“Aspirational” Toys Teach Kids about the Impact of their Choices

Fourth and final in a series exploring the 4 A’s of 2010 Toy Trends

“Aspirational” toys are a new category of products that empower kids by encouraging them to think and play in ways that positively influence their emotional and intellectual development. These can be toys and games that embrace community-strengthening activities and eco-friendly attitudes, encourage trying out different careers through role-play, and foster creativity and independence through kid-inventor and mentoring programs.

“This is perhaps my favorite trend this year,” said Reyne Rice, Toy Trend Specialist for the Toy Industry Association (TIA). “It offers empowerment for both boys and girls that is especially important when kids are learning about who they want to become.”

A few examples of the many quality themes and products promoting youth empowerment that parents, educators and retailers have to choose from include:

  • Career and mentoring aspirations 

Whether role-playing being a chef, race-car driver, news anchor or computer engineer, a child can learn about how they might someday impact the world through their careers. 

In conjunction with the White House Project, Mattel has created a real-life mentoring program which works to advance women in leadership. The Barbie I Can Be … initiative promotes girls’ empowerment in selecting a career and dedicates a section of the Barbie.com website to an exploration of career choices that spans ballerina to pet vet to dentist.

And a wide range of manufacturers – including Aeromax, A Wish Come True, Acting Out, Disguise and CDI (divisions of Jakks Pacific), Rubies Costumes, Elope, and more – provide quality role-play products that simulate a range of careers and stimulate imaginative play.

Through play, children can learn how to be philanthropic global citizens. Many toy companies offer programs that involve children in the giving process by donating a portion of the proceeds from a toy purchase to assist less-fortunate children worldwide.

Companies such as Kids Give (Karito Kids line), Disney Online (Club Penguin), Hasbro and Hasbro Games, Senario (Drip Drops product line), Mattel , Patch Products (Uberstix), Jakks Pacific, Spin Master and others generously give back to children across a wide variety of programs.

  • Earth-friendly choices 

Eco-aware toys introduce concepts about environmental issues such as recycling and reduction; they also include products made from natural or organic materials.  By including eco-awareness into toys and games, manufacturers and retailers help kids learn “adult” concepts at an early age. 

Examples of earth-friendly products include the Green Game and Green Puzzles (TDK Games). These toys are made from recyclable materials, including play pieces with imbedded flower seeds that can be planted after play. The Green Game also provides trivia questions that get kids thinking about how the choices they make impact the earth’s resources.

Other examples include the Dr. Seuss line of organic plush (Hosung), the Jane Goodall line of endangered animals, and toys and games made from recycled wood and painted with soy ink, like Blue Orange Games, Plan Toys, Haba and Hape.

  • Educational toys

The “Aspirational” trend includes an array of products that encourage children to take a hands-on role in their learning. For example, ThinkFun has placed their GameClub program in schools to teach kids about math, nurture reflective and critical thinking skills, and expand social skills.

Thames and Kosmos has dozens of scientific kits that come with detailed guides to teach kids how they can create solar power, wind power and other earth-friendly energy options. Elmer’s MythBuster products encourage kids to test common myths and hypotheses with science experiments inspired by the popular MythBusters television show on Discovery Channel.

Other hands-on toy programs that encourage learning and creativity include Crayola Dream Makers, Coloring and ARTivity books (Creativity for Kids) and LEGO Education.

  • Kid-inventor programs 

Many toy and game manufacturers also sponsor kid-inventor programs and competitions that encourage young inspired designers to create toys and games themselves. Finalists are often honored with real-life opportunities to continue to develop their inventions through company-sponsored programs. Kids learn what it takes to become a toy inventor, and get to see their product through the design, engineering, costing, production and retail stages.

The Toy Industry Association has recently updated its Toy Inventor and Designer Guide. The extensive how-to pamphlet outlines the steps involved in developing, protecting, selling (or manufacturing) a new invention or design in the highly competitive toy industry. 

Notable inventor programs for kids include the Knex KNEXpert building competitions and the By Kids For Kids (BKFK) Inventor competitions. BKFK provides entrepreneurial experiences for young inventors and supports the entire ideation process from conception through commercialization.

The Young Inventor Challenge 2010 is another competition program for young inventors that is showcased in conjunction with the Chicago Toy & Game Fair (held annually in late November and sponsored by Hasbro.) The Toy Industry Association (TIA) will once again join in recognizing the Young Inventor Challenge winner(s) with a complimentary hotel stay in New York City, complimentary admission to the Toy of the Year Awards event, and a pre-show tour of Toy Fair 2011 in February.

These are just a few examples of the many “Aspirational” toy and game products that promote youth empowerment and help kids learn how their choices and actions impact their world, as well as the lives of others.