toytalkAs a parenting expert, I was invited to discuss toy and game trends for 2015 with Azania on Radio 702 on Thursday, 5 November leading up to my annual Toy Talk presentations which take place in Johannesburg on 10, 11 and 12 November across four different events.  Here are some of the trends and products that were mentioned on the show:

Toy trends that parents should know about

In many ways, Back to the Future would be my theme for toys and games this year.  We have wireless devices, virtual reality, augmented reality and live streamed television. For kids tech is not new or novel anymore.  It’s just a normal part of their lives.   And yet, at the same time, all things retro are coming back in to vogue, as if to balance their digital immersion. Loombands that took the world by storm last year have died away to be replaced by weaving and paracord (very much like macrame – a knotting craft that was popular in the 80s). Kids still

sick bricks 2Collectibles miniatures are still on trend as we saw with the success of Pick ‘n Pay’s Stickeez campaign a few months ago and Sick Bricks are very popular (sick in kid-speak means nice or cool). These are collectible brick characters which live in Sick City which full of mutants, monsters and aliens. Build your Sick Bricks figurine, photograph it,  scan it into the app and go on virtual missions to save the city. You can also combine characters to create extra powers in a similar way to Skylanders Swap Force.

Still on the collectibles front, marbles have made a big comeback this year with children at schools across the country taking their collections to school:  swopping them, and winning and losing marbles in various competitions. And the marbles you can buy today are just gorgeous! Good old fashioned fun that teaches kids patience, how to be strategic and how to trade and take risks in a safe way.

453480-meccanoid-g15-ks-credit-spin-masterIn construction toys we are seeing more fusion culture as technology merges with real toys.  Lego Fusion has taken off.  Build something and then scan it into the app and your construction comes alive and is part of the video/app game.  Go on missions and play mini-games with your Lego on a screen. The Meccano Maker System has launched the Meccanoid Robot which combines real world construction with an app, a tablet and a cellphone. This is a tangible example of how kids can learn to programme a robot.

Programming is becoming the new literacy as we will all increasingly be programming machines to do things for us in the future. These kinds of app-based toys and games fit right in to the STEAM subjects of science, technology, engineering, arts and maths.

Open-ended playtime is as, or even more, important than playtime with prescriptive games and toys that tell your child what to do and how to do it.  Children need a good balance of both so that they are learning specific skills as well as discovering more about life incidentally through more relaxing and less stressful fantasy play, water, sand and dough play, and free play with construction toys where their own imaginations are the only constraint. A lovely example of stimulating the imagination and calming the mind came in the form of Hippie Sticks or Rainbow Sticks this year. Even adults love them.

Highly recommended games and toys

Some of my highly recommended games and toys mentioned on Radio 702 form part of a much longer list that will feature at Toy Talk 2015 events. During the radio show I mentioned the following toys:

0 – 2 year olds

shape drumShape Sorting Drum (Melissa & Doug) R275.00, independent toy stores
There are shape sorters and then there is the wooden Shape Sorting Drum. When your baby is has tummy time, roll the shape-filled drum in front of them to catch their attention. Once you baby is sitting, you can play ‘put it in’ and ‘take it out’ games with the shapes. This is a fabulous investment toy that will be useful for four years as your child learns how to post the correct shapes through the holes, stack shapes and match shape and colour.

puppySpin & Giggle Puppy (Bright Starts), R300, Toyzone and other large retailers
A sitting baby will be fascinated by this action-reaction toy. Put the three coloured balls on the puppy’s tummy and press the buttons on his paws to make him wobble and spin, teaching cause and effect. The balls will be thrown out of the spinning puppy onto the floor encouraging your baby to move and fetch and then put them back in for another go. It can also be played without the balls by just pressing down on the puppy’s tummy. This toy teaches, shapes, colours, numbers and letters.

Discover & Play Piano (Baby Einstein), R250.00, Baby City and other large retailers
This is a durable fabric-covered piano with dancing lights. I chose it because it has a completely different feel to a plastic piano and it plays gorgeous, easy-on-the-ear classical instrumental music. Select the violin, piano or drum. Switch to number mode and your child will learn the numbers 1 – 5. In animal sound mode you can choose a dog, duck or cat. It features 20 classical melodies and fun sounds, and the instrument buttons light up and flash while the melodies play. A perfect take-along for the car that will sit comfortably in your child’s lap and won’t irritate your ears.

2 – 4 year olds

Take 10 Colour Bug Catcher (Learning Resources), R230,
Take 10 minutes and turn it into quality time with this colourful number and colour matching game that comes with fabulous tweezers called ‘bug grabbers’ that are great for stimulating the muscles in the hands and eyes for reading and writing. With two sets of bug grabbers, two players can race each other to collect a full set of 10 bugs by using the colour and number dice. There are a variety of different games that can be played, all under 10 minutes. A wonderful portable bucket of fun that can be played wherever you may find yourself with your child. Create meaningful playtime on the run.

4 – 6 years

$_35Pizza Pizza (Orchard Toys), R269 , independent toy stores
Pizza Pizza appeals to a child’s whacky sense of humour as they spin for pieces of pizza which must match the shape or colour on the spinner. But, beware of yukky toppings which include slugs and bugs! Pizza Pizza introduces turn-taking and a bit of chance to the game, such a stealing a piece of pizza from someone else, should the spinner indicate. The players race each other to be the first to complete their pizza.

