Games and Toys

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Audio and Mental Development

In the past two years, a few research studies showing the relationship between audio and children's mental development have been published. These studies indicate the assistive role that audio plays in children's reading development, language development, and brain development. Please note, however, that while there is information that signifies audio's positive role in children's mental development, there is information that points to its negative role as well. Below you will see further details about these findings.


Based on the information we have gathered, it appears that audio assists, in one way or another, with the following aspects of children's mental development: reading development, language development, and brain development. As you may see below, we have segmented our findings into the role that audio plays in children's reading and language development and the role that audio plays in children's brain development. Most of our findings are specific to the United States. Quantitative information is limited, but all the findings below are based on research or scientific studies.

Support for reading and language development
An exploratory study published by Germany's Hans-Bredow-Institut for Media Research in 2016 reveals that digital audio pens, products which read and convert optical information into sounds, can be a helpful supplement for language and reading development. According to the study, digital audio pens could be especially useful to children who receive less support from parents such as those who belong to less-educated families or families whose first language is not German.
Jenny Radesky, a child development expert and the lead author of the Media and Young Minds policy of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says, however, that a child will only begin to process audio, such as a book on tape, at about age three or four. She explains that it is still best if there is an adult to answer questions or explain things. This is especially true in the case of very young children who learn language best when there is an actual person responding to their cues. In an article published early this year, there was mention of studies revealing that children who listened to recorded Chinese voices at a young age did not demonstrate any significant improvement in Chinese language tone distinction compared to those who did not.
According to an article posted online last year, Reyna Gordon, a director of Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Music Cognition Lab, published research demonstrating that children who are adept in distinguishing rhythmic changes in music are also adept in grammar. This suggests that music training or audio content relating to music or music training may have some influence on children's language development.
Listening to audiobooks was found to be effective in speeding up reading development in second-grade and third-grade students in the San Francisco Bay Area, based on a research published in 2016. According to the research, the students who listened to audiobooks were able to achieve 58% of the expected annual gain in reading development in only ten weeks, making the learning rate 33% better than that of the control group.

A study of parents and children in Arizona, which was published in the JAMA Pediatrics journal in 2016, shows, however, that electronic toys, such as those that generate sounds, lights, music, phrases, or words, are linked to reduced language input quantity and quality. Their use in parent-child play time is therefore discouraged as far as language development is concerned. The number of words produced by parents during play with electronic toys (39.62) was fewer than those produced during play with traditional toys (55.56) and books (66.89). Play with electronic toys produced fewer adult words, fewer parent verbal responses, fewer conversational turns, and fewer content-specific words.
Support for brain development
Cognitive scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported last February that the "back-and-forth-conversation" between a child and an adult has an impact on that child's brain development. They have discovered as well that, compared to the number of words a child hears in the first three years of his or her life, this "back-and-forth conversation" is more important in the development of the child's language skills.
In their study of children aged four to six, the scientists have found that the conversational turns were responsible for a significant fraction of the changes in the children's brain physiology and language skills. This connection suggests that, regardless of education or income, parents can help with their children's brain and language development simply by conversing with them. With this finding, the scientists now turn to investigating potential interventions that will "incorporate more conversation into young children's lives." These interventions could be devices, programs, or toys that are capable of conversing or electronic reminders that prompt parents to converse with their children.
According to an article published last year, recent studies from the University of Southern California's Brain and Creativity Institute reveal that music training "accelerates maturity in areas of the brain responsible for sound processing, language development, speech perception and reading skills." This finding was based on an ongoing study involving children from underserved areas in Los Angeles. The effect of music training on the children's brains was investigated using behavioral testing, MRI scans, and electroencephalograms. While music training could not be considered audio content, the studies suggest that audio content relating to music or music training may have some influence on children's brain development.


Audio mainly plays a supporting role in children's mental development, as adult-child interaction is still deemed the best way for children to develop their mental or cognitive faculties. There is evidence that supports the positive impact that audiobooks, digital audio pens, and music-related audio content have on children's reading, language, and brain development. However, there is evidence as well that indicates electronic toys that generate sounds may be inferior to traditional toys and books when it comes to language development.
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Children's Toys Trends

Trends in the children’s toys space range from gross toys catering to kids’ potty humor, to educational toys which teach children STEM skills as they play, with these trends often driven by content found on YouTube. Reviewing articles from reporters who visited this year’s New York Toy Fair, International Toy Fair and East Coast for Toy Fair, as well as the opinions of the “chief toy officer at Adventure Publishing Group”, The Toy Insider, "one of the toy industry's most influential organizations" and the Director of Strategic Communications for the Toy Association, we have identified eight major children’s toy trends for the coming year. These trends are summarized below.

