3 Innovative Play Trends That Look Toward the Future of Toy Design

From motor skills to empathy to reading and writing, it’s clear that children learn through play, and if they aren’t interested in the toys they’re playing with, then they aren’t learning. To keep children interested in playing—and adults interested in buying—toy companies must design toys that reflect the world children currently live in. In today’s world, we have become phone-reliant and more inclusive (Debatable, but baby steps are still steps.), and coding has become a top recruited skill among employers. These three cultural observations are what many companies exhibiting at the 2019 Toy Fair in NYC seemed to work from when designing for the future of play.

The Toy Association highlighted their favorite “innovative” trends as unboxing, compound material play, throwback items, food play, aspirational play, and licensed entertainment toys, but we’ve selected our own innovative categories that we feel truly encapsulate what the future of play will look like in 2019 and beyond:

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Physical to Digital

In the past, digital products were transformed into physical ones—think video game characters turned into action figures, and movie plots turned into plastic playsets. This year, there is a industry-wide transformation of physical products entering digital worlds—touching everyone from LEGO to K’NEX to Hatchimals.

LEGO Hidden Side

Photo Credit: LEGO

Available in August, LEGO Hidden Side sets combine physical construction with augmented reality—what Lego calls “fluidplay.” Assemble the kit, pull up the kit’s app, and point a smartphone or tablet camera to see the hidden creatures lurking in the set. The situation then flows into a video game as players are challenged to eliminate the augmented reality monsters.

Hatchtopia Life Plush Collectibles

Photo Credit: POPSUGAR

While Hatchimals already has the Hatchtopia app, beginning in Fall 2019, the Hatchtopia Life Plush Collectibles release brings the plushies online with experiences unique to each product. Each Hatchimal will come with an accompanying code, allowing kids to unlock more play options in a format that sounds reminiscent of the early 2000s Webkinz.

K’NEX Thrill Rides + Ride It! Ap

Photo Credit: K’NEX

Pursuing “STEAMagination inspired play,” K’NEX is known for its crazy build-kits for massive motorized creations. In 2018, K’nex released some of its legendary Thrill Rides kits with new VR capabilities. Wearing the included cardboard “goggles” and VR Ride It! app, users can “ride” the roller coaster they just built from a first-person, 3D perspective. Without the goggles, the app displays a 2D perspective of the already-built roller coaster and allows players to design their own digital rides featuring K’NEX elements and settings. 


Magic Wheelchair

Photo Credit: Toy Association

While not technically a toy, Magic Wheelchair’s creations are are customized costumes for each wheelchair-bound child the organization serves. Though each costume costs roughly $1,500, Magic Wheelchair provides them at no-cost to the family. Catering to these children’s wildest dreams—from pirate ships to Batmobiles to spaceships, and everything in between—the costumes are an exercise in extreme building. This year, the Toy Association partnered with Magic Wheelchair to reveal a purple princess carriage costume for one very lucky little girl. With each striving to bring play and imagination to children of all abilities, hopefully this is the first of many partnerships between the two organizations.


Photo Credit: Barbie

Barbie’s 60th anniversary campaign might not sound like a big deal, but believe me—as someone who once owned close to one hundred Barbie dolls—it is. Acknowledging the “Dream Gap“—the self-limiting beliefs girls develop starting at age five that they can’t do or be anything they dream—Barbie has launched an initiative that helps girls not only imagine everything they can be, but actually see it. Committed to releasing ten role model dolls inspired by real women each year, Barbie released twenty from eighteen countries, of all walks of life, and of varied skin tones, for their anniversary. In addition to the role model line and continued release of dolls that reflect diverse ethnicities, body-types, and abilities, Barbie’s new career dolls—featuring careers in politics, engineering, medical, communications, athletics, and other fields—help children imagine a world of professional possibilities. Now with Barbie, seeing is believing.

Photo Credit: Barbie

Coding Without Screens

While introducing coding to children at a young age isn’t a new concept, most coding toys are screen-dependent, and for children who are reading-age or older. Learning Resources’s Coding Critters and Fisher-Price’s Code-a-Pillar Twist each aim to introduce preschoolers to coding basics without the use of screens.

Coding Critters

Scheduled for a Summer 2019 release, Learning Resources’s Coding Critters introduce preschoolers to STEM concepts. Featuring an interactive storybook and creatures with accompanying challenges, the kit helps parents teach their youngsters early coding concepts.

Code-a-Pillar Twist

Three years after the debut of the original Code-a-Pillar, whose body segments could be rearranged to introduce children to sequencing, the Code-a-Pillar Twist made its debut at the 2019 Toy Fair. Instead of featuring configurable segments like the original, the Twist is one piece. To code the sequence, users simply twist the dials on each body segment to set a series of moves that the critter then follows. Claiming 1,000 possible code combinations and at half the price of the original, the Code-a-Pillar is expected to be a hit when it releases in Fall 2019.

More 2019 Toy Fair coverage:

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