Hex Bugs Nano (Hex Bugs), R150 – 500+, Toy Kingdom and other retailers

Nano bugs are here in the form of HexBugs. As they wriggle and vibrate at high speed these micro-robotic creatures behave just like real bugs and you can build habitats for them too, without having to feed them! They only die when their batteries do. Available in many formats from scarabs, to fireants and more,  including the remote control Battle Spiders who fight each other with light.  Littlies will love the ants and the some of the more sophisticated ones will even appeal to teens.

0010194_hape-stacking-veggie-game-wooden-toyStacking Veggie Game (Hape), R310, Greenbusters and independent stores

Can you pick out a veggie without toppling the tower? It’s not as easy as you think! This beautifully crafted 55-piece wooden game (non-toxic paint) is a real win in my opinion because not only can you play the Jenga-like stacking game with the colour dice, but young children can use the five different coloured veggies to sort into colour groups, learn how to create sequences and count. Let’s not forget that they can be used for fantasy play:  shop shop and cooking. Useful from the age of 3 up to adult.

Free Play Magnatab (KidO), R360, independent stores

Draw on the bead board with a magnetic stylus and let your imagination roam. From shapes to numbers, letters and pictures, this versatile toy will provide hours of creativity and fascination from age 4 through to adult. Erase your drawing with the tip of your finger – such a lovely, calming sensation. Great for doodling.

6 – 10 years

footerMini Squigz (Fat Brain Toys), R599,
A revolutionary 75 piece suction construction toy for children closing in on five years of age and up. Squigz connect to each other and to any solid, non-porous surface such as a car window, a fridge door, the side of the bath or a table top for multiple play opportunities. They flex, they stick and they will literally suck your child (and you, no doubt!) into being creative with them. This free play activity encourages imagination, eye-hand co-ordination and fine-motor control. When pulled apart they create a satisfying popping noise that will delight while stimulating the important proprioceptive sense in the muscles and joints of the hands and fingers.

Z-Bricks (Zoob), R280, Toys R Us and other large retailers

The Z-brick combines the unique Zoob construction system with a building brick making it the ultimate cross-over construction toy this season. If you are both a Lego and a Zoob fan then you can now combine both building systems in the same construction. Take your imagination to new heights. Construction games a brilliant for stimulating imagination, creativity, spatial planning, fine-motor co-ordination and the proprioceptive sense. Great foundations for reading, writing and maths. For all ages from 5 and up.

10 years to adult

Game-in-play-Rush-hour-shift-w800h800Rush Hour Shift (Think Fun), R380, Toy Zone and other retailers

A twist on the original brain teasing, problem solving Rush Hour game in which you have to get your car out of a traffic jam by moving other vehicles out of the way.  In this version the board comes in three parts and if you play a shift action card you get to shift a part of the board which can change the game completely.  This challenging game will make you think.

Max Money (Xamco) R650.

A fabulous South African wealth creation board game along the lines of Monopoly game play but different.  You play on three different, but connected boards simultaneously, and you have to earn money to spend on goods and services, all the while investing in assets and in yourself (the more you achieve the higher your earning potential). The game requires decisions to take action or take risks which is how real life works. A game that is entertaining while really making your think.

Word Bitz (Green Board Game Co) R199.00, independent stores

Word Bitz is a race to turn letters into words.  A small compact game that will travel well consisting of 4 letter dice and 81 cards.  The cards tell you how many dice to throw and then you must create a word with that letter/those letters, that fits the theme of the card such as boys name, animal, plant, sport, furniture, country name etc.  Play in a group or pit yourself against yourself.

Toy purchasing advice

Do give your child the best start in life by providing them with developmentally- and age-appropriate games and toys that provide a wealth of learning opportunities. Use on-screen activities in moderation as children benefit more from concrete learning experiences with real toys and games in real time with real people. Children have a huge developmental need to work out where they are in space and in relation to other people in the early years, which is why physical movement and interaction with real things is so vital. Technology, well-used, can be an amazing teacher and enabler, but don’t skip out on the real toys.

Look for value for money when you shop

For the best value for money, look for toys and games that can be used in many different ways to teach a variety of skills, as they will last for years.  And, if your child gets bored with something, put it away and take it out a few months later.  You will be amazed at how differently they will play with the same toy because they have shifted brain-body space in the intervening months.

Of course children love what’s on trend and there is nothing wrong with a few FMCF ‘hot’ items that will grab your child’s attention for a short while, but that’s not where you should be investing your toy and game budget. Those are optional extras.  Make sure your child has some classics such as:

  • Something to ride on
  • Something to kick, hit and bounce
  • Something to cuddle (plush toys)
  • Something to build (construction toys, building blocks)
  • Something to draw with (crayons, kokhi pens etc, colouring book)
  • Something to do messy play with (play dough, paint etc)
  • Something to match (matching games and puzzles)
  • Card games (a classic deck of cards, UNO etc)
  • Board games
  • Word games
  • Number games
  • Fantasy play (dress up, pretend cooking etc)
  • Problem solving activities (brain teasers, chess etc)

To attend Toy Talk 2015 to see, touch and feel my highly recommended short list of just over 100 toys and games before you buy, contact Bridgid on This three-hour extravaganza is not to be missed.

For the full invitation to the Toy Talk events which are next week, click here.