Blind Boxes

Blind boxes, or blind bags, is a continuing trend that has been carried on the wave of popularity of children’s unboxing videos on YouTube. Unlike the unboxing videos aimed at adults, which provide insight into a product, kid’s unboxing videos are about the anticipation and “the act of removing a surprise toy from a blind bag is just as exciting as the toy itself”. These videos are extremely popular, garnering hundreds of thousands, and even millions of views. There is added cachet if the surprise toy “a rare item”, and so to capitalize on this trend toy manufacturers are releasing small collectible toys (also trending, with 14% growth in 2017) hidden inside the packaging, to add the surprise element. One example is the Hatchimals range which doesn’t disclose the contents “of the egg shell before it has hatched.” Other products based on this trend are larger toys which have some construction element following the unboxing, and toys which are packaged in a blind box/bag that can then serve another purpose such as a storage tin. Three L.O.L. Surprise! products were in the top 10 fastest selling toys in September 2017.

Fun Board Games for all the Family

The US market has experienced growth in the board games and puzzles segment, with increases of 23% and 3% over the past two years. These games are generally suitable for “multi-generational play, bringing everyone together” and also tend towards the silly side, to get all the family laughing. A contributing driver for this growth is thought to be social media, as these types of entertaining games “continue to inspire social media sharing by teens and adults, with some videos even going viral”. In fact, according to the Director of Strategic Communications for the Toy Association, many games seem to be designed with social media sharing in mind with “funny, viral moments that can take off”. One example is the popular Speak Out, where players wear mouth-guards which can make for hilarious moments to capture on video and upload to YouTube.

STEM (and STEAM) toys

Educational toys which get kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or STEAM (also including arts) continue to be popular with parents looking to give their offspring a head-start in life. These toys help children learn “counting, the alphabet, opposites, and even coding”. Although activities such as constructing a robot are primarily designed to be fun, they also have “plenty of learning stealthily thrown in” so that kids learn as they play. Examples include a chemistry kit from Barbie, and Dance Code Belle featuring the Disney princess.

Nostalgic Toys

As many parents of kids today are millennials who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, they seem to be excited to buy versions of the toys that they played with in their childhood for their own offspring. Accordingly, retro toys that were big-sellers in those previous decades such as Teddy Ruxpin, Super Nintendo and Tickle Me Elmo, are now “making a big-time comeback, with some modern updates”. These nostalgic toys for the new young generation are bought by parents who “believe it’s important to engage with their kids on an unplugged level” and these basic products sell well, with US sales of plush toys in 2017 growing 8% and sales of dolls up 4% in the same year.

Tech Toys

As technology becomes cheaper to incorporate into products, children’s toys will benefit and become more advanced—the toy market can expect an influx of gadgets that “incorporate VR and AR experiences” at affordable prices, such as the Merge Cube. We can expect more user-friendly kid's devices such as “RC flyers (like drones)”, as well as interactive toys such as the Luvabella doll and “Mattel’s Hello Barbie Hologram personal assistant”.

Toys about poop

Kids often enjoy potty humor and laugh at bodily functions, and there are more toys that are catering to this, from “large toy-makers like Mattel Inc. to smaller ones like Poopeez”. As well as a range of collectible toys in “blind bags that resemble rolls of toilet paper”, Poopeez is also a cartoon series on YouTube. A wide range of products is available including “poop plush toys [and] board games” with a rep at the 2018 International Toy Fair going so far as to comment that “Poop is a trend”.

Squishy Toys

Tactile, slime and goop-like products “were one of the biggest toy trends of 2017” and looks set to continue, evolving by becoming “extra stretchy, glittery and sparkly” along with “with more variations, scents, sizes and styles”. Like several other toy trends, YouTube has helped spread this trend, with the popularity of videos showing these products in action, including DIY kits and “unique slime recipes” resulting in hundreds of thousands of views. Many pre-made options exist from the classic Nickelodeon Slime to the cute Squish-Dee-Lish.

Pretend Pets and Fantastical Creatures

A number of toys cater for kids “not yet ready for the responsibility of a real, live animal”, including both plush toys with accessories for grooming and “feeding”, and digital pets that exist in gadgets, apps and online. As they’re not real, these toys are not confined to the traditional dogs and cats and also extend to “fantastical creatures”. Mythical animals such as unicorns are forecast to be very popular in the coming year, and dinosaurs will also feature heavily in this year’s popular kid’s toys driven by the forthcoming “Jurassic Park” reboot. As well as toys, dinosaur costumes, books and even paleontology kits are expected.
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Games and Toys for Adults

Adults in the US, as well as other markets such as the UK and South Korea, are embracing toys as a way to de-stress and have fun. Millennials and the "kidult" sector are leading the way among adults buying toys. The most popular toys for adults are games and puzzles, but nostalgic toys such as construction sets and collectibles are also quite popular.


Games and puzzles are popular among adults who enjoying sharing them at parties and other social events, according to a 2017 Euromonitor report on the toys and games industry. It was the fastest growing toy category in 2016, overtaking construction toys, which were most popular in 2015 because of LEGO movie. At the 2018 New York Toy Fair, games and puzzles also came out on top, appealing to all ages. In the US, the games and puzzles category saw sales increase 23% in 2016 and 3% in 2017. Game sales have also been inspired by social media sharing of "laugh-out-loud, silly, and gross-out games" among adults. Families are gravitating to games as well because they allow face-to-face family time.

STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) toys continue to grow in popularity, due to "age compression" (children growing up fast), which also prompts adults to retain their interest in toys "on a scale not seen in previous generations." Tactile toys are sought by both kids and adults who seek hands-on experiences in the digital age. Kids' toys that are marketed to adults, such as coloring books, are also a rising trend.

According to a Nov 2016 Mintel report, 38% of adults bought a toy or game for another adult and 22% bought toys for themselves. The most popular purchases were card games or board games (21%), arts and crafts (19 %) and puzzles (17%). Over half (56%) of adults say they buy toys to motivate fun and 31% buy them for a laugh.

Nostalgic toys are also popular among adults. At the North American International Toy Fair, Pillow Pets have returned, bolstered by the nostalgia of the millennial generation. According to Seeking Alpha, the US collectibles market, which caters primarily to adults, is the fastest growing sector in the toy market, with Funko reigning as the market leader.


Millennials are leading the way among adult shoppers in the toy industry. Adults over the age of 20 were "the fastest growing demographic amongst traditional toys and games consumers" in 2016, according to Euromonitor International. Many millennials are putting off having kids and spending money on their own enjoyment, which includes purchasing toys that "hold a nostalgic appeal, such as retro toys or toys with older licenses," as well as toys and games that can be played in social settings. Millennials account for half of adult spending on toys, while Gen X and baby boomers make up 33% and 18%, respectively.

While the UK appears to have coined the term, 'kidults' are a growing demographic in the global toy industry. The 'kidult' toy market (adults buying children's toys for themselves) is growing at three times the pace of the overall toy sector. Adults without kids spend more on toys for themselves than those with kids. The kidult market even has its own trade fair in South Korea, called the Kidult & Hobby Expo. According to the NPD, the kidult market has grown 8% in one year, reaching 11% of the total toy sector.

Popular toy categories for 'kidults' in 2017 were games and puzzles (17%), building sets (16%), action figures (16%), and vehicles (11%). In 2018, the top toys for this group were similar with games and puzzles accounting for 19%, followed by building sets (15%), action figures (12%) and dolls (11%).

Collectible toys and popular franchises, especially Star Wars and LEGO, are driving sales among the 'kidult' demographic. They tend to buy online, are primarily men, and want fun, de-stressing distractions from their busy lives.

Several brands have taken notice of the kidult market. Lego courts this group, which they call "AFOLs (adult fans of LEGO)," running a LEGO for Men campaign for several years. Other companies cashing in on this demographic are Märklin and Carrera model toys and Staedtler colored pencils. While 'kidults' are so-named because they are adults buying kid's toys, brands are recognizing the potential of this consumer group for possible new products designed just for them.

Properties such as Star Wars draw a multi-generational demographic, driving the sales of licensed toys. Toy categories with "proven multi-generational appeal," including construction sets, remote control toys, and action figures are expected to grow the fastest in the next five years, according to a 2017 Euromonitor report.


In conclusion, millennials and 'kidults' are leading the trend of adults buying toys for themselves, rather than for children. Games and puzzles are the most popular toy category, while nostalgia toys hold a special place in the hearts of adult toy shoppers.

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