Active Play: Challenging the Mind, Body and Imagination

First in a series exploring the 4 A’s of 2010 Toy Trends

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, over the past three decades childhood obesity rates have doubled for preschoolers aged 2-5 years and teens aged 12–19 and have tripled for children aged 6-11 years.  There has been a corresponding and steady increase in obesity-related diseases.
Keeping kids and families engaged through physical activity is a key essential for leading happier and healthier lives.  Propelled by consumer demand and initiatives such as Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign, toymakers have stepped up their efforts to develop toys and games that offer active solutions for the whole family.
When products are engaging and fun, kids of all ages will stick with them longer, thereby deriving greater health benefits. “Active Play” - identified as one of the four top toy trends spotted during Toy Fair 2010 – can serve as a catalyst for both the body and the brain:


Toys and games that emphasize a physical (exercise) component are the obvious way to get kids up and moving, keep the body active, limber and flexible, and promote healthy lifestyle choices. The outdoor games segment is flourishing with game and outdoor sports play for kid and family activities. Some second-half products include Hasbro’s Nerf and Super Soaker blasters, Playskool Games Pop Goes Froggio, Red Rover (Mattel), Flickin Chicken (Haywire Games), and Squap by Diggin Active.

Even products that have a high-tech component such as the Wii and SWINX gaming systems are designed to foster “kid-generated action” by incorporating movement into game … think “kid = remote”.  Other examples, such as Wild Planet’s Hyper Dash Extreme and Sonic Slam by Radica, capitalize on a programmed degree of randomness to combine thinking and movement. 


The Alzheimer's Association recommends puzzles as therapy because some studies have suggested they might improve memory, attention and problem solving while staving off mental decline and, perhaps, reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Paul D. Nussbaum, a clinical neuropsychologist and an adjunct professor of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine believes that taking better care of your brain can solve mental lapses and forgetfulness, and reduce stress. A brain-healthy lifestyle can do for the brain what a heart-healthy lifestyle has done for the heart, says Nussbaum. 

Focusing on “Play with a Purpose,” Active Imagination and Active Intelligence toys and games stimulate the mind and creativity through hands-on play experiences.  Examples within this category range from brain teasers and “creativity generators” such as logic games and puzzles to role-play and dress-up items.  All inspire pure imaginative play through hands-on, personal experiences with the products:

  • Building sets, arts and crafts and thoughtfully selected games and puzzles can improve hand-eye coordination and brain functioning, as well as promote self-esteem with a complete start-to-finish experience.
  • Brain teasers and problem-solving toys, games and puzzles incorporate strategic play scenarios, cooperative teamwork or competitive play scenarios.
  • Many of this year’s imagination-centric products empower child-sized role play with dolls and action figures; others encourage kids to create things their own way through engaging arts and crafts and science/discovery experimentations.
  • Many games offer dual play rules, providing both cooperative and competitive play rules in the instructions to allow for different play scenarios with the same purchase. 
  • The intergenerational influence is also a key component in this area of active play, with many family-friendly options to keep the whole family engaged and connected.

Active imagination and intelligence serve as catalysts for the brain while Active physical play serves as a catalyst for the body.  As this important and continuing trend in the toy industry continues to evolve, toymakers, retailers and consumers can expect to see an expansion of Active products across multiple categories of goods and in different aisles of the toy store.