite Pokemon characters. Keeping the "hatching" craze from 2016 alive, later this year collectors will flock to the Egg Babies from Wicked Cool Toys and Moose Toys' Little Live Pets Surprise Chicks.
STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) has been a trend in toys for a few years, and it shows no signs of slowing. There have been variations along the way, like "STEAM," which includes art, or this year's new term "STREAM," which was dubbed by the TIA to include the very popular robotics category. No matter what you call them, toys in this category are both educational and fun, teaching kids about spacial relationships and critical thinking, all while providing a lot of play value.
Many of my favorites are building toys, because this year, building will be much more than snapping plastic bricks together. The Lite Poppers 4-in-1 Car features a round construction, rechargeable lights and fun characters. The Zipes Speed Pipes Performance Pack — Starter Set from Neat-Oh!, which will be available after March, allows kids to quickly build a pipe in just about any configuration they can imagine and then the illuminated vehicle and cosmic strobe ball race around inside (really fun at night). Available later this year, the Bionic Bug from Learning Journey's Techno Gears, of Marble Mania fame, will feature more than 80 construction pieces and a motor. Builders can follow the instructions or make their own wacky, motorized bug. For a child who loves architecture, there's Arckit, which are beautiful free-form model building sets made in Ireland.
Not a building toy but equally as interesting, Cubetto, made by Primo Toys helps children code using a wooden, wheeled cube, a wooden coding board and a fabric map. No screen. For science buffs, look out for the magic and science combo kits from Ideal Toys and the "gross science" kits from Alex Brands, which will debut soon.
For parents who would like screen time to be educational, toys in the Ed Tech (or Educational Tech) category are just that. They connect to smartphones and tablets and teach skills like coding, deductive reasoning and math in a way that is fun and engaging for kids.
For the young ones, the new Play-Doh Touch Shape to Life Studio pairs physical Play-Doh play with virtual animation, teaching creativity and problem solving. Marbotic helps kids learn about reading and math with the help of wooden letters and numbers and three free apps. Makers of realistic, moving animals, FurReal Friends, is introducing FurReal Makers this fall. Kids will be able to code their FurReal friend to take specific actions.
The NPD found that sales on games increased 18% in 2016 so it wasn't a surprise to see so many new and interesting games at Toy Fair. On the heels of the Pie Face and Wet Head crazes, there were a lot of "suspense" games, like Zing Toys Blast Box, where kids try to avoid popping a balloon with a mallet, and Hasbro Toilet Trouble , where kids try to avoid getting sprayed in the face with water from a mini toilet.
A game trend I found interesting was cooperative play, where players work together to achieve the same goal. I'm not at all opposed to competitive play, but cooperative play teaches teamwork, a skill that many children struggle with. Some of my favorites were Mole Rats in Space by Peaceable Kingdom, which will be available this spring. Players work together to help the mole rats escape from enemy snakes. Then there is Hive Mind from Calliope Games, which encourages players to think like other members of the hive. Operation: Escape by Yulu is an escape room game where players work collaboratively to free a player who has been captured. And a connected game that is also collaborative is Sensible Objects Beasts of Balance. It's like a gorgeous game of Jenga that comes to life on the screen.
More on Credit.